Best Practices for Piloting: 3

In the course of our work we have developed a set of eight “best practices” for piloting an information system.  This series of posts provides an summary of those practices. In previous posts we discussed the need for Executive Sponsorship, goal setting, and expectation management.  In this post we discuss choosing pilot participants, communicating with the world about your pilot, and the planning and management of your pilot.

4. Choose the right people to be “pilots.”

Typically in systems projects 15% of those affected by the system will have a very favorable attitude about it, 15% will have a negative attitude about it. It’s the middle 70%, the ones who just want to get their job done in the most efficient way possible, that should be the core of your pilot group. Choose the best and brightest from this group.  They will give you an honest opinion about your pilot and help improve the value of the pilot.  The reasoning here?  Nay sayers won’t like the system no matter what and vice versa the cheerleaders will overlook flaws that should be noted.  

Your instincts will probably serve you well here but novices typically make the mistake of choosing only proponents.  It’s the neutral crowd, the ones who will pay the price for a bad system, you want giving you feedback.

5. Communicate.

Plan to communicate. Develop a written communication plan that defines who you need to communicate to (pilot staff, stakeholders, bosses, staff that will eventually be affected by the system), what they need to know (goals and scope, the project plan, summary status information, detailed status information, closeout report etc.), how you will communicate with them (in person, via phone, by a center, etc.), when you communicate with them (before the pilot begins, daily or weekly during the pilot, and post pilot), and who is responsible for conducting this communication.

Carry out your plan, judiciously tracking each communication that occurs, evaluating the efficacy of that communication, and adjusting your plans accordingly.

Proper planning for communication and carrying out that plan helps ensure the right people are on your side should the need arise.

6. Plan and manage the pilot.

This may seem a bit obvious but you’d be surprised how many pilots we see where the system is thrown into a pilot setting with no real plan for what needs to be done and no individual clearly in charge.  Pilots are small projects. However, they are critical projects and deserve all the discipline and attention any project receives. Plan and execute the pilot according to agency or industry (such as Project Management Institute) standards. Develop a work breakdown structure, defining the tasks that need to be completed, who will do them, how much effort each task will take, and when they are expected to be done. Document the plan and communicate it to appropriate parties.

Execute the plan as any other project plan. Monitor tasks, note and mitigate obstacles, and where reality deviates from the plan make adjustments to the plan and communicate associated changes to stakeholders and team members.

Choose an experienced individual to ensure the plan is developed, executed and monitored according to standards. This is, of course, the pilot project manager.

Having a plan and manager in place will avoid having a runaway pilot and the associated costs and headaches.

 We’ll wrap up this series about piloting in our next post by discussing preparation and what to do with what you find in your pilot.  Public Knowledge, LLC helps public sector agencies successfully plan and execute information system pilots.

Best Practices for Piloting: 2

In the course of our work we have developed a set of eight “best practices” for piloting an information system.  In a previous post we discussed the need for Executive Sponsorship.  In this post we discuss setting pilot goals and scope, and expectation management.

2. Set goals and scope.

At the outset you must decide why you’re doing the pilot and what will be piloted. A pilot is not a scripted test but use of the software in a production environment. The goal of the pilot is not to prove that everything works, but to find out what doesn’t work. The pilot should reveal problems with system and operational processes. If it does not, then it is an indication that your piloting process is bad, not that the system is good.

Goals and scope should include a list of features that will be piloted, and features that won’t be piloted. Remember, many business processes are cyclical; they occur daily, monthly, weekly, or even yearly. You may not test many of these cycles. Be very specific about what is in and out of scope.

The scope should also define duration for the pilot.

3. Manage expectations.

Working with the new system will not be efficient. User learning curve, bugs, and working out the software’s “fit” with your policies and procedures will take effort.  Staff piloting the system may have to perform dual entry on the “old” system while using the new system. Staff piloting the system may need backfill or at least some relief from performing regular duties. Things will go wrong. You must define your expectations for those piloting a system communicate those expectations.

Public Knowledge, LLC helps public sector agencies successfully plan and execute information system pilots.

Best Practices for Piloting an Information System

A pilot is a limited use of an information system in a production like environment to help determine the systems and the organizations readiness for use of the system on a larger scale. Pilots are typically limited by geographic location (e.g. It is piloted in one office), by duration (e.g. The pilot occurs over two weeks), by the features piloted (e.g. We’ll only be testing the reporting tools of the information system), or some combination of all of these. The results of the pilot are used to extrapolate how well the information system will work on the larger scale and what needs to change about the system or organization to lower deployment risks.

In the course of our work we have developed a set of eight “best practices” for piloting an information system.  Over the course of the next few posts we will discuss these practices.  The first of the best practices is to have an Executive Sponsor.

1. Executive Sponsorship

An Executive Sponsor provides leadership, tackles obstacles, makes key decisions and ultimately takes responsibility for the success or failure of the pilot. The sponsor should be a senior executive with authority over the business unit conducting the pilot. This individual must have some “skin in the game”.  There’s not a lot more to say about the sponsor other than you would be amazed at the number of pilots that don’t have one.  Pilots without sponsorship often meander and fail to really assess the systems readiness for use in production.  This in turn leads to, at best, a rocky implementation.

Public Knowledge, LLC helps public sector agencies successfully plan and execute information system pilots.

Communicating With Your Customers

Let’s face it: public sector programs and projects have “customers” – people who are impacted by or care about the outcome of what you are doing.  It doesn’t matter if you are preparing for the Open Enrollment milestone of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) or building a bridge over a lake you have customers.  Poor (or failed) communications with customers can lead to misunderstandings that have serious impacts on the outcome of a program or project.  Engaging customers through timely, clear, and consistent communication promotes greater understanding between you and your customers and avoids these misunderstandings. This communication takes thought and planning.

To better communicate with customers use:

  • A plan that outlines who you need to communicate with, how frequently (and when) this communication needs to occur, what messages need to be communicated, who is responsible for preparing and delivering the message, and which media (for example, on-line, television, written brochures, etc.) will be used.
  • Language that is simple and easily understood by the target audience (for example, avoid the use of industry jargon or terms of art).
  • A methodical approach to ensuring key ideas or messages are effectively communicated (for example, identify customers likely position before you communicate with them, what position you want them to hold after you have communicated, and what methods you will use to lead them to that destination).
  • A standard template and style guide for written materials to promote consistency of formatting, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Knowledge of how customers assimilate information and learn from different kinds of media (for example, when reading on-line content recognize and utilize the “F reading pattern” to structure the format of your communication).
  • An active voice in both written and oral communications.

Public Knowledge, LLC helps public sector agencies with stakeholder outreach and communication services, including establishment of communication strategies, tactics, and plans. Some of our more recent work includes helping State agencies reach out to people affected by the ACA.

Are Your Procurements Failing?

In recent years states have noticed a drop in responses to state Request for Proposals (RFPs). This means states have fewer choices in solutions at often higher costs. To counter this trend, states must be more aggressive in promoting opportunities to attract qualified vendors. According to agency representatives of states serving smaller health and human service program populations, there may be a perception among vendors that there is less financial gain in doing business in states with smaller service transaction volumes. Individual state spending varies considerably with some states purchasing several billions of dollars in products and services annually. Other’s attribute lack of vendor participation in procurements to states being too restrictive in either contractual terms or in specification of the procurement itself. There are high stakes involved when it comes to a state’s resource investment, making it critical for state agencies to conduct successful procurements and attract qualified vendors that will deliver value added products and services. Irrespective of the specific cause, states are considering several options for promoting interest in procurements among the vendor community. These options include:

  • Hosting procurement fairs each with a specific focus (i.e., products, services, industry, etc.) to facilitate bidirectional communication between state agencies and the vendor community. This will enable states to gain a better vendor perspective and gather feedback on how states can improve procurement processes.
  • Reforming purchasing practices to promote uniform procurement rules, guidelines, and tools across state agencies and create a reliable, consistent procurement infrastructure for bidders.
  • Conducting pre proposal conferences to formally announce procurement projects and provide a platform to entertain preliminary questions from potential bidders.
  • Announcing upcoming procurement projects in advance and provide a tentative schedule to keep the vendor community abreast of procurement milestone dates.
  • Releasing the bidder’s library ahead of the RFP to provide resource materials that will help vendors gain a better understanding of the procurement project, as well as generate interest in the project.
  • Establishing creative strategies for procuring products and services that can be conveyed through an RFP, such as use of “value based” procurement techniques where the focus is on the problem to be solved rather than the solution to be purchased.
  • Revising procurement rules, regulations and even laws to balance the need for protection with the need for broad vendor participation.

Public Knowledge, LLC specializes in helping health and human service agencies with procurement management services including strategy development, reengineering of procurement practices, procurement planning, RFP development, requirements definition and technical proposal evaluation assistance.

Gaps in Children’s Health Insurance Program Funding

Under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is estimated that approximately three-quarters of 7 million children who are uninsured in the United States would be eligible for Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or the new premium tax credit. However, the ACA focus on insuring the newly eligible adult population provides for a potential gap in children’s coverage during the period of 2015 to 2019, as CHIP will not be funded beyond September 30, 2015.

The Maintenance of Effort clause in the ACA requires states to maintain CHIP and the Medicaid eligibility and enrollment standards, which were in place as of March 2010, through 2019. Therefore, without CHIP funding, states will need to evaluate options for keeping children currently on CHIP from becoming uninsured during the transitional implementation of ACA and the initial use of Health Insurance Exchanges.

Some options being considered by States include:

  • Continuing coverage for CHIP enrollees as-is for those children that will not meet Medicaid eligibility requirements or qualify for an Advance Premium Tax Credit.
  • Not continue coverage, but provide transition period with options for referrals to other programs through the Health Insurance Exchange (HIX), such as a child only policy available in the HIX.
  • Define and provide an alternative benefit package to CHIP enrollees, only providing selected services.

Additionally, depending on a State’s individual budget circumstance, any unspent CHIP allotment funds for 2015, may be held over to fund the State’s CHIP in subsequent years.

Public Knowledge, LLC specializes in helping health and human service agencies with research and options analysis studies in support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and other state and federal mandates.

Challenges for State Based Health Insurance Exchanges

States that have elected to implement a State-based Exchange (SBE) instead of using the Federally-facilitated Health Insurance Exchange (FFE) are navigating new territory that reveals some unique challenges.  States looking to CMS for clarification on key design and development issues are met with delayed guidance as HHS and CMS work to meet their own deadlines for the FFE.  This is making it difficult for States to work confidently toward their deadlines.  

Two specific questions that continue to perplex State health and human services budget offices are:

  • How will States manage very sick populations and what will these populations do to the State health insurance exchange risk mix pool?
  • For States that opted for the SBE approach, and initially rejected federal exchange money prior to the 2012 U.S. presidential election, how will they now fund the development and implementation of a SBE?

States anticipate that very sick populations will increase cost of health insurance premiums significantly.  It is unclear whether HHS has any suggested approaches for managing this population so that premiums aren’t inflated for everyone.  Similarly, States are required to submit a description of their risk adjustment methodology to HHS for review and certification, but more guidance in this area is needed in order for States to flush out their risk adjustment models.  Forecasters believe that by 2014, all States, including SBE States, will likely default to a federal risk adjustment model. HHS suggests that risk adjustment models should be designed to align with the associated health insurance exchange it supports.  

Regarding determining how States will pay for the development and implementation of SBEs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not clearly address this topic.  This is particularly acute for states that originally rejected federal funding.  This leaves State’s to question whether they will be able to re-request federal monies that were initially turned down.

Public Knowledge, LLC specializes in helping health and human service agencies with planning and implementation activities in support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and other state and federal mandates.