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Tadepalli's 10 Rules of Project Management

Republic Indemnity CIO Rao Tadepalli offers ten axioms of good project management that support an adaptive approach and an openness to good ideas.

Rao Tadepalli, senior VP and CIO of Republic Indemnity (Encino, Calif.; a member of Great American Insurance Group) believes that good project management requires a willingness to adapt to unique circumstances and always be on the lookout for good ideas to maximize project success. For example, Tadepalli adopted the "runner" concept from neighboring Hollywood, whereby an individual is assigned to take on odd jobs and facilitate communication between siloed project teams. Tadepalli first employed the runner concept in Republic Indemnity's legacy claims system replacement project, during which Tadepalli's team implemented Guidewire ClaimCenter within 18 months and 10 percent under budget.

Rao Tadepalli
Rao Tadepalli

"You don't want to adopt methodology blindly," Tadepalli comments. "You have to retain the freedom to make changes based on the context of the project and, most importantly, based on who the business users are."

Strong project management, according to Tadepalli, comprises both the ability to adapt and the application of the following principles:

1. Set and Manage Expectations Up-Front: Various factors matter in project success, including deadline, cost and the ease-of-use of the resulting capability. However, every project is different, so to properly set expectations you must ask, "What is most important to the business?" The business may say that all factors are important, but we insist that they rank them.

2. Emphasize Talent over Process: In real estate they say "location, location, location"; in IT project management, the mantra should be "people, people, people." We take a "people first" approach, ensuring that the right people are aligned to the right tasks. Start with methodology, but be willing to tweak it – project success or failure hinges more on people than on methodology.

3. Users Must Be Involved Throughout the Project: Users are typically very engaged in the early stages of a project and at its end, but they tend to drop out in the middle. However their input can be critical at any stage, so you have to insist on their involvement throughout the project.

4. Learn to Live with Ambiguity: Running IT projects requires dealing with engineers who are good at dealing with black-and-white issues but can have trouble with "gray areas." Make sure you have people on your staff who can deal with ambiguity.

[For more on project management best practices, click here for Accenture's Dave Nuernberg on Why Insurers' Projects Succeed or Fail .]

5. Identify Risks Before They Turn into Issues: Any effort will have built-in vulnerabilities. You need to make a deliberate effort to make these explicit so that you are prepared to nip any related issues in the bud.

6. Projects Must Be Business Initiatives, not IT Initiatives: Technological accomplishments can be their own reward, so there is always the danger of doing "IT for IT's sake." IT projects are always for the sake of a business objective, and bearing that goal in mind focuses actions and the deployment of resources.

7. Know PM Types to Be Avoided: There are three common types of project managers that you must recognize and avoid: the "yes man," the procrastinator and the pessimist. Successful project management requires critical thinking, prompt execution and the ability to sustain morale through challenging times.

8. Know the Ideal PM Type: There are four different styles of communication among project participants: action-oriented, process-oriented, people-oriented and idea-oriented. While all are important, most CIOs correctly prefer process-oriented people to lead projects. However, the best PMs combine process-orientation with the ability to be spontaneous and make decisions based on context and the main objectives of a project.

9. Don't Rely on Project Dashboards Alone: It's said that what you can't measure, you can't manage. While that may be true, dashboards that show green, amber and red ratings on vital project dimensions are important but ultimately insufficient. For example, they don't show more subtle aspects such as project momentum. Sometimes it's better to look out the window to see the weather than to wait for a report.

10. Tailor Communications to Styles and Needs of Business Owners: Regular and effective communication is vital to project success but, as George Bernard Shaw once said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." The needs, styles and concerns of business owners and sponsors differ, so you have to suit your communication to the

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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