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FCW : February 2014
Commentary | BOB WOODS BOB WOODS is president of Topside Consulting Group and former commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service. Much is being written about IT these days. Dissection has run along the lines of IT s creation, operation and acquisition. Without a date on an article s byline, how- ever, it is dif cult to tell in what decade it was written. Claims of technology being outdated, procured by the unknow- ing or uncaring and produced by an industry interested more in pro ts than performance are just as current in 2014 as they were four decades ago. When Texas Democrat Jack Brooks authored the Brooks Act, he made the same accusations and more. So how are we to deal with behavior that ts the often-quoted de nition of insanity --- i.e., doing the same things over and over while expecting different results? Large-scale, IT-based systems require myriad people with differ- ent skills, motivations and political orientations. To assume we can delegate the likes of the Health- Care.gov website to just one of those groups is a recipe for failure. Engineers didn t make HealthCare. gov fail. Contracting of cers didn t make it fail. Congress didn t make it fail. Industry didn t make it fail. But it failed nonetheless. As we seek to determine why, we want quick, easy and clear answers. In today s politically charged environment, the autopsy phase of this "teachable moment" is not likely to get the analytical effort that it truly needs. The kind of review and analysis performed after a major air carrier accident will not happen for HealthCare.gov. Instead, we ll likely get legislative xes by congressman with atten- tion de cit disorder. The shock, dismay and hyperbole are already in full swing. So what does it take to design, develop and deploy large-scale mission systems? A key ingredi- ent is including the team that will be with the process through its full life cycle. No part is expend- able, and leadership is needed to see it through. Compare the activity to a major military cam- paign. There are lots of parts to be coordinated, many of which must be led, fed and sustained. Rewards and punishments must be known and executed. There is no time to rely on legislation or dogma. It is a team effort and must be managed with that in mind. Leaders have many critical func- tions. Communication is vital to keep the stakeholders and team members informed and commit- ted, and it must be done often and in small doses. Waiting can become a festering sore, with team members and stakeholders ask- ing: "Why haven t we been briefed or informed? The rumors say one thing, you say another." Stakeholders generally fall into four major categories. First are the clients or constituencies. Failure with them is total failure. Second are the employees or soldiers. They will execute your plan. Third are key teammates, often industry or other agencies. If you choose poorly here, they can cost you a bundle and ensure failure. Fourth are the authorizers and oversight groups, which might include Con- gress, the Of ce of Management and Budget, the press and late- night comedians. They shoot the survivors. Forming a team and keeping it together while dealing with stake- holder groups is tantamount to running a major military campaign. It requires all the same functional efforts to varying degrees. HealthCare.gov s leaders have the sense of being drawn in many different directions, much as Gen. Colin Powell must have felt during the Gulf War. Unfortunately, no one tells the leaders of an effort like implementing the Affordable Care Act that it could be more complicated than a major military campaign --- or that winning in this team sport will be anything but easy. ■ IT systems as a team sport HealthCare.gov has everyone focused on technology and acquisition, but the real emphasis should be on knowing one's stakeholders Forming a team and keeping it together while dealing with stakeholder groups is tantamount to running a major military campaign. 12 February 2014 FCW.COM
March 15, 2014