Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid joins a project team


This week marks the kick-off of our latest benefits technology project. I am down as a subject matter expert, and it is my role to make sure that the business requirements are met. My colleague Lazy Susan is also a subject matter expert, which is rather unsettling unless her subject is biscuits rather than benefits.

I take my role seriously and ask to see the requirements that have been specified and approved. You might wonder why I am having to ask for it. Surely, I’ll have been involved in writing the requirements for the project? Well, no. It’s all been organised by the Higher Beings in C-suite, so none of us had a say in it, not even Big Bad Boss.

A cursory glance at the documentation tells me it is a work of fiction. The list of benefit plans is incomplete and the list of counties to cover inaccurate. There is no mention of the key functionality enhancements we’ve been asking about for months. On the face of it, we’ve signed up for the supplier to deliver a worse benefits platform than the one we have already. Yikes. Let’s hope we can make some changes.

Online meetings

The project manager, Helen the Harpy, has arranged three days of online kick-off meetings with the supplier. Helen has a particularly grating voice, and she keeps talking over me and the external supplier participants with equal rudeness. We’ve not been given any clue for preparation so I’m going into these meetings blind. I just hate that. I was expecting to start off with some kind of demo, but no, we just dive straight into data integration. The supplier has sent various templates showing data fields required for the new platform. Luckily, James from HRIS can cover off most of those, but the whole project team are on the call and have to listen how one field in our HR system will map to another in the new platform in excruciating detail. Lazy Susan has her camera off, but she has left her microphone on and we can all hear the tap and ping as she messages her mates.

The second day is even more technical, and I have to keep pinching myself to stay tuned. The benefit platform is to link to our accounting system for benefits costs. It would be great to have everything in one place, but the problem for the project is there is no one on the technical side who understands benefits. I don’t know the back end of the accounting system but what little I know seems of no account. When I try to interject to clarify something, Harpy Helen shuts me down.

The next day is all about benefits reporting, so I am on high alert. None of the key benefits reports we need are mentioned. When I bring this up, Helen tells me reports were not in the statement of work. That doesn’t change the fact we need reports. We will have to do a change order later on she says.

The specific requirements

Afterwards, I call Helen to ask about the change order. First, we have to agree the functional requirement document. But if our requirements aren’t in there, how can we agree it? We’ll do that after the next change order Helen tells me. I’m sure that makes sense to someone, but certainly not to me.

I want to know why we are working to an incorrect statement of work in the first place. Because that is what has been signed off. Who by? Derek, she says cheerfully, knowing that the head of IT trumps any trifling influence I may have. I go back to Big Bad Boss to find out more. He tells me that Derek is buddies with the chief executive of the benefits platform supplier. It seems they made a deal in draft to get the booking in before the end of the financial year. They didn’t have any requirements properly specified so they made something up. That’s all very well, but now Harpy Helen is being a pain and holding us to it. I know a project manager’s job is to keep everyone to agreed deadlines, but surely it isn’t their job to force through the wrong project altogether.

As we continue, Harpy Helen’s workstyle becomes more and more of an issue. The subject matter experts find ourselves being hounded for deliverables that we’ve only just learned about. We ask for a clearly laid out project plan so we can allocate our resources. Helen tells us that she can’t create a project plan until the new requirements document has been signed off. I seem to be stuck in a surreal IT logic loop and don’t know how to get out. I realise that Helen just wants to tick off her task list and move onto the next project. What is actually delivered is of no consequence.

A new plan

When I escalate it to Big Bad Boss, he suggests I create my own project plan. Nooo. This is an IT project, and there is a lot of technical stuff that has to happen to make the various systems talk to each other. We just need a project manager who listens rather than pushing their own agenda.

To give him credit, Big Bad Boss does go off to speak with IT, but Helen, it seems, is untouchable. Derek will hear nothing against her. I don’t know what she has on Derek, but it must be a very dark secret indeed. Only the Higher Beings in C-suite can be that terrible at their job, and that rude to people, yet still keep their job. Eventually, Derek agrees to promote Harpy Helen (promote!) and he puts another project manager underneath her to manage the benefits platform project. Life is so unfair but at least I’ll have someone new to deal with from now on.

Next time… Candid tests online gyms.