Here at The Hartford, we thrive on collaboration. We’re empowered to be creative and innovative, working together to make an impact. As a result, we learn and grow professionally and personally.
Our technologists have the opportunity to bring value to business teams and customers in many ways. For instance, software engineer Pranav Amarasekaran and his team were tasked to deliver a gamification solution within two weeks for their Small Commercial business partners. The result was a fun, motivational, user-friendly program that sparked competition – and generated additional revenue.
Pranav steered the development team, which consisted of developers, scrum masters, product owners, quality analysts and business analysts, to connect multiple data components. Since he considers himself a “doer,” this was his chance to show that at a higher level. He says that though he was nervous at first, he turned that fear into action.
“I had to be more responsible and think through how we can make different teams come together in a short period of time, divide up the work and make sure we were successful as a team,” Pranav says.
An Agile Approach
Due to the quick turnaround time, the business team suggested sticking to an agile methodology and using innovation sprints. We use this type of sprint to encourage teams to come up with ideas that they would not think of otherwise because they’re busy with day-to-day work. But the approach to this project’s innovation sprint was different.
“It was a bit like a controlled hack-a-thon because the business team came to us with a specific need, but how to address that need was completely up to us,” says Pranav.
The development team had the complete support of business and leadership to use an innovation sprint as the framework for developing a solution in a short timeframe. It gave them the flexibility to dedicate their time only to the project, and freedom in implementation
“It felt like a start-up. The autonomy increased responsibility, we were motivated to make it work and the team responded well to that,” says Pranav. “It felt like I was a kid in a candy store. I was able to just focus on the true agile nature of the project and apply a product-first mentality.”
Fostering Collaboration and a Test-and-Learn Mindset
Working alongside the business team was also crucial to the project’s success. The development team collaborated with Shannon Tetreault, Small Commercial Strategy Director, and other business partners in a sprint review every day.
“We had direct communication with our business stakeholders. They were available whenever we needed them and answered our questions,” says Pranav.
Both the business and development teams created an immediate feedback cycle to support the two-week project time frame, where the development team presented their progress and the business team provided their feedback. “We didn’t have a fear of talking to the business,” Pranav says. “We could come to them with suggestions and offer other recommendations for enhancement based on their feedback.”
On the business side, Shannon looked forward to daily meetings where she would share her vision and see it come to life.
“It was amazing to see the progress the teams made day by day and how they took the feedback,” she says. “In 24 hours, it was an entirely different application, and it was incredible to see what the team could do. I was so impressed that we could accomplish it in two weeks.”
It was a true partnership. “I feel like I can have a conversation with anybody, and that’s one of the reasons why I like working at The Hartford. They trust me to do my job,” says Pranav.
Bridging the divide between what the business wants and what the development team can do requires collaboration and a learning mindset.
“I was an ‘agile amateur,’ and the team taught me as we went. I had supportive developer partners to educate me and I learned by doing and seeing it in real time,” Shannon says. “There was so much behind-the-scenes work I wasn’t aware of before that I now have an appreciation for.”
The project did have its challenges, though. Pranav and his team encountered situations where they needed extra infrastructure, but requesting it would mean extending the project timeline.
“If this project allowed for additional time, we would have had the ability to request additional infrastructure,” says Pranav. “But we had only two weeks, so we came up with an approach that worked within the existing framework we had. It’s something we’re even taking to other projects now that we’ve discovered it.”
For Shannon, one of the challenges was knowing what to do in advance to set the teams up for success. “We needed to be clear on what capabilities were requirements, then provided the teams freedom to just run with it,” she says.
Learning and Growing
Shifting from a “doer” mindset to a leadership mindset was an exciting challenge for Pranav. He had to bring together different teams and make sure each one felt involved. To do that, he leaned into trusting his teammates to help get things done.
“I realized from the planning phase that I would need to rely on the teams working in parallel – it would be impossible to play multiple roles at once! During the sprint, I organically learned how to let go of things and be the facilitator,” Pranav says. He compares it to coaching a sports team, where he calls the plays but trusts his team to run those plays. “I learned I should be more like a coach and not try to change things while they’re happening on the field.”
For Shannon, having the development team’s input from the beginning was a valuable lesson. “I didn’t know what I was walking into at first, but Pranav taught me a lot of things,” she says. “I allowed myself to be vulnerable, but open to learning because we’re all in this together.”
Learn more about an exciting career in Tech & Data at The Hartford.