Kathleen Sebelius claims that the ObamaCare website problems blindsided the President. This may very well be true, and it seems also that Sebelius herself was blindsided … but even if true, is such blindsiding excusable in this day and age of sophisticated software development, or is something else going on?
The majority of my almost 40 years in the software development business was spent in an environment of manually reporting progress upstream to management and customers. Managers would require weekly or monthly status/progress reports and would often walk the halls pressuring developers to get the report out. This was often times a very ad-hock and subjective process, – error prone, and subject to the blindsiding Sebelius talks about.
Then in the 2003-04 time frame Microsoft introduced Team Foundation Server (commonly abbreviated to TFS), an ambitious software product whose goal was to cover the entire software development process, end-to-end including automated reporting.
When I first read about TFS in a trade magazine back in those days, I immediately alerted my boss and encouraged him to learn more about how this product could help in our software development process. At the time, our process was extremely cumbersome and disjointed, and the company was engaged in a long process of coming up with something better. I became quite passionate in learning about and advocating for TFS up until I was laid off in 2008, but was unsuccessful in my efforts to install it as our primary software development environment .
Among the many strong points of TFS is its deep integration into all aspects of a project: requirements management, coding, source control, configuration management, testing and reporting among other capabilities are covered by TFS.
Reporting, and its applicability to the ObamaCare web site, is the aspect of TFS that I wish to highlight in this article.
When properly set up, TFS tracks everything I do as a developer, tester, requirements manager, and other specialties … in real time. As tasks are opened, worked and closed out, these actions are captured in a real-time data base and accessible to all team members in near real-time. Testing results and progress are captured in real-time, and available in many forms to managers and customers alike. And all of this activity is objective and based on activities actually accomplished within the system. No subjective reporting, no walking the halls seeking status updates, no hiding problems or schedule slippage … no excuse for being blindsided.
I’ve read that the ObamaCare web site was developed using 10 year old technology which puts the technology back into the timeframe in which TFS was introduced. Does this mean that the various and multitudes of software development teams and companies were using methods I described at the beginning of this article? Don’t know, but it is probable that the many teams used different reporting methods, some good and some not so good, but in any case far to many places to look for things.
What about the fact that several or many different software development environments were used for the product; Microsoft, Oracle, Java … ? Well, the TFS version I personally have (TFS 2010) has the capability to interface with Microsoft tools, Java and Eclipse tools, older versions of Visual Studio, and in doing a quick search I see that even Oracle is supported by TFS (Integrate Oracle PL/SQL Developer with Team Foundation Server).
So the ongoing finger pointing and blame game, in my opinion, could have been greatly mitigated and reduced had the responsible agency, HSS, structured the product development under the auspices of an Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) system such as TFS. TFS is not the only product out there, but last I looked was rated as the best in the marketplace.
So it looks like the technology is in place, or close enough such that no-one … I repeat no-one, up to and including the President of the United States should have been blindsided by the initial deployment results of HealthCare.gov. All he would have had to do is to subscribe to a set of top level reports on a daily, weekly or monthly basis and kept himself fully informed .
However, as good as this product is, if it is not used, nor an equivalent product, then all is for naught and we get what we pay for ($400,000,000?).
And what would have prevented the use of a product such as TFS?
One thought crosses my mind at this point, and here I will cross over from the technical to the political world – after all, what is politics but the intrusion of government, for better or worse, into the lives of citizens. And politics in the form of the Limbaugh Theorem comes to mind. The Limbaugh Theorem states :
Obama has positioned himself as a Washington “outsider” perpetually fighting mysterious and powerful forces that are opposing him and stopping him from creating jobs for the middle class and giving them proper health care, and he’s constantly appalled at what goes on in Washington (in his administration, at his direction.) This has helped him get away with so much. As John so vividly put it: “The less he knows, the more easily he can float above Washington like the Bullwinkle balloon at the Macy’s Day Parade, equally hapless and blameless.”
I’ve been part of Politically Directed System Developments (PDSD) in the past and have written about it at Me and the Solyndra Flare-out, and have presented an expose at a major DOD software conference in 2011.
This latest Obama scandal, the HealthCare.gov debacle comes across to me as as the biggest such PDSD fiasco imaginable, and a prime example of the Limbaugh Theorem that has been in operation the entirety of the Obama admistration.
I have said for years “A Political Decision is just another name for a Bad Decision; you just don’t know who it will bite, how many, when or how badly!”
Don Johnson – October 2013