Another key thing the Obamacare website fiasco illustrates is the major disadvantages of the launch and leave culture.
In a great many organizations it is more important to do things wrong quickly than to take your time and get them right. These organizations have an obsession with meeting targets and deadlines.
“One of the mysteries of the problems with the Obamacare website is why Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius would give the 'all clear' after the system failed, repeatedly, during tests days before its debut,” Sharyl Attkisson writes for CBS News.
Obviously, Sharyl has not worked for a large government organization in a while. It has been disappointing over the years to time and time again see great ideas and objectives turned into mindless projects and grinding bureaucracy.
According to CBS News, the Obamacare website “failed with a small test pool of 200 to 300 people that included employees from the government and insurance companies. The government employees worked at their own computers and desks within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversaw the health care implementation.”
It would seem that the Obamacare website followed the script of a very traditional horror movie:
We don’t have time or money to test as we develop, so let’s just install software, code and migrate content and then, hey, put some nice smiling faces on the homepage, and launch. Oh, maybe we’ll do a little bit of testing near the end. But we’ll only listen to the test results if they confirm that everything is just dandy and we’re ready to launch."
Have you heard that script before? It’s a real Titanic blockbuster, isn’t it?
“When the testing finally took place in late September,” according to ABC News, “the testers started trying to create an application. Just a couple of pages into the process, everything 'ground to a stop,' said one source. 'It froze. It couldn't go forward. It crashed,' the source said. A couple of days later, testers tried again and had a similar outcome. They were never able to successfully browse plans for cost estimates. 'It was unequivocally clear from testing ... this wasn't ready,' said a source close to the testing.”
Sounds incredible? No, this is just day-to-day stuff. This is how projects work (or don’t work). The project becomes more important than the objective. Meeting the deadline becomes the measure of success. Creating the object (the website) is what matters. Whether it actually works is a somewhat tangential and philosophical question. Whether it’s easy to use, well, no serious manager would be bothered with that sort of triviality.
This is the culture of Launch and Leave. The website’s launched, now let’s move on to the next project. It reminds me of a t-shirt I saw in Belfast once. On the front was a picture of the Titanic (which was built in Belfast). On the back was the statement:
IT WAS ALRIGHT WHEN IT LEFT HERE
The new culture is about lean, flexible design and management. It’s about developing with customer input at every step of the way. It’s about a relentless focus on making things easy. It’s about obsessive continuous improvement. It’s about measuring success based on customer outcomes (can they choose the right insurance easily and quickly) rather than inputs (we launched the website on time and to budget).