Comments
Kathleen Sebelius: Failed IT Project Manager?
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
David F. Carr
100%
0%
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.
Alison_Diana
50%
50%
Alison_Diana,
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 Healthcare.gov 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. 
Lorna Garey
50%
50%
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.
BruceB093
100%
0%
BruceB093,
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 healthcare.gov 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.

 
danielcawrey
100%
0%
danielcawrey,
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. 
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
4/12/2014 | 3:52:25 PM
She's a politician, not a techie, but...
...as an ex-governor she does or should have understood that an executive is responsible for what her people do and don't do, even if it's outside of her area of expertise.  It was her job to make it work and she and her President are responsible for the successes and failures of implementation (the President and Congress are responsible for the law itself).

 
satneosen900
0%
100%
satneosen900,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/13/2014 | 4:06:02 PM
Re: Could you have done better than Kathleen Sebelius?
'Completely agree that the failure of healthcare.gov was attributable to a failure if leadership and Sebalius should own up and seek a better fit. But the other clear failure was Obama's. I'm always confounded by poor operators who blame their underlings for what they are responsible to deliver. Any good operator/manager would have been able to deliver - especially with the resources that were available. Any other explanation is simply politics.
rradina
50%
50%
rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 8:50:58 AM
Could I Have Done Better?
I probably could have raised awareness regarding some of the site's architecture.  From the beginning, it seems the site was tasked with a massive set of requirements that were trying to be fulfilled in real/near real time which, in my opinion, was a huge red flag.  However, I seriously doubt whether or not such advice would have made any difference.

The problem with this task is it was wrong-headed from the very start. That is, bad initial decisions were made regarding the single fed exchange.  The fed never should have tried to create a single exchange for all the states that didn't want to create their own.  Once it became obvious a lot of states were going to opt out of creating their own exchange, they should have figured out a way to incent most/all of those states to build their own.  Granted, this might have higher initial costs but when this started we were in the midst of the worst-ever recession.  Although I'm sure there would have still been a few hold-outs, the right financial incentives would have convinced most that the potential economic stimulus is more important than their principles.

I also agree with another post regarding why the government wanted this at all.  The government should have told the insurance companies they need exchanges and, again, incented them to build them rather than a single, massive and failed fed site.
BruceB093
100%
0%
BruceB093,
User Rank: Strategist
4/14/2014 | 9:55:01 AM
Re: She's a politician, not a techie, but...
Not a techie, but most senior managers have managed projects (she was an insurance commissioner and then governor for 2 terms) and should have the ability to detect and assess when she is getting good and bad information.  

Again, this only works well when the senior manager has had successful projects -- which is hard to come by in government.  She recently said: "Clearly, the estimate that it was ready to go Oct. 1 was just flat-out wrong. ... If I had a magic wand and could go back to mid-September and ask different questions based on what I know now."

Mid-September?  That is only about two weeks before the launch.  The only thing someone can generally do just 2 weeks before a major deadline is to delay the deadline.  If a senior manager is unaware that they have a bad project and it is two weeks from deadline, then they either probably have no clue (she seems a lot smarter than that) or else they've been ignoring all the bad evidence and been just listening to what they wanted to hear -- which in my experience is fairly common.

Most projects that don't deliver on time and are buggy, again in my experience, will clearly show critical problems before half the schedule has passed.  Intermediate milestones are missed and quality measures are way behind (functionality working, defect counts, etc.).  Few mega-projects suddenly fail just two weeks before the final deadline.

Actually, the evidence that it may be working (at least as to signing up) is heartening, suggesting that it might be actually useful one day. Three to six months late is not too bad even by corporate standards (which is a sad state of affairs).  It could have gone the way of the FBI's Virtual Case File where we are out over $100 million with not much to show for it. 

 
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
4/14/2014 | 10:29:21 AM
Re: Could you have done better than Kathleen Sebelius?
I can't help but feel that Sebelius is a scapegoat, and got in over her head in a beauracratic position for which she was not qualified. It sounds like communication up the chain of command was terrible, and that's on her. But Obama put a politician in charge of the construction of a really, really important website and it became a quagmire early on. That's on the president.

Like other commenters have written, HHS should have partnered with an experienced solution provider from the beginning.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>


The Business of Going Digital
The Business of Going Digital
Digital business isn't about changing code; it's about changing what legacy sales, distribution, customer service, and product groups do in the new digital age. It's about bringing big data analytics, mobile, social, marketing automation, cloud computing, and the app economy together to launch new products and services. We're seeing new titles in this digital revolution, new responsibilities, new business models, and major shifts in technology spending.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - July 22, 2014
Sophisticated attacks demand real-time risk management and continuous monitoring. Here's how federal agencies are meeting that challenge.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.