God is a Capitalist

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

RX for Healthcare.gov

I posted in November in A Monkey with two bananas about the left's contempt for management being the cause of the failure of the Obamacare web site, Healthcare.gov. Recently, Foreign Affairs magazine detailed the management failures of those in charge of the web site in The Key to Successful Tech Management. The authors wrote,
Assuming basic technical competence, the essential management challenge for all large technology projects is the same: how best to balance features, quality, and deadline. When a project cannot meet all three goals simultaneously -- a situation HealthCare.gov was in by the beginning of 2013, as the administration’s internal memos show -- something has to give, and management’s job is to decide what.
In other words, everyone wants their projects finished fast, cheap, and good, but in reality we can only have two of the three. Good managers understand that and let the client set priorities. The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) settled for fast and cheap so quality suffered. But as the authors point out, Healthcare.gov wasn't the government's worst disaster:  
That honor probably goes to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Advanced Automation System, an attempt at modernizing air traffic control in the 1980s and early 1990s that has been characterized by one participant as “the greatest failure in the history of organized work.”...

In the end, the FAA determined that $1.5 billion of the total $2.6 billion spent on hardware and software for the system had simply been wasted -- more than twice the total cost of HealthCare.gov.
And that's without adjusting for inflation! Then there was the FBI’s Virtual Case File, an upgrade of its Automated Case Support system begun in 2000. The project failed outright by 2005 and the entire $170 million project had to be written off. The authors summarize the government's problem:


These are only two of many such examples one could choose from, all stemming from problems in at least one of three distinct arenas of government tech administration: hiring and procurement, planning, and management.
The government spends $80 billion per year on tech projects, many of which will fail like those mentioned because few people in government have any respect for the field of management. 
Unfortunately, decades of nine- and ten-figure failures have not sufficed to teach the federal government and its contractors such basic lessons....

So the real question is not how to fix a website, even a big, complicated one. It is whether Washington will ever allow good management to become part of its standard operating procedures, rather than something that it turns to only when its regular routines fail badly enough to produce a crisis.
That will happen when socialists admit that CEO's deserve their pay. Good managers are as rare as good NFL coaches. Coaches do little but stride up and down the sidelines and yell during a game, while the players on the field do all of the work. And so it appears to the media and public that CEO's do little but take credit for the work of others.

But the NFL coach's job, and that of a good CEO, is to orchestrate the efforts of the many different players to achieve the team's goals. The coach needs to know something about every position, though he may not be an expert at each. No one function should dominate the effort; each contributes its portion to the goal. One can learn the basic principles of management by reading a few books. But like coaching football, becoming good at it takes years of practice.

The government will continue to fail at everything from IT projects to hurricane clean ups until it learns respect for the role of management. Unfortunately, bureaucrats who fail miserably tend to get promoted while in the private sector they get fired. CEO's have failed, but none as spectacularly as bureaucrats do on a regular basis.


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