by Brenda Hall
All the noise and chatter over the ability to sign up for healthcare under the Healthcare.gov website is a clear indicator of one of the things that irks me the most — websites that don’t work. Online experiences such as shopping, planning for vacations, or any other effort requiring interaction with a computer or mobile device, that doesn’t deliver a successful experience is very annoying. It’s also detrimental to the lifespan of the product and ultimately the parent company responsible for its operation.
I see an elevating trend with people getting plain fed up, and in most cases the issue can be pointed directly to ‘buggy’ software. As in any effort to build a website, the need for an experienced team under the guidance of strong leadership is critical for success. The “team” is vast and varied… not everyone is there to write code. Business Analysts working with the user (in this case everyday Americans from many walks of life) should be making sure the requirements given to the technical team are clear and well documented. “Leadership” will include people who have built e-Commerce websites in the past. And project managers are there to assemble the project plans that deliver a successful result on time. The failure of this contractor to deliver a health care enrollment portal may involve many ‘gotchas’ along the way… but Quality was certainly the sacrificial cow on the altar.
Any experienced project manager will tell you projects are driven by three pillars: Cost, Schedule and Quality. If one of those elements goes awry, the project is at high risk for failure. And far too often, pressures on cost and schedule force quality to draw the short straw. No time to test? Really? So it’s okay to turn your customers on to something that isn’t working? Testing is a critical part of producing good software (and websites.) Testing is expensive. Testing takes time. Testing is hard. Testing takes experienced professionals to execute.
The experience so many people had with trying to sign up for healthcare is a modern-day example of what so many of us have come to tolerate, but not be happy about. “Why did I get all the way to the end and then get stuck? Why did I get bounced out just as I entered my credit card data? I haven’t changed my password….why isn’t it working now? Why is my data lost every time there’s an upgrade?” The complaints go on and on. I think people are fundamentally fed up with bad software in the market, and this most recent fiasco has voices in volume.
There really is no good excuse for Healthcare.gov to have gone ‘live’ in the condition it was in. We can ‘sidewalk supervise’ all day long, but the message is clear. Someone dropped the ball on Quality. It just wasn’t important enough and a lack of Testing is the reason this website failed to deliver. Costs have now skyrocketed with all the media attention and ‘24/7’ effort according to President Obama… far more than should have been spent if the job had simply been done right from the start.
However, Healthcare.gov was one enormous advantage over most projects — it’s being built by the government using federal tax dollars. As crippling as this failure has been, it will still move forward. A similar fiasco by a company in the private sector would undoubtedly result in such a reputational disaster that the software would be doomed to failure beyond repair.