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Success or Failure: What’s to Keep You From Following in the Footsteps of Healthcare.gov?

Alex Robbio


July 30th, 2014

HEALTHCARE.GOV
The government’s disastrous failed attempt to roll out the new health care system last year has been the inspiration for countless articles detailing the do’s and don’ts of your own IT projects. You have probably read many such articles in efforts to avoid your own embarrassing and costly failures.

This is not one of those articles. Far from it. This post is a recount of lessons that have taught me and my colleagues how thin the line between success and failure really is. The following seven items are what we have learned.

1. Get the right people for the job.

Assigning the right people to each component of the job is critical for success, since they will be responsible for the project from start to finish. Getting qualified people who can excel in management and execution can keep the project on track. Keep in mind that not every project manager is the right fit for every project. Instead, identify and define the roles of the project, and select the most qualified individual for each role.

2. Plan so that you can avoid expensive mistakes.

Fixing a major mistake or starting a failed project from the beginning is far more expensive than doing it right the first time. Take the necessary time at the beginning of the project to plan each step and fit it into your budget. Mistakes not only cost a lot of money, but also consumer trust. Bad consumer experiences affect brand perceptions and turn potential clients away.

3. Be prepared to fail.

Failure is part of innovation. You are exploring new territory and cannot predict what will happen. You can, however, get ready for failure. Try to anticipate mistakes and always be on the lookout for them so that you can prevent them from becoming serious. Some of the processes to put in place are the following.

  • Have agile development.
  • Incorporate product owners into projects.
  • Be flexible about changing management.
  • Keep the business and IT sides in synch by communicating well.
  • Anticipate any weak links.

4. Be realistic with deadlines.

The instant you are late with a deadline is the instant that you lose credibility. Being honest about deadlines instead of saying “yes” to impossible ones helps maintain customer trust. Agreeing to unrealistically short deadlines can also put you at risk for putting out poor results.

5. Be prepared to scale.

Think of each project as a dynamic, scalable software system that can be expanded as necessary. From the early stages of planning, include individuals who can assist in project scalability considerations for each aspect of the project. Otherwise, the project may be doomed to being a trivial venture because of its small scale.

6. Test, test, and retest.

Any line of code can fail in a new device or platform. Integration testing is absolutely necessary before releasing the product to consumers. Releasing the product early has the risk of giving consumers a poor product. Expert testers may go through hundreds of test runs and eliminate hundreds of bugs before the product goes to its final platform. Agile testing is an approach to quality control that tests code in context and permits real-time identification, prioritization, and fixes of bugs.

Nobody is immune to failure, but everyone can take steps to help prevent it. Careful planning can make the difference between becoming the next epic healthcare.gov failure versus being a billion-dollar success story.

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