Prescription for a Healthy IT Project (Post 1 of 6)

healthcare-websiteOver $600 million! That’s how much the federal government has reported spending – so far – on information technology for the federal health insurance website HealthCare.gov.  From errors to long waits, it’s been a debacle.

Lack of adequate testing by the IT vendor, CGI, also has been blamed for the site’s navigational difficulties and extremely slow load times. In case you’re not familiar with it, CGI is the world’s fifth-largest information technology services company and the largest IT company in Canada, where it is headquartered.

As of Oct. 25, 700,000 U.S. citizens had filed applications for health insurance. The nagging tech issues must be resolved, and soon, if the predicted seven million interested Americans are going to be able to sign up for coverage through the exchanges by the end of the six-month enrollment period on March 31, 2014.

As the owner of an IT consulting business, I feel for the folks at CGI. Managing a project of this scale involving the federal government no doubt was beyond challenging. Still, when I heard that complete end-to-end testing had not taken place until mid-September, I had to scratch my head. With so much on the line, comprehensive testing tied to established milestones should have been happening early and often throughout the development process.

How could such an obviously world-class IT vendor overlook such a basic software development principle? I’m not going to speculate since I was not on the team, but I do think this very public software development fiasco creates an opportunity to dust off some of the time-tested software development principles described in my book, “Building a Winning Business.”  I will discuss those principles in my next five posts and hope that by the time I’m finished with this series of posts, the new federal health care website finally will be working efficiently!

Innovate, Not Just Automate

Innovation-Not-AutomateA recent article in The Economist’s Schumpeter column said, “(for) consumers, the digital age is often exhilarating. For companies, it is often frightening… In practice, many (IT) departments fear being overwhelmed.” This focus of the article is right in-line with an article I wrote for the Star Tribune this October “Cost-center thinking hobbles IT power

In summary:

  • “Enterprises are going to have to shift from where IT was really just about automating undifferentiated back-office functions to using IT as the fundamental product of what they do.” To move forward, for all organizations, IT needs to move from automating to innovating.
  • The combination of mobile and the cloud creates a platform for creating solutions where IT can be a fundamental product of what an organization does
  • As I shared in an interview this year with Twin Cities Business magazine, consumerization is here… when it comes to the ideas for products and services that allow IT to be the fundamental product of an organization, everyone can innovate!

Post #6 (and last) in the Series: Accountability

Dr. Westerman writes:

Business says: “Why do you make me go through all of this bureaucracy?”

IT says: “Our methodologies are how we make sure everyone does the right thing.”

“It may often seem to business leaders that IT’s answer to every request is more procedures—more forms to complete, reviews to attend and approvals to get. These procedures, or methodologies, require effort, but they help to ensure that nothing important gets forgotten and that everyone knows their roles.

They become a sore point, though, if people don’t understand the purpose of each step, or if the steps become a bureaucracy aimed at enforcing unnecessary rules rather than helping requests to be executed well. As with the prioritization processes described earlier, the best companies have solid IT methodologies, and IT people make it as easy as possible to follow them.

The CIO of a defense contractor decided to convert IT’s development methodology to the same one the firm used for product-development projects. Suddenly, everyone knew what they were supposed to do, what questions to ask of whom, and how to deal with the answers. Executives made better decisions, project performance improved, and so did the relationship between IT and business people.

Creating transparency takes extra time and effort on everyone’s part, especially IT’s. But this is one project that definitely pays. Transparency around performance and decision processes improves the business value of IT and builds trust between business and IT people. As everyone learns to work better together, IT becomes part of the company’s business-level decisions and initiatives, not its own world. When that happens, the marriage of IT and the business side is really working.”

Tom’s Take: In my book, Building a Winning Business, I devote an entire section to working effectively with vendors. Not surprisingly, a fair amount of that section talks about the importance of taking the time to get key things right.

First, take time to select the right partner.  Next, it’s crucial to clearly define what’s in and out of a project, identify risks and mitigation plans, have clear lines of responsibility, and, as shared throughout the book, a solid communication plan.

As noted an earlier post, in the world of Agile and Scrum, sprints create visibility and accountability… which is good for customer and vendor alike!