By Sachin Ghag, Senior Manager, Global Product Development and Technology, Retirement Services
At ADP, every milestone is achieved–and celebrated—together. The work by Sachin Ghag and his team to improve the year-end testing experience for 401(k) administrators is no exception. Along with the Architecture Group, the “Agile Archers” and the “Avenging Explorers” worked across time zones and collaborated with other ADP teams to bring a brand new user experience to life in four short months. Below, hear from Sachin about how his team got it done.
At the start of every new calendar year, retirement plan administrators at millions of companies across the U.S. add the same pesky item to their to-do list: year-end testing. To ensure their businesses are compliant with federal law, they must confirm that their 401(k) plans are within a half-dozen or so Department of Labor standards, which cover everything from which employees qualify for a plan to how much they contribute. If administrators discover any issues, they must resolve them relatively quickly.
For years, this process was largely manual. Test results came in a single PDF, and companies that needed to take corrective actions had no online option to track whether those issues had been marked as resolved. Instead, administrators had to call ADP for a status update. But we saw an opportunity to save our customers time and better use our resources. It was clear that we could offer a better experience.
We’re always looking for ways to optimize our processes, so a self-service dashboard for year-end testing had long been on our list of projects to tackle. And the timing was perfect: ADP had just started accelerating digital transformations across the company. Our plan was ambitious: We wanted to give clients not just a real-time view of their status, but a central hub for every resource they’d need to resolve any issues. By September 2019, our team in Global Product and Technology (GPT) was ready to dive in. But we knew that the GPT team would need help from our colleagues along the way.
To kick things off, we held a discovery session with the dashboard’s product owner and the UX team, who had already created a mock-up of the end-to-end user experience. Once we made sure we fully understood what we needed to build, we broke the desired product down into features, created user stories for each one, and developed a timeline based on three-week sprints. We wanted to leave plenty of time to test every scenario before the January 10th launch, so we set a target date of December 12.
The first step, we knew, would also be the hardest: Before we could build the APIs and UI that would make our self-service dreams a reality, we needed to move data from a highly complex mainframe system—which most of the Retirement Services GPT team had never worked with before—into SQL. So once our chief architect had offered some invaluable initial feedback, including new processes for transferring the mainframe VSAM data into SQL, we turned to ADP’s subject-matter experts: the Mainframe team. Together, we decided they would extract the millions of records we needed into a text file, updated daily, which we would then import into the SQL site. And of course, updates had to go both ways; we also needed to figure out how to send changes back to the mainframe—re-running tests as soon as possible after users completed corrective actions to ensure the two sources were synced.
Throughout the development phase, collaboration was key. A challenge with the time difference, when our India Global Product and Technology team was half a day ahead of our Mainframe colleagues in the U.S. Being flexible and thoughtful, we managed to meet jointly for an hour or two nearly every day, and were even able to turn the time difference into an advantage. Because our U.S. teammates worked while we slept, they would often have suggestions and solutions ready for us by the time we started the next day.
Once the initial development work was done, yet another phase of collaboration began. We asked our colleagues in Service Operations, who work directly with clients, to help us test the dashboard. Sure enough, their real-life experience helped them find issues we hadn’t—especially around ADP’s 401k Sponsor site, which is used by plan administrators. If a user clicked on certain links within their ADP Task Tracker, for example, we wanted to send them directly to the new self-service dashboard—but many of those links still needed updating. The Service Ops team recorded each issue they found in a spreadsheet, and we fixed them, one by one.
In the end, thanks to hard work from our team and our colleagues across UX, Mainframe, Service Ops, and beyond, what started as an ambitious plan turned into a success story for our teams and our clients. In early January, we launched smoothly, on time, and with a warm welcome from tens of thousands of happy clients—whose reviews ranged from “I love how easy this was to navigate” to “You made my freaking day!” ADP’s leadership team also recognized our work with an award of appreciation.
The new year-end testing dashboard.
Since that first release in January, we’ve already built out some additional features—and we have plans to add more for 2021, including web identification of data integrity issues, which will allow our clients to visualize and modify data within their web session. But even when we aren’t actively working on the dashboard, the experience of building it continues to benefit the GPT team every day. We’ve been able to use the technical knowledge we gained to improve our work on several other projects, both within and outside of compliance. And most importantly, we’ve built relationships with other ADP teams that will help us better serve our clients for years to come.
Given all the things 2020 has given us, our clients will have a smooth year-end. A nice gift after everything that has happened in the world.
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