Value stream mapping (VSM) is a lean manufacturing technique to analyze, design and manage the flow of materials and information required to bring a product to a customer – in this case, renewals.
Arrowhead Tribal’s team of underwriters and underwriting assistants came together earlier this year for a day-and-a-half session of VSM to help them streamline their renewal process. We recently talked with Tribal’s leadership team: Senior Vice President John Sodia, Program Leader Brian Turnbull and Vice President of Operations Melissa Claypool about the technique and how they’re using it to create a leaner renewals process. Also meeting with us were National Programs Project Management Office Director Kelly Spies, Project Manager Paige Larson and Business Analysts Uri Salcedo and Aaron Ruiz.
Claypool: By way of explanation, value stream mapping is an exercise that deconstructs a process step-by-step to its granular form and then puts it back together again correctly, creating a more efficient process which may delete some steps originally used in the process.
Spies: The team itself is usually able to catch and identify some of the opportunities to streamline just by breaking down each step and discussing it. In this case, it was a great opportunity to bring a team together physically and let them do some team building and knowledge sharing and make connections, even while we’re doing this very important process mapping.
Larson: You’re simply visualizing the current process – what it looks like today – so that you can discuss what you want changed in the future. What are our next steps? What do we need to do differently? What can we jettison that’s no longer needed or rabbit trails that don’t lead anywhere? Essentially, becoming leaner.
With COVID, the Tribal team had been working remotely for over two years, and simply being together and hearing how each job role fits into the renewal process was eye-opening for all teammates, the group agreed.
Turnbull: We interact with so many different people – our retail agents, our insureds, carrier underwriters, our own internal auditors – and they all are creating different parameters, which are constantly changing. Our way of doing things had become so cumbersome because many of those parameters were no longer in place, but we didn’t realize it.
Our goal is to be as efficient as we can be. We want to handle people’s capacity better than anyone else, so that we can do a good job of underwriting our carriers’ capacity and make our partners profitable.
What brought about the need for value stream mapping?
Sodia: This program originally wasn’t built on existing systems that allowed, from a ratings standpoint, policy issuance and endorsements. Everything was piecemeal and patchwork, using multiple systems to get one thing done.
I’ve been doing this for 35 years and this is probably one of the most complex, complicated programs I’ve ever worked with. Instead of spending all their time in the systems, I needed underwriters to spend more time underwriting. That was where we really needed some help. Plus, our underwriting assistants were so overworked; they’re literally the workhorses behind the scenes. But the systems were not particularly friendly or accommodating for them to do their job effectively and efficiently.
Turnbull: The tribal program started as a retail book that converted to a program. Just one retail agent built the program, got underwriting authority from a carrier and figured out how to underwrite and issue policies and rate and handle data. As it grew, there were a lot of hard working people doing the best they could to get out these massive renewals. We began to see the speed bumps that were slowing us down. The issue was exacerbated by the fact that we have three large renewal dates. Those three dates put a lot of pressure on getting policies out, getting data in and rated in the system.
The tribal agents we work with have big books, so they start their renewal process their insureds 60 days out. We were trying to put together a presentation to pitch to their insureds early, because they have so many to visit across the country; plus they’re typically in remote places that might require three hours of flying plus a six-hour drive. This unique situation requires us to get that renewal data out way in advance.
For a few years we were late on everything, because we were working with the original systems we inherited. We were entering data here, cutting and pasting it here. It was a very clunky process. Our underwriters were spending more time going back and forth between systems than they were actually underwriting. Our team was working hard to get renewal data out on time, but we were still late. Agents were frustrated with us. And our people were frustrated and working 60 hours a week most of the year. It was a very labor-intensive situation. Our profit margin wasn’t great, because our only solution was to hire more people and work harder at it.
Can you give us an overview of the entire workshop?
Turnbull: Let me set the stage for you. We have this team that’s overworked already. And now we’re asking them to take a day and a half off work and be involved in this day-and-a-half session, knowing that there’s going to be change. And nobody likes change. Plus, everyone’s wondering if we’re trying to automate this process so that we can eliminate some positions. There’s fear and trepidation.
We had to be very upfront about our goals to ease their minds. And to remind them that all upgrades won’t be in place tomorrow. It actually it gets a lot harder before it gets easier, because now we’re learning new processes. Before we went into the sessions, the leadership team knew we needed some quick and easy wins to demonstrate to the team that this is going to be a good thing. Afterwards, we specifically went for low hanging fruit – changes that will be very visible yet easy to implement.
The group of underwriters and underwriting assistants, along with project management and business analyst teammates, met together to discuss the renewal process at the granular level. The project management team wrote the steps on sticky notes and them on a wall, creating a map of sorts. As more teammates contributed, it became easier to find missing steps, redundant steps or workflows that needed to be modified around a step.
Takeaways were added to a large sheet of paper called the parking lot. Those were items where afterwards leadership would meet with the project management team and BA team on a biweekly basis to continue to cross those off and implement those.
Sodia: From my perspective as program manager, I now have a better understanding of the difficulties that individuals face from a day-to-day standpoint.
What happened after the workshop with your list of changes to be made?
Salcedo: Once the day and half session was over, that’s really when we rolled up our sleeves, and went to work, solving some of these issues. One of the biggest wins that the team received early was an update to a report that they call the insurance-to -value report. The underwriters were converting a PDF into Excel and then entering data. We simply built a report that automatically converted the data to Excel, making updates much faster. It had been a very time-consuming effort for them, so this was a huge win.
Larson: We left the workshop on Friday, February 11 and on March 16 we implemented our first quick win.
Sodia: All items didn’t get accomplished overnight; in fact, some changes are still ongoing. We’ve made great progress and still have more to accomplish. What came about in this whole process is we realized that the ultimate scope and magnitude of what we needed to do was probably greater than any of us even realized. And it certainly wasn’t going to happen overnight.
Plus, some of our underwriting assistants had begun to think that their jobs might be in jeopardy because the progress that we’ve made, but actually our improvements eased up their workload so that they were not so overwhelmed. They were used to working 60 hours a week. Now everything became simpler, more effective, more efficient. That was our intent, so that they in turn could handle more accounts. We positioned ourselves for easier growth.
Would you recommend value stream mapping to other groups?
Larson: Overall this process sounds time consuming: Here’s yet another project, something else we have to do. But once the team immerses themselves in the workshop, taking the time to set up the project and the cadence that we’re going deliver on, everyone sees how crucial the process really is. Afterwards, the business analyst and project manager will take over so the team can go back to their day-to-day jobs. So it’s not quite as time-consuming overall for the business unit as it might sound like.
Sodia: We’ve all worked in situations where management says they’re going to make improvements but they never happen. Two years later, they’re talking about making improvements again, and the team says yeah, we’ve heard that before. But this time, we’ve been able to produce some results that the team agrees are beneficial.
Ruiz: It’s a great way for teammates like underwriters and UAs to voice concerns and problems that they see every day that perhaps a manager or a leader wouldn’t see because they’re not down in the trenches doing quotes or trying to process endorsements. So team members simply create their own work-arounds. And then the time comes when the work-arounds no longer work. The light bulb goes on: We need a real fix here that will keep us from doing double the work or working around things. It’s a great way for the business unit or the profit center to communicate in an open forum to get those hot button issues resolved.
Spies: It’s really an effort of continuous process improvement. Once we’ve completed the renewal enhancements, we’ll come back in and start looking at that next iteration. In this instance, the process helped improve the work/life balance which was needed so badly, finally allowing teammates to take DTO time off and have backups in place so that nothing’s falling through the cracks.
I think in general when you pull people off their desks for a day and 1/2, especially when they are overly busy, there will be initial pushback. But at the end of this session, they had a better sense of their inefficiencies, what was actually going to be done about it, and a greater sense of camaraderie and working towards a common goal.
Turnbull: The bonus is two-fold: You’re building the team like you would at a bowling party or whatever, but in this instance, you’re also moving your business forward and creating efficiencies that affect the bottom line.
Sodia: Here’s why other groups should consider value stream mapping: Foremost, leaders will ask, what does this do from a revenue standpoint? We’re always looking at the bottom at the bottom line, the dollar impact. We as leaders tend to think that we have a lot of answers. But if we’re as good as we think we are, part of what we should be doing is to help everybody else get better. This process helps us to do that. And we are improving our profit margins.
But lastly, and I think probably the most important is how it builds morale for the whole team – and morale is critical to success.