Guest Editorial: A message on Healthcare.gov

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Editor's Note: This guest editorial by Drew Ryder of FeedLogic helps the government understand how to develop software that works.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been put in an impossible situation with the Healthcare.gov debacle. How do you fix something that was doomed from the start? A lot of the problem stems from the way governments are forced to buy goods and services. To avoid graft and deliberate underbidding, all contractors must go through a tendering process that includes detailed descriptions of the work to be performed and outcomes. This process works reasonably well when you are building a bridge or a road, but for a complex software project which involves untold variables, it sucks.

Software development is not like building something tangible. There are far more moving parts and it’s virtually impossible to document the entire development plan before you’ve started. The approach must be a patient, segmented one. You build a bit, test, and fix any bugs (which are always more than you expect) before proceeding. Then build a bit a more, test, and fix any bugs. Repeat process until you have a body of code that plays nicely together and you can isolate any new bugs quickly.

At Feedlogic, we have been in software development for over 12 years and have learned that this is the best approach.  From a financial management standpoint, this can be frustrating. A CFO wants to know exactly how much it’s going to cost and when it will be done so that it fits into a budget. But software development defies budgets and hard deadlines due to its fluid nature.

Our company typically creates a master plan which outlines what language it’s going to be programmed in, what we want the software to do (functionality) and how we expect the user to interact with it. It’s a road map which is specific in the destination, but not so specific in the routing. We arrive at the specific routing through a lot of collaboration.

Our main tool is a cloud-based project management system which allows us to assign specific tasks to multiple programmers throughout the world working on one or more projects at the same time. This system allows us to track what each programmer is working on and make rapid adjustments as necessary based on changing priorities. It’s akin to making constant small adjustments to the rudder of a boat rather than large, costly changes to your bearings when you have drifted far off course.

Importantly, it’s not just software programmers that have access to the system. We have our own engineers and sales people in there to provide feedback on products as they have tested them in house and in the field. We even allow some of the employees of our distributors to participate and provide perspectives from their local situations. It’s all very democratic and it works. If you develop software in a void (i.e. with no stage testing and no real feedback from your entire internal team and your customers) you will have a train wreck.

We aren’t perfect, but we have a better track record than the government when it comes to software development and web programming. Our message to Obama and the architects of Healthcare.gov: stick to governing and let the private sector handle technology projects in its own way.


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Thom Katt    
Midwest  |  November, 15, 2013 at 11:33 AM

Mr. Ryder, when you solicit for software development, you probably request proposals or bids from multiple companies and check their qualifications and past performance. If you do go on a no bid arrangement, you probably put the developer through rigous vetting to be sure they can deliver. You probably also ask the contractor for input on the project specifications to be sure that what you ask for makes good sense, can be built and will meet your customers needs. I doubt that you base contract award decisions on whether one of the software companies owners went to college with the wife of the president of your company. Since you are using private money, you pretty much have to do things that make economic and technical sense whereas people using government money feel that they have to be more concerned about the social aspects of the decision. You are correct. The Obama Administration needs to take a lesson from you and many others on software development.

michael    
kansas  |  November, 15, 2013 at 12:14 PM

Mr. Ryder (& Mr. Katt) - Your criticism and comments are obviously racist and unpatriotic! Use of "code words" like, "code", "democratic", "vetting" and "private sector" demonstrate your subversive anti- government and racist anti-Obama prejudices. I fully intend to report you and this post to the WH official in charge of the "fishy" stories project, as we were instructed prior to implementation of O-Care. As the WH advised famed investigative reporter Bob Woodward when he dared criticize, "You'll regret this". Be prepared for IRS audits and FBI investigations. Oh, and welcome to the new, fundamentally changed Amerika, comrades!


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