Agility and Innovation: Key Ingredients for Success

Nikki Dugan

For some, November is a time of introspection. Many use this month to reflect on and celebrate their blessings, while others see it as an opportunity to begin preparing for the holidays. For me personally, the thing I look forward to most is cooking a huge Thanksgiving meal. I love the planning, process and preparation.

I inherited this value from childhood gatherings at my beloved grandmother’s house, where the women would bustle about the kitchen, in a cacophony of voices, ideas and recipe discussions, while the men were relegated to the den for their fill of football. Although this legacy has continued to transform, due to modernization and other catalysts, it is still a core part of our family tradition.

Since the passing of my grandmother (peacefully at 102) I have taken over Thanksgiving dinner, partly because I love to cook and partly because of my passion for innovation. In fact, when most of my friends hear the word core, they immediately think of my freshly baked cinnamon apple tart. However, for me, as an insuretech professional, core represents the essential technology that enables insurers to innovate. Maybe this is why I now equate holiday preparation to a software project – a systematic process that requires extensive planning, dependencies and parallelism.

In software, you have the project manager, who is responsible for overseeing how the project comes to fruition, and in a well-run kitchen you have a head chef. For the home cook it is a bit different, yet there are still recipes and methodologies to follow, pre-planning and balancing integration with execution. Technology plays an essential part of this once heavily manual process, eliminating the need for those time-worn, handwritten recipe cards, which have now been scanned and stored in the cloud, enabling access on any device at any time, and can even be shared with third parties, such as Instacart or Amazon, which help deliver ingredients.

The multitude of channels enables me to collect data (food inspiration on Pinterest as well as cooking tips on TikTok) and create a menu backlog similar to the product backlogs that often happen with an agile software release. As the Scrum Master (in organizing this project), I have to take into consideration the stakeholders (dinner guests) and thoroughly understand their requirements (in this case dietary needs, likes and dislikes). Then I am able to better determine the number of sprints necessary to deliver and break it down into actionable goals.

From the recipe deep dive, to the cooking sprint, to the delivery of a perfectly moist and tender smoked turkey, I see more and more similarities to software. Creating user stories on new dishes (like my savory stuffing muffin) and understanding the scope and scale for concocting those mouthwatering morsels, to integrating the APIs with my smart appliances. And of course, what would any tech project be without data.

Recipe components can easily be equated with data, however much like raw ingredients, data isn’t usually very useful on its own. Once I have combined my data and analyzed it, I eventually find its true value (salt isn’t generally consumed by itself, but almost every meal would be lacking without it). Food, like data, can be unclean (hence the reason we wash poultry separately to not cross-contaminate) so it’s essential to cleanse data types, input null values and remove outliers (or in my case giblets from a turkey cavity). I can then group my data, scale it, encode it or transform it, and season it perfection.

As with any recipe, there is also testing, iteration and scaling. Each step is integral to a successful delivery, and although there are sometimes factors to avoid, or in my case the hungry husband, I still strive every year to deliver a magnificent meal. I believe innovation enables me to nimbly pivot, whether it’s a guest with a food allergy, which would not pass UAT, or to scale (when my daughter’s plus one friend turns into plus five hungry guests).

I could easily continue with my analogies, however my kitchen (or sandbox for those in software design/development) calls, and I would like to start testing my UI (table arrangements) before the big day.

  • CoreTechnology
  • digitalization
  • New Technology
  • Property & Casualty
Nikki Dugan

Nikki Dugan Nikki has had many monikers over the tenure of her career: Marketing Maven, Dedicated Brand-bassador, Catalyst for Culture and Champion for Change. She considers herself an eclectic mix of all; part Insurtech aficionado, part creative mind, part strategist, and part dreamer. When not focused on the latest challenges and technology solutions, she spends her time in her NJ home, experimenting in the kitchen and doting on her granddaughter.