Following my post on the Oregon ACA website and the Maryland ACA website project failures, I am following up with the federal ACA website project. Unlike Oregon, there has not been a (publicly-available) thorough audit of the failure. Some data points have been widely reported: 70% of users could not even log in at launch and only eight people were able to sign up on day 1. I’ve read where stress testing before launch indicated the site could only handle 1,500 users – even though over 30 million Americans are uninsured. I also understand the team was not co-located (White House in D.C., CMS in Baltimore, contractors in Columbia, MD) and decision-making was difficult.
Steven Brill has written a story at Time (gated, here). It’s mostly about the team sent in to rescue the project. The first thing the rescue team was to develop a dashboard. Brill quotes one saying it was “jaw-dropping” that there was no “dashboard – a quick way to measure what was going on at the website…how many people were using it, what the response times were…and where traffic was getting tied up.” Implementing a dashboard was job 1 for the rescue team.
Brill notes “what saved it were …stand-ups.” He further says that “stand-ups…are Silicon Valley-style meetings where everyone…stands-up rather than sits….” Brill implies that California software companies invented stand-ups. While I have no doubt that stand-ups are popular in Silicon Valley, I doubt they were invented there. I worked for an admiral (Craig Steidle) in the ’90s that did daily stand-ups and stand-ups are a key component of the Scrum methodology. Many, many companies use stand-ups. I guess journalists are unfamiliar with them.
I look forward to a real audit of the project. Brill’s article is entertaining but not illuminating as to the problems that plagued the project. The federal ACA website project has common characteristics with state-led ACA failures – poor choice in contractors, poor project management, no risk management, lack of a single point-of-authority and poor oversight. Perhaps we can have the GAO review the effort – we must learn form these large IT project failures, otherwise we are doomed to repeat them.