Thursday, October 24, 2013

Obamacare and the Real World

The roll-out of Obamcare and the insurance exchanges offer a look into how government works. By comparing this with how private business handles major projects, we can see why the government is unsuited for handling projects on this scale.

This was a huge project. It should have had a three-year implementation. Instead it was created in less than a year. This was because of politics. Major decisions were postponed until after the election.

Other major decisions such as forcing people to create an account before being able to compare rates were made late in the process forcing a redesign of the web site.

When it was close to the implement date, the company doing the work warned the government officials that there were likely to be major issues but it was decided that a delay in implementation was unacceptable. In fact, the site was not fully operational at launch with important parts such as the security questions waiting for values and problems interfacing between the dozens of agencies involved have not been solved. This was another political decision.

Finally, warnings that the site was going to fail were kept from the President.

As a result of all of this, we had the President of the United States stood before the American people and claimed said that the site would be as easy to use as a travel site. Three weeks later he said that he had found out the problems from the news reports and that they were a combination of glitches and demand.

How would all of this play out in the real world?

First, a product launch date is determined by an estimate of how long the project will take. No one starts with an implementation date and works backwards.

Once a release date is set, other dates are set. Major design changes are frozen far enough ahead to prevent them from interfering with the release date. As the date grows closer, smaller decisions are frozen. As the date approaches, all changes are frozen except for bug fixes.

The features should be frozen by the testing phase. A few feature can restart the testing phase from scratch. The system should also go through a load test to see what will happen under the expected load.

Projects do inevitably fall behind. When that happens, either the release date is moved or features are cut or both.

Upper management is given a realistic appraisal of the status.

Finally, if a bad product does make it out, the person at the top apologizes and people are fired. When Apple implemented a bad maps replacement, their chairman apologized. When Microsoft had a bad roll-out with Windows 8 and the Surface tablets, several top managers lost their jobs and the top man, co-founder Steve Balmer, was forced to accept early retirement.

With Obamacare, major decisions were made based on politics and no one has been held accountable. And this is just a web site.

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