United Healthcare is a Fortune 50 corporation with offices located in Minneapolis, MN. The Member Acquisition and Retention Marketing division had a CRM for managing events that was getting old and needed a fresh look. In addition to a make-over, there was a request for proposal put out there for a laundry list of functionality enhancements to the system as well. Five Technology worked with one of its partners to secure the year long project and ultimately delivered a powerful website application called P3.
While the existing application was functional and permitted the UHG team to do their job, there were a few opportunities for improvement. Moving an application of this magnitude (5,000+ hours) to a new platform presents several challenges:
Over the course of the project there were other small battles that had to be overcome, but the above outlines the major project challenges for this complex custom application.
The discovery phase on a project of this magnitude is probably the most important and is a huge factor in realizing project success. For this project, there was a lot of information to gather and the existing application was a huge help. This tool gave us the basic flow of how the process worked, now we just needed to uncover the enhancements to this process as well as new features and functions.
After hours and hours of discovery sessions and interviews with all user roles that would interact with the system, we had enough information to start building out the database schema as well as wireframes. While the schema isn't used much for anyone outside the programming team, it is helpful when building out wireframes to identify data collection that is to be displayed and/or collected on certain pages.
The final step in the discovery phase was to identify and document the critical details for the resulting functionality. It's important to know that what the programmers are going to build is exactly what the client is expecting. You can communicate user interface and such with wireframes and design mocks, but the requirements document is overarching blue print and what the developers count on for functionality details. A requirements document was built for each of the six user roles and outlined every page, field, action, and function in the application.
Upon sign-off of the requirements, we were ready to pull in the design team.
The user experience for the P3 application was to be completely custom and was designed by one of our partners at Spyder Trap. The client-approved wireframes and requirements were provided to help the graphic designer determine what was needed. Jeff Wagner worked his magic and the resulting mocks made the client very excited and anxious to see the application in action.
Finding a way to fit a large amount of data on a page that would load in a timely manner was indeed a design challenge. Search fields containing a list of 5,000 companies had to utilize dynamically loading select lists, multiple selects were replaced with chosen field types, dynamic pagination replaced having to navigate to a new page, and inline edits helped to eliminate page reloads. The technical design team provided the layout and the graphic design team made it look great.
When working with a corporation there are often design standards you must maintain. The design standards for UHG provided Jeff (Spyder Trap) with enough flexibility to design a cutting edge experience that maintained the UHG brand.
Having client approval on the requirements, design mocks, and process flow, it was time to start programming. The development team consisted of 2 software engineers, 3 web developers, and 2 user interface personnel. With a lot to accomplish and a tight timeline to work with, it was important that we got things right the first time as there was little room for error.
The first three months of the project sailed along smoothly. The base application was built first and this provided essentials such as a database, user tables, login, navigation and page structure, dashboards, user profiles, client management, vendor management, supplier management, and look-ups. While very little of this was rocket science, it was important to make sure the requirements matched what was happening on the screen. New item fields, search criteria, list column headers, user relevant data. etc.
Come March it was time to get down to business and start building out the complex functionality involved with this application. This included items such as order creation and management, promotional items, products and plans, enroller details, staffing, notifications and announcements, calendar integration, vendor integration, import/export functions and data migration. The team put in long hours working nights and weekends to try to make-up for lost time as a result of the project kick-off delay. June was coming on fast and QA and internal testing was reserved for the entire month.
At this point the team felt like we were in a pretty good spot. They had built what the requirements specified and had reserved the month of June to incorporate add-on functions such as custom reports, report wizard, data massaging, bug fixes, and tending to subtle nuances the client requested. Never count your chickens until they have hatched!
When the client got in there with their internal testing team, they were expecting an application that had already been through the QA team. Our expectation was to have our QA team working along side their internal testing. Frustration with simple bugs caused the internal team to start questioning many of the approved requirements and things quickly headed south. This was a major hiccup in the project and the failed communication started a chain of events that would require a lot of patience and flexibility to overcome.
Requirements documents were thrown out, project managers were asked to be replaced, scope was being added to and changed, and not only was this project in danger of missing the go live date, it was in serious danger of failing altogether. What was scheduled for June was out the window and a reassessment of the project was needed.
Through the turmoil the team continued to give their nights and weekends and logged 80-100 hour weeks in an attempt to save a project that had spun out of control. The go live date was pushed back a couple months in return for the changes to scope request by the client. With the extra time we could also take on a couple phase II elements that were scheduled for after the go live date. A nice long exercise of give and take was just what the doctor ordered. Persistence and hard work resulted in a fully functional application built to the newly agreed upon specifications.
The implementation phase was complete, all bugs were found and fixed, and UHG was using the new application during their busy season. It's not the script you would write, but there is no quite in the Five team and they will do what it takes to deliver what's promised no matter the circumstance.
The P3 application was in play for a majority of the the open enrollment season. As with any custom application there were tweaks needed to the details, but the UHC open enrollment team has taken a step or two forward with their event management application.
If we take a close look at the post mortem on this project, there are a mix of wins and losses. Since we are a team that strives for perfection, we will take responsibility for each loss and use it as an opportunity to get better. While we did provide a state of the art web application capable of managing 5,000 clients, 25,000+ annual events, six different user roles, inline editing, seamless vendor integration, and much, much more, we did stumble in the communication of expectations as well as timeline aspects of this project. We will not point fingers, rather look in the mirror and see how we can improve. As with any project with set backs it feels a lot worse than the reality, but that's the trade-off when striving to please.
A custom web application will make your organization more efficient and in this case save you the cost of 8-10 positions. As an employee must maintain their skillset and stay current with the changing times, the same holds true for your custom web application. We are currently in another round of updates and enhancements that will ultimately make the lives of each user role in the system even better.