October 22, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
I don’t have your phone number or email address, so I am posting this online.
Congratulations on getting live with HealthCare.gov! That was no small feat and America will benefit from your vision and steadfastness. That said, you are the CEO in Chief, and you must realize that you are speeding toward the edge of an Information Technology Black Hole. It is time for a Reality Check!
The “surge” approach will likely fail. Massive code rewrites, server upgrades, and new spending will result in more time wasted, and extend the time that it will take for your concepts to be properly executed. HealthCare.gov needs a few plucky whiz kids in hoodies, not legions of vendors and consultants from the big firms that profited handsomely from bringing you to the edge of that Black Hole. How do I know this? I have been turning around faltering technology projects for fifteen years and I have seen this many times.
Think about it. Have your project leaders identified and described the site’s true problems with absolute clarity or are they just very aware of the symptoms of those problems? So American taxpayers will pay to throw teams of experts to treat the symptoms? How will their efforts be coordinated? Prominent, high-living CIOs and billionaire technology executives will not bang out the code that will lead Healthcare.gov out of the Black Hole. Their game is about getting you to spend more money as you simultaneously lower your standards for success.
Escape is possible from that Black Hole, but by leveraging lean and light commando teams in incremental surgical strikes, focusing on the worst problems first and building logically from there. Problem resolution should be rapid and incremental, with code releases every one to three weeks. If there are major structural or design flaws that require the system to be re-architected, then those flaws should be corrected off line and released in a Version 2.0. That release should be invisible to the users. The user experience, reliability and safety of HealthCare.gov must be protected and fortified.
You probably know that IT projects are framed in terms of time, cost and quality (or scope). Projects typically fall behind in time and run over on cost while delivering a lower quality outcome than was originally intended. Why? IT vendors and consultants have a financial incentive to embed complexity into IT projects, because it enables them to sell more hardware, software and consulting hours. Complexity exponentially magnifies risk.
In my book, Escaping Delete, I present the <CONTROL><ALT><DELETE> paradigm for attacking IT problems. CONTROL errors relate to efficiency and occur when time and/or cost run amuck. ALT errors relate to effectiveness and occur when an organization makes bad choices, e.g., it computerizes a feature that users don’t need or care about. ALT errors need to be resolved first, because it doesn’t make sense to focus on efficiency if you’re going in the wrong direction.
A toxic buildup of too many CONTROL and ALT errors drives toward the fatal DELETE error, wiping out the value of the entire investment and sometimes drowning the sponsoring organization along with it. The way to avoid a DELETE error is to take a good hard look at the mega-scope and break that work into Little-Triangles, or bite-size, surgical strike projects.
Each surgical strike should be intense and quick. Expert resources should be overloaded, enabling a deft project leader to see results quickly and make on-the-fly changes. Progress is made in days and weeks and not months. An essential requirement is the battlefield observer, a completely impartial auditor that reports directly to you regarding the progress of the recovery.
The entire approach is described in my book, Escaping Delete: A CEO in the Black Hole. http://www.amazon.com/Escaping-Delete-CEO-Black-Hole/dp/0615331947/
I hope to hear from you in the coming days.
With warmth, gratitude and respect,
Founder, Reality Check LLC, www.rcheck.com