Kathleen Sebelius: Failed IT Project Manager?
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User Rank: Ninja
4/12/2014 | 3:20:32 PM
Re: Could you have done better than Kathleen Sebelius?
Government operates differently than the private sector. I think there area a lot of loops to jump through in order to make a technical project like this work.

Sebelius in this case is being used as a scapegoat for something many of us are aware of: Some government projects falter and go through a lot of issues before they are ready for primtetime. 
User Rank: Strategist
4/12/2014 | 10:26:28 AM
Re: Could you have done better than Kathleen Sebelius?
I managed IT projects for 20 years in the government as an Air Force Officer.  What happened on is fairly typical of many, if not most, projects.  The key here was this was a very visible project and so just muddling by was harder to conceal. 

There are always plenty of indicators that things are going wrong.  But because this is "normal" people who point them out or who try to change things are considered problems and don't fare well. 

If instead one takes on a project and does it well, delivers on time with good quality, then inevitably that person had to do things very differently. That "very differently" pretty much guarantees that you've made a lot of people unhappy.  Early in my career, after a hugely succesful IT project, I was told "they liked what you did, but not how you did it."  My performance review was "average" which was of course the kiss of death for future promotions.

The bottom line to all this, in my observation and experience, is that those folks who rise to the top in this environment are rarely managers who have experienced successful projects (IT or otherwise).  Therefore the notion that they will, suddenly, successfully manage a huge megaproject or be able to provide senior executive oversight to such a project is fanciful. 

"It is better to fail conventionally, then it is to succeed unconventionally" -- generally works well in government, unless it is on an externally visible project.

Shameless plug:  pmtoolsthatwork com a-successful-manager-but-never-a-successful-project - talks more about this subject.

Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
4/11/2014 | 5:31:38 PM
Re: Could you have done better than Kathleen Sebelius?
Exactly Alison. I heard that Ellison offered to build the site for free. Now, that would have its own pitfalls, but it was folly for the government to project manage this effort. As for Sebelius resigning, I agreed with the Target CIO resigning, and I agree with this. The buck needs to stop somewhere.
User Rank: Author
4/11/2014 | 3:50:22 PM
Re: Could you have done better than Kathleen Sebelius?
I, personally, couldn't but I think the error of government lies with its belief that government is good at doing what are, for it, one-off projects. Instead, it would have been more successful if HHS had done better due diligence and partnered with a solution provider whose very livelihood depended on making a success from Day One and had a say in creating a realistic deadline. InformationWeek alone is full of stories of past failures -- and successes in the multi-millions of dollars. She was right to resign/get fired, especially if the much-touted 7 million number isn't accurate once payments are due. 
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
4/11/2014 | 3:43:28 PM
Could you have done better than Kathleen Sebelius?
Second guessing politicians and government officials is always fun, but it's also easier to criticize a failure in hindsight than to prevent it. Would you want the job Kathleen Sebelius had? What would be your approach to managing the layers of bureaucracy involved in steering a large government IT project like this.
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