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Four hurdles insurers can navigate to improve user experience

To accelerate experience enhancements, insurers must transform their operating model and organizational mindset to be experience-centric.

Travis Earhart co-authored the article.

In brief
  • Organizations must invest and evolve to meet the experience expectations of today’s consumers.
  • A design-to-code operating model puts product managers in control while promoting collaboration across the organization.

Insurers today understand that customer experience expectations are quickly evolving, and they are addressing those expectations through in-flight initiatives. However, many carriers remain stuck working with legacy organizational structures, processes and technologies that hinder quick and measurable progress. While the insurance industry overall has invested in improving user experiences, carriers must further improve delivery speed, quality and efficiency of enhancements in order to attract and retain customers while lowering interaction costs.

Our work with carriers across industry segments shows that investments have not led to the promised improvements, and organizations are unable to:

  • Deliver necessary experience improvements fast enough to keep up with market changes 
  • Connect parts of the organization in a way that drives success by delivering business outcomes (i.e., being outcome-focused) rather than merely conducting agile ceremonies (i.e., being process-focused)
  • Keep pace with producer and customer expectations
  • Acquire skilled experience design resources at the scale and cost required to support quality experience improvement within constrained budgets 

Typically, experience improvement delivery lacks connection to a cohesive operating model that harmonizes various competencies, enabled by technology and scalable resourcing.

Right ingredients, but what’s the recipe? 

Insurers must invest and evolve to deliver improved user experiences with quality and speed. This includes:

  • Defining a design-to-code operating model that harmonizes product management, Agile and design thinking
  • Creating a product management engagement model that connects to the business and drives outcomes
  • Building and maintaining a design system that leads to reuse, quality, speed, and lower design and development costs
  • Collaborating with an external design firm that can bring “outside-in” thinking, as well as research and design capacity onshore and offshore


Where the operating model typically falls short

Typically, carriers have invested in product management, Agile and design thinking in silos – but haven’t created a design-to-code operating model which brings these practices together in a way that reduces friction and accelerates the delivery of quality experience improvements.

Companies need an approach that enables designers to “work ahead” and yet still collaborate iteratively with business and technology so that prototypes retain design fidelity. Technology specialists also need to be engaged and accountable earlier in “Discovery” to better understand the business needs and surface opportunities to reuse existing tech components to meet these needs. When this collaboration opportunity is missed, advanced features proposed by the business may not be understood or may go unused, which could otherwise drive higher business value and greater technology return on investment. Today, carriers have repeated handoffs and missed opportunities to create truly exceptional experiences (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Siloed team pitfalls
Scenario: The product owner (PO) needs to rapidly develop a new product feature.

Connecting the dots: the design-to-code operating model

Insurers hoping to avoid these obstacles can adopt a design-to-code operating model, which:

  • Puts product management in the driver’s seat
  • Leverages scalable delivery though onshore/offshore collaboration
  • Gains consistency through standards and coded user interface (UI) componentry in a design system

This cohesive execution operating model addresses issues that inhibit experience improvement (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Design-to-code operating model

Under the design-to-code operating model, product managers serve as “mini-CEOs,” connected to the business and to functions throughout the organization. A good product manager:

  • Brings business, design and technology together to articulate and realize the vision
  • Champions a Dual-track Agile approach that includes discovery phases to contribute new/innovative features to the backlog that precede ongoing Sprint delivery
  • Implements a “Sprint+1” approach that enables the design team to work ahead (while the scrum team finalizes testing), and create visuals for the team to react to and innovate from, leading to lower requirements rework/churn
  • Avoids the UX/UI “death by a thousand cuts” that happens when bits of design get dropped by constant artifact handoffs from design vision to execution

The product manager leads the delivery team to realize business outcomes by working with cross-functional teams to work creatively to solve problems and deliver solutions that gain adoption.

The Dual-track Agile approach recognizes that delivery must include points in time where larger problems and opportunities can be explored and validated before and during the development process (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Dual-track Agile
Dual track agile may

Within the delivery track, teams should implement a “Sprint + 1” model. Sprint +1 Agile delivery enables the UX design team to get a head start creating wireframe drafts that Design, Business And Technology take into cross-functional (integrated) design workshops. This approach accelerates the design process by providing draft materials that the team can react to/refine from and eliminates handoffs. Design and Technology continuously collaborate to establish that designs are technically feasible, and that design integrity is maintained (see Figure 4). 

Figure 4: Sprint + 1 Agile Delivery

In Figure 4, during Sprint 1, the Design team works on wireframe concepts and connects with Technology through integrated design workshops to confirm technical feasibility and input. Then, in Sprint 2, the Technology team will begin developing wireframes for the first feature set while the Design team starts design on Feature Set 2. They meet again in a workshop for the Technology team to share their progress on Feature Set 1 and Design to discuss the concepts for Feature Set 2. 

How ineffective team engagement exacerbates the disconnect 

Efficient feature development requires the interplay of several aspects: Agile, UX design and development. In addition, product management has emerged as a critical capability for driving outcomes through iterative, Agile delivery. 

While many carriers have established product management practices and designated leaders, we see several struggles: 

  • Project managers or business analysts are often repurposed as product managers even if they lack the business acumen and mindset to operate as “mini-CEOs.” 
  • The product engagement model does not truly connect to the broader organization. 
  • Product managers often overly rely on their past relationships and are not engaging at the broader level required to optimize outcomes. 
  • The definition of “product management” and the expectations of product managers are inconsistent across stakeholders. 
  • Where to place product management as an enterprise competency and how to continually train and develop resources are challenging, given traditional operating models.

As a result, the right resources are not allocated to the right teams at the right time, or in the right mix. 

Using a product management engagement model to facilitate connected teaming 

Many carriers focus the product manager role too narrowly to mediate only between the business, IT and UX teams – missing critical connection points to other components of the organization. In our view, the product manager must operate at the “center” to establish and align stakeholders more broadly across the organization (e.g., Finance, HR, Service) so that the target objectives and key results are delivered (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Product management engagement model

The path forward for product management 

Based on our work across the industry, we see the following 10 themes as critical for carriers to mature product management as a discipline (see Figure 6, click on each segment to learn more):

Figure 6: Future state themes and recommendations for product management 

Numerous technology systems, creating experience fragmentation 

For many insurance carriers, a lack of standardized and centralized UX and UI technologies translates into less efficient design and development. When these tech components are inconsistent, teams cannot benefit from lessons learned or achieve speed through reuse; this leads to an overabundance of components with minor variations and high delivery and maintenance costs.

As a result, technology execution fails to reflect the intended design vision for everything from minor visual aesthetics to significant product interaction features. Ultimately, the overall brand suffers because of the fragmented, inconsistent user experiences.

A design system as a product for products

In tandem with re-evaluating the operating model, organizational mindset and processes, insurers must have a centralized design system and treat it as a product. 

Companies can centralize and standardize the design system, and make sure that the design and technical components stay relevant, by treating it like a product. The design system should be assigned a corresponding product team, governance structure and processes. This means adherence to a defined tool set, process and taxonomy for system updates and maintenance, as well as onboarding new Agile teams. Leaders should consider the following categories of tools when setting up their processes: documentation, design, file management and prototyping.

The governance team will need to plan for any major updates or proposed changes to the system from the Agile teams, as the Agile teams will likely vary in maturity from team to team.

A design capacity model for innovation at scale 

Scaling the design team to address organizational demands for features in a cost-effective way is paramount to ongoing program delivery. Leveraging integrated onshore/offshore design talent allows teams to work more effectively and cost-efficiently for carriers, allowing the teams to accelerate the process and make the most effective use of design resources.

Ideally, distributed onshore and offshore design teams will work in similar ways to programs operating under a Scaled Agile Framework. Specifically, more senior, centralized resources onshore and offshore oversee the work conducted by design team members sitting in Agile teams and help enable communication across the program. A centralized design system helps teams monitor that established patterns and repeatable methods are employed in the design of new features, while daily cross-location stand-ups and weekly program-design critique sessions help teams achieve overall design cohesion (see Figure 7).

Figure 7: Illustrative collaboration window
Collaboration window artboard

Ultimately, maintaining a consistent presence across geographies that work together in a cohesive team helps drive great results for carriers and the programs they support.

Four key shifts will elevate the quality and speed to market of carriers’ applications 

A lack of centralized, standardized technology, as well as unsuitable organizational mindsets and inefficient operating models, has insurance carriers struggling to deliver UX improvements at the necessary speed, scale and consistency. Carriers can, and should, improve their design-to-code competency by: 

  1. Instituting a Dual-track Agile approach, taking into account discovery phases, as well as a Sprint + 1 model, with design working ahead of technology
  2. Using a product management engagement model to facilitate connected teaming
  3. Treating the design system as a product with corresponding people, processes, and governance
  4. Leveraging a hybrid resource sourcing model for design (e.g., onshore and offshore)

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Insurance carriers can make four key shifts to elevate the quality and speed to market of their experience improvement. 

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