The inability to launch projects within a meaningful time frame is a problem we often see in our digital product work with insurance companies. Projects of any significance can take 1, 2, or even 5 years to launch. This leads to a situation where the user experience and functionality offered never leapfrogs the competition as intended. Instead, the experience remains persistently underwhelming and perpetually just at parity.
You may recognize some of these symptoms in your organization:
- You have tons of great ideas and research waiting to execute but much of it gets put on the shelf, or is out of date by the time you can act.
- Seemingly small changes can take months, and you don’t feel like you can quickly try ideas with users.
- It’s hard to get backlog items other than maintenance and security items prioritized for development.
- Estimates for larger projects to upgrade tools for agents and DTC channels are at 6 months to a year — and actually take 1–3 years to execute.
- Projects are failing or being shelved before they’re rolled out because priorities have shifted. Or the initiative is no longer in line with business strategy, technical approach, or brand guidelines.
- You feel like competitors and insuretechs are consistently outpacing the user experience you can offer.
So what do we do?
Establish a Design System
A “design system” is a standardized, reusable set of modular user interface components, packaged with governance on how to use, maintain, and extend them. These components typically start in a design program like Figma and make their way incrementally through your technical stack. Often they start as HTML/CSS and then can get increasingly integrated into frontend and backend code, rules, and data.
Establishing a design system is a case of short-term pain for long-term gain. There’s an upfront effort of several months to establish the system. And then the ongoing work required to educate team members and monitor that the system is used according to the governance process. However, organizations that successfully implement design systems can increase their major project launch frequency from just once every 1–3 years to several launches each year.
It’s often difficult for organizations to prioritize developing a design system because it isn’t immediately functional. There can be business pressure to continue picking off functional and maintenance tickets from the backlog. But those organizations that have the discipline to establish a design system can see tremendous benefits. Organizations with these systems can innovate more quickly and are typically the digital market leaders in their space. Consider Google, Apple, Atlassian, Salesforce, Uber, Shopify, Goldman Sachs, or AirBnB — all market-leading, technology-driven organizations that capitalize on their nimble, comprehensive design systems.
After establishing a great design system, it pays to free your developers from making every change on websites and apps. Developers are invariably busy and dedicated to projects that don’t allow them to quickly pivot — so what do we do?
Implement robust A/B testing and content management tools
Within the stack, tools should allow business stakeholders with little technical knowledge to make certain types of content and page updates. Marketing should be able to deploy landing page campaigns. Product marketing or operations should be able to alter the wording or explanation of an underwriting question or coverage.
Consider starting with a free tool like Google Optimize. If you need more robust capabilities Google Optimize 360, Contentful, and Optimizely are great options.
This can be another case of short-term pain for long-term gain. There are costs and efforts associated with spinning up a new tool and making it operational. But, again, this can shift the longer-term capabilities of the organization. It allows a quicker and more nimble response to market forces and end-user needs. It also has the happy effect of reducing the backlog. Now every little text change doesn’t need a technical resource to address.
A winning combination
The pairing of a full-featured design system and robust content management tools can change the game for your organization and allow you to become a digital leader in your space. Over time, these things reduce costs, increase efficiency, and allow more rapid innovation. Of course, there are upfront costs and maintenance costs associated with any tool or technology. At C&A, we know this stuff can be hard to figure out — we help our clients do it every day. But if you look at any leading tech organization or web property you will invariably find a design system behind their success.