It’s way too early to know what really happened with the botched launch of Healthcare.Gov. We don’t know how it will all play in years to come and what its impact will be on the evolution of the Alternative Care Act (ACA), on election results over the next few years, or on President Obama’s legacy. Depending on how it all turns out over time, this will be just a chapter in future books on the history of the ACA and the Obama administration, or the subject of major books and investigative reports.
Most everyone who’s been involved with the development of complex IT systems knows how wrong things can sometimes go. So, when serious problems do happen, we are eager to learn the lessons that might help us avoid similar problems in the future. It’s quite possible that Healthcare.gov and the ACA’s overall IT system are such complex outliers, - technically, organizationally and politically, - that any lessons learned might apply to few other projects. But, given the increasing complexity of private and public sector IT systems, the lessons are worth thinking about.
I like the way Clay Shirky, - NYU faculty member as well as author and consultant, - framed the problem in a very interesting blog, - Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality. He writes about the gulf between those charged with planning the overall rollout of the ACA and health care exchanges and the realities of trying to get such a complex system designed, built and launched in a short amount of time. It’s essentially a tale of failure is not an option versus the messy world of highly complex IT systems. While the blog is focused on the launch of Healthcare.gov, it can also be read as a more general discussion of the kinds of problems often encountered with highly, complex IT-based projects when a management decision to win a deal at all costs comes back to haunt the implementation of the project.