Progressive Medical's New 'Agility' Improves Client Results in Comp Healthcare
For Progressive Medical Inc., the Columbus, Ohio, pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), when you offer clients a vast portfolio of cost management services and products, reduced time and the best possible results is a clear market differentiator. Since Progressive Medical moved from a traditional "formal" software development strategy to using the Agile strategy, the company has delivered an impressive 25 percent cycle time reduction in its development process--enabling both internal and external clients to see value more quickly.
"Progressive Medical has always enjoyed strong client relationships due to the services and solutions we offer, but we wanted to take it to an even higher level," says the company's Vice President of Information Services, Ben Blanquera. "By taking the Agile approach to software development, so far we are transforming the way our business and technology processes intersect--ultimately solving clients' challenges more quickly and increasing the value of the services we offer."
What exactly is Agile development?
According to Blanquera, Agile methods promote development, teamwork, collaboration and process adaptability throughout a technology project life-cycle. But most importantly, Agile methods break tasks into small functional increments with just enough planning (typically from one to four weeks), and each iteration involves a team working through a full software development cycle including planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, unit testing and acceptance testing when a working product is demonstrated to stakeholders. More traditional paths to software development, by comparison, are often time-consuming and can actually be an impediment to fast, effective customer service.
"The idea is to minimize overall risk and let the project adapt to changes quickly," Blanquera says. "The goal is to deliver defect free value added software at the end of each iteration."
He adds that Agile methods emphasize daily face-to-face communication over written documents when the team is all in the same location. When a team works in different locations, it maintains daily contact through videoconferencing, phone, e-mail, etc. Finally, no matter what development disciplines are required, each Agile team typically contains a product owner, who represents stakeholders and users, and is an integral part of the development team. The product owner's role is to define value, priority and to answer questions during the process.
"Most of all, Agile emphasizes actual working software as the primary measure of progress," Blanquera says.
In Progressive Medical's case, the company, through its national network, offers cost management services and products to the workers' compensation and auto no-fault insurance industries. Over the past two decades it has invested in developing innovative pharmacy and ancillary solutions for clients in areas including clinical expertise, pharmacy benefit management, home health care services and medical equipment. But even with its outstanding product mix and extremely positive client feedback, Progressive Medical believes you can never stop improving, so it took the step to offer more "agility" via the Agile strategy.
"We've always been customer-centric, looking for ways to make it easier for the client," explains Interim Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Dionne Lacey-Artis. "But even more than that, when we looked at the industry we saw the pace of workers' compensation healthcare management quickening, with costs rising. We knew we had to do more."
Then, as Progressive Medical determined where it stood and where it needed to go to serve clients - especially when it came to the all-important 'time to value' aspect of managing workers' compensation healthcare - it decided a new approach to technology could be an answer.
"Using the former, more traditional development methods, it seemed as if there was non-value-added time in the duration of a product life cycle," says Blanquera. "So the question became, 'How can we take that wasted time out and be even more flexible and responsive to changing client needs?' "
For example, Progressive Medical wanted to ensure that clients have timely access to new products they've requested, but the time required to input and maintain more than 50,000 items in an online product catalog caused a potential lag in product availability. Using Agile methodology, a product maintenance solution developed in just eight weeks reduced cycle time by 95 percent.
In another case, Progressive Medical needed to ensure clients are billed appropriately for transport mileage, but with so many ways to calculate mileage, disputes in billed miles occurred. Using Agile, Progressive Medical created an online mileage calculator tied to the provisioning system that eliminated disputes--and it took only a week to build after problem identification.
Blanquera, who has always been very active within the chief information officer (CIO) community, is an attentive student of "best principles and practices." When it comes to software development , Agile methodology, which began in earnest back in 2001, had been on his radar screen. Yet, even though Agile has been around for almost a decade, it is hard to adopt and implement. Though Agile took time to become mature, it is now ready for prime time.
With Blanquera's sense that Agile could be a potential game-changer, Progressive Medical evaluated Agile methodologies and piloted a program in January, 2010.
"The early results were so outstanding, in May we as a business made a commitment to increase investment to convert all of our development teams to Agile," he says. As far as key drivers in the move to Agile, Progressive Medical witnessed a visible time-cycle reduction to end users--a critical factor in delivering the best care at the lowest possible cost to workers' compensations healthcare payers.
To date, the Agile work has been focused on Progressive Medical's internal applications, with speed, accuracy and results to the client improving consistently. In the future, the company also has plans for external facing applications (Web sites, portals) in the works.
"Over a period of weeks, we went through a cycle of 'what do you want?' and 'what should we build?' efforts, and when we demonstrated results to end users, they got what they wanted, but got it in a week ... not months, which was more typical of the past," he says.
For Progressive Medical, Blanquera says Agile is really starting to take off, and the results coming in are compelling for clients and, at the same time, exciting for Progressive Medical's IT staff.
"It's a significant change. The Agile environment is so big and transparent, with the focus on the team," he says. "Again, if we didn't have the right culture, it would not work. But the best thing is Agile has energized our IT staff and at the same time helps us deliver improved results and value to internal and external clients. You can't ask for much more than that in this line of work."
For more information on how Progressive Medical's Agile approach has created value for clients, contact email@example.com or visit us at the 2010 National Workers' Compensation and Disability ConferenceŽ & Expo in booth #1031.
(The above piece is part of our continuing Insights series designed to highlight key products and services to our readers. This paid-for Insights was written and edited by Risk & InsuranceŽ
on behalf of our marketing partner. Additional Insights can be found on our Web site at www.riskandinsurance.com/.)
October 13, 2010
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