Monday, September 02, 2013

Learn by doing; trust your common sense

I want to share a story to illustrate an important point - by adopting a different approach, based on common sense, it is possible to get significantly improved results.

In the early 1980s, my company installed a new computer system. It is an in-house online system. Remember, this was long before the advent of the Internet.

I was in charge of computer strategy. I transferred a few internal staff to the computer services department and gave them training in software development.

There were tasked to develop the most common functions required for an insurance company, i.e. the data entry of computer applications, issue of policies, sending out of premium notices, updating of premium payment and payment of commission to agents.

These were the familiar and most common functions, which do not require much analysis. The computer system was ready in less than 6 months and put into operation.

We left out the complicated tasks such as underwriting engine, handling of complicated products and administration of claims. These continued to be handled "outside the system" using manual decision making. They were implemented in the system gradually, at the later stages.

The common approach at that time was to carry out a full system study and discussion with the users and get approval before developing the system. This typically took 3 to 5 years and required a large budget. We did not adopt the common approach.

A computer expert later described the approach used by us as "prototyping".

I like to share these points in our approach:
1. We did what we know
2. What we did not know (i.e. in putting into the computer system) continued to be handled outside the system, by the experts
3. When we had time later, we implemented the additional tasks, one at a time
4. We learned by doing. After implementation, we encountered the real problems and fixed the important ones.

I want to share this story, so that more people will be bold to adopt the prototyping approach, and to implement changes more quickly and achieve better outcomes.

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