At the height of the crisis that was the roll out of Healthcare.gov, while everyone else was talking about the political fallout and how the failure would effect the future of the Obama Presidency and Health Care in general, I was consumed with one basic question: What went wrong and how would they fix it. The new Time Magazine article Obama’s Trauma Team finally gave me the insight I was looking for.
I’m by trade a software developer. I’m currently the AVP of Information Technology at my company. We have a small software development team which I have been at the head of for about a decade. Our team builds data driven web applications for our enterprise along with a small eCommerce type solution. The most striking thing about the article is that the issues facing the healthcare.gov website are identical to problems our team faces every day. We handle them better at times than the government contractors did and worse at other times, but essentially the issues weren’t anything unusual in software development. The real nature of the failure seems to be lack of cohesive oversight and management of the process which is always critical and more so when you are working with a number of disconnected organizations all involved in building of the site.
What Abbott could not find, however, was leadership. He says that to this day he cannot figure out who was supposed to have been in charge of the HealthCare.gov launch. Instead he saw multiple contractors bickering with one another and no one taking ownership for anything. Someone would have to be put in charge, he told Zients. Beyond that, Abbott recalls, “there was a total lack of urgency” despite the fact that the website was becoming a national joke and crippling the Obama presidency.
The other major failure of the launch was one that many companies make all the time with their launches. A failure to launch in a way that allows for a ramp up of traffic to the site instead of just turning on the faucet and hoping for the best. This is a challenge and one that I have fought in just about every major project I’ve been involved with.
I never really had a doubt that the site would be fixed, there was too much riding on it working and as the article quotes Mikey Dickerson “It’s Just a Website. We’re Not Going to the Moon.” The article is full of great tips for how to react in a tech crisis and I found that a great many of the methods sync with my own about how such drills should be done. If you are at all interested in the subject of how they turned a site which couldn’t even handle a few thousand visitors into a site that could handle hundreds of thousands of visitors and sign up millions of people all in the span of around 6 weeks read the story.