While adding engineers from Google, Oracle, and Red Hat seems like a good idea in theory, many web developers know Brooks’s Law to be true - “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later”. This is not to say that these experts won’t help fix the troubled site (I think we all hope they can fix it and fix it fast!), it’s just to say that we see this happen too often in the web development field. Organizations don’t do their homework before hand and end up trying to throw extra developers at the site when the project starts to go south. To avoid these issues, and many of the issues that Healthcare.gov is experiencing, follow these basic rules:
Select the right software
While this may seem like a no-brainer (Duh! Why would I select the wrong software?), many companies get this wrong because they don’t do their homework. Just because your cousin’s nephew’s cat sitter uses SitesforLess.com for her website and says it’s awesome it does not mean that it is right for your business. Take the time to talk to software vendors and get demos. Remember that during software demos they’re always going to show you a clean, pretty site, so be sure to have questions specific to your website’s needs ready.
Select the right team
Again, it should be common sense. Make sure you like your web implementation team and that they like you. It has to be a good fit, like a marriage, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people for the next 6 - 12 months and you want to make sure that there is mutual respect between both parties. Take the time to get to know this team. Ask for recommendations from previous clients they’ve worked with to get honest feedback. If you sense the web team is only doing this project because they need the cash or that they can’t seem to answer your basic questions, time to look elsewhere.
When something goes wrong, it’s easy enough to blame your web team. They built it, they must have broken it. Well, that’s not always the case. Healthcare.gov only had two weeks of testing. TWO WEEKS. Just 14 days to test a site that would be used by millions of people, that’s just crazy-talk. Believe it or not, things like this happen regularly in web projects. Clients think they can cut costs by cutting out testing with the idea of, “My team can test that.” And it’s not just testing that gets cut.
This is why it’s important to educate yourself on what really goes on in a web development project. If you’ve never been a part of one before, it can be an overwhelming, scary thing to take on, but there are resources to help you get through it. Forrester, Gartner, and Real Story Group regularly put out non-biased reports about software platforms that can give you an idea of what you may want to consider for your project. Digital Clarity Group produces a report ranking service integrators to help you learn more about the companies that might be doing the work on your site (disclaimer: Oshyn is included in the Digital Clarity Group Research Report).
In the end, Healthcare.gov is a mess and most can relate to having a project go totally off the cliff and fast (though not to that scale). To avoid catastrophes like this, do your homework. Select the right software, select the right team, and educate yourself. Have ever been on a project like this?