Reducing Public Pension Risk – Reflections from the Desert


An Arizona dude ranch and a Public Pension conference. I guess some might consider them a likely pair, but I was just happy to get back to seeing smiling faces at a live event – this year’s Public Retirement Information Systems Management (PRISM) conference. The PRISM conference is one of a handful of events where public pension fund IT managers can network and share information on new technologies affecting the industry, and it was incredibly rewarding to collaborate in person and participate in a panel with colleagues from Arizona’s Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and Agile Progress LLC. This week’s blog features an overview of the presentation, “The 3 Cs to Reducing Project Risk: Collaboration, Cooperation and Confirmation,” in addition to some of my own brief industry observations from the conference floor.

Reducing Project Risk with 3 Cs

The key to reducing public pension project risk during a lengthy and complex solution upgrade is keeping the three Cs, collaboration, confirmation, and cooperation, top of mind. These pillars of project success emphasize practical yet effective ways to organize teams, define common goals, and reduce overall risk for a project executed on time and on budget. Implementing them can very often mean the difference between a seamlessly executed initiative and one mired in disorganization that can very easily break down.


A collaborative culture throughout an engagement is necessary for the project team and the entire organization. Everyone should have a shared understanding of the project approach and terminology, which can be achieved early on through training, coaching, and cross-functional teams. Another benefit to this culture is that it leads to equally collaborative interactions with vendors during procurement and can help take the “guesswork” out of the early RFP/proposal stage. It also lends itself well to a shared, synergistic governance structure from procurement through implementation. Daily updates with all stakeholders (clients, vendors, operations, and the board) are critical, in addition to a steering committee designated to solve problems and make decisions rather than simply provide status and reporting updates.


For clarification of the expected work project from the start, encourage dialogue and collaborative discussions between the client and vendors during procurement offeror meetings, with multiple Q&A periods throughout. The RFP should establish a “test-driven” approach, with design specs, joint acceptance criteria, and automated testing made clear. Project objectives and the ultimate work product should be defined in a way that is understandable to all stakeholders and that breaks the tasks and deliverables into small increments to better support the testing scenarios during the project. These small increments are easier to understand and easier to adjust if they need subsequent modification.


It is important to promote a sense of unity and common goals, starting at the procurement stage with frequent reinforcement. Teams are partnerships; if one side fails, they all fail. Creating a culture of ownership and accountability inspires and empowers a collective buy-in. When developing vendor relationships, the contract should be thought of in terms of cooperation rather than negotiation, which leads to more healthy and proactive communication for the best results.

Industry Reflections

This year’s conference theme, “PRISM of Possibilities,” couldn’t have been more appropriate. Public pension systems are looking to the future and remain intent on more effective user experience and engagement, with an emphasis on security as they continue to develop a more online presence, and remote access and activity have become the norm. System administrators recognize that better campaign management and CRM for clear and consistent outreach to all constituents is imperative for keeping track of members and their beneficiaries, especially as the baby boomers approach retirement and digital-native millennials fill the void.

Final Thoughts

As I boarded my flight home and the Arizona sun disappeared behind the desert horizon, I sat back in my seat and realized what a great event it was. I might not have roped any cattle, but I sure did rustle up some knowledge. You know that a conference has been especially effective when you are eager to return to the office and implement all the strategies and key learnings that you have acquired.

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