The Best You Can Ain’t Good Enough

Atrios:

As I’ve said, I don’t think that the healthcare.gov clusterfuck means that Obamacare is doomed. I assume it’ll be fixed eventually, and ultimately will be the least of the program’s problems. But, you know, I knew people in HHS who assured me (awhile ago) that Sebelius was on top of implementation, that competent management was her key skill. I’m not throwing all the blame on her – what do I know – but the idea of competent management is something we’re supposed to be about. We hated Bush for his policies, but also for his incompetent implementation for those polices. We hated the reverse Midas Touch, that he turned everything into shit.

Hopefully in the long run it won’t matter, but there’s a reason some of us expect our liberalism to be competent, especially when it’s really just technocratic centrism advertised as liberalism.

I’m definitely not optimistic, especially in the Radiohead sense (“If you try the best you can/ The best you can is good enough”). That said, if Sebelius was ever “on top of” the healthcare.gov implementation, she was in the same position as someone “on top of” a tiger or a stampeding water buffalo. If healthcare.gov does anything other than somehow, someday, after an avalanche of money is poured into it, sign up Obamacare participants, I hope it gives liberals some more leverage to attack the contracting culture in DC. When you combine complexities that Richard has documented with an outsourcing system that seems designed mainly to line the pockets of the private firms that participate in it, you’re going to get a clusterfuck. And that clusterfuck will happen despite the best efforts of smart people who are good managers.

Engineering complex software is one of the hardest things human beings do. The fact that every decade or so we see a new fad that’s supposed to revolutionize software development is pretty clear evidence of that fact. If we knew how to engineer software the way we engineer bridges or automobiles, nobody would be “reinventing” software engineering every decade. I watch these trends with a mix of amusement and disgust. The current one is “Agile Development”, which has a whole strange vocabulary related to Rugby. I know Agile is about to die because I’m hearing corporate types talk about “scrums” and “scrum masters”, two Agile buzzwords. My experience has been that as soon as the buzzwords become job titles, that trend is over, because the stink of corporate failure will overwhelm the magic bullet allure of the latest trend.

Good software development requires organization by smart people who are deeply committed to the task at hand, are directly responsible for the success or failure of the project, and have a big say in the resources needed and how they are deployed. Outsourcing firms throw (relatively) cheap bodies at tasks, they deploy resources stupidly and haphazardly according to their profit motive, and they live in a world where running up the bill, not delivering a working system, is the end goal. I wish Sebelius had changed that, but I’m not surprised she couldn’t.

151 replies
  1. 1

    This one’s optimistic.
    This one went to market.
    This one just came out of the swamp

  2. 2
    Walker says:

    1. Agile is not new.

    2. I have been hearing corporate types say “Agile does not work; agile is dead” for three years now.

  3. 3
    Cacti says:

    New website has glitches.

    Worst disaster in the history of anything anywhere.

  4. 4
    Jamey says:

    some of us expect our liberalism to be competent, especially when it’s really just technocratic centrism advertised as liberalism

    And no TRUE Scotsman…

    Stuff like this is why Duncan Black is the WORST advocate for his own sound views. He can’t help but be an arrogant prick, even when just letting the facts speak for themselves would work eleventy-brazillian times better.

  5. 5
    Corner Stone says:

    Outsourcing firms throw (relatively) cheap bodies at tasks, they deploy resources stupidly and haphazardly according to their profit motive, and they live in a world where running up the bill, not delivering a working system, is the end goal. I wish Sebelius had changed that, but I’m not surprised she couldn’t.

    What is the counter argument? If competency is the required skill then why did they choose a method guaranteed to fail? And I say “guaranteed” in scare quotes because with this methodology it is overly easy to predict the outcome.

  6. 6
    wrb says:

    The Oregon site is up and running and my choices look fantastic.

    Prices from $250-$600 /mo with low deductible Silver plans starting at just over $300.

    I’d call that success

  7. 7
    MattF says:

    I remember (long time ago) hearing about some new, revolutionary management technique… The guy making the pitch was presenting an example of how well the method worked, but he made an off-the-record remark that explained everything. You see, it just happened that there was this one person on the ‘team’ who did most of the work.

  8. 8
    Higgs Boson's Mate (Crystal Set) says:

    Engineering complex software is one of the hardest things human beings do.

    It becomes orders of magnitude more difficult when it involves interfacing with applications that were written long ago and kept running with kludges.

  9. 9
    Corner Stone says:

    with an outsourcing system that seems designed mainly to line the pockets of the private firms that participate in it, you’re going to get a clusterfuck. And that clusterfuck will happen despite the best efforts of smart people who are good managers.

    I don’t do procurement for the govt, so maybe there are bureaucratic rules about how the process must be?

  10. 10
    Origuy says:

    We’re just starting to try Agile here at the big computer company with the little name, at least in my division. One thing I’ve learned is that “scrum master” is not supposed to be a job title, but a temporary position for the lifetime of the project. I agree with the rest of what you said.

  11. 11
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    My experience has been that as soon as the buzzwords become job titles, that trend is over, because the stink of corporate failure will overwhelm the magic bullet allure of the latest trend.

    So when does outsourcing itself die this well deserved and thoroughly earned fate?

    Because it seems to me that putting a major project in the hands of people who are not deeply committed to the long term success of your organization is so obviously a path to failure that only trendiness can explain the popularity of this tactic. And this trend passed its sell-by date a very long time ago.

  12. 12
    Corner Stone says:

    And now we have the WH delaying the individual mandate for 6 weeks. This takes away one talking point to some degree, but leaves open a whole forest of others.

  13. 13
    Cacti says:

    By way of contrast the F-35 fighter that is supposed to be the new primary fighter/bomber aircraft for all 4 branches of service…

    -Is 7 years behind schedule

    -Is about $200 billion over budget

    -Lacks the range of an F-15 for bombing

    -Lacks the agility of an F-16 for air to air combat, and its performance has been described as a “flying piano” by test pilots

    -Is prohibited from flying in bad weather

    How many hearings is Darrell Issa holding on this particular project? Zero, as Lockheed Martin employs thousands in the San Diego area.

  14. 14
    Malovich says:

    Good software development requires organization by smart people who are deeply committed to the task at hand, are directly responsible for the success or failure of the project, and have a big say in the resources needed and how they are deployed

    This is the baseline for successful development, period.

    Engineering complex software is one of the hardest things human beings do. The fact that every decade or so we see a new fad that’s supposed to revolutionize software development is pretty clear evidence of that fact. If we knew how to engineer software the way we engineer bridges or automobiles, nobody would be “reinventing” software engineering every decade. I watch these trends with a mix of amusement and disgust. The current one is “Agile Development”, which has a whole strange vocabulary related to Rugby.

    Agile is a technique that, like any other, gets absorbed and filtered by the top-down power management style of the modern kleptocracy until it is harmless to the corporate culture. Agile works in the environment it is meant to. It’s a joke, otherwise. The boardroom is the graveyard of many a innovative process. Only the desperate would try something other than what the big and successful already do and surprise themselves and the world when they make a breakthrough. Then they send out the missionaries of the latest religion, sell classes, promise improvements to the directors and executive officers and are surprised when they don’t materialize.

    These developments aren’t revolutions, at any rate; they’re refinements. Iterations. Processes that build on each other. Science isn’t about striking the final answer; it’s about building the best model from the available data, always knowing that knowledge will be advanced and theory overturned.

  15. 15
    MattF says:

    @Corner Stone: It’s process, it’s requirements gamesmanship, it’s “Who’s in charge here?”, it’s contractual legalism. You name it.

  16. 16
    danielx says:

    More commentary on ACA disaster commentary….it appears TBogg has not lost his mojo in describing the reaction of Buffy the Bechamel slayer to Obamacare issues and problems.

    Three guesses who he’s talking about; the lucky winner gets a cookie.

  17. 17
    piratedan says:

    well if anything, how is Silbelius on the hook for the vendor not doing sufficient product testing? That kind of stuff is the responsibility of both parties, one for having a product to test and two for the client to adopt proper testing guidelines to verify that the product does what the client wants reliably. Granted, if you work with any kind of software, these things should be a given and the hard part is always underestimating the power of stupid when someone uses your product.

  18. 18
    Violet says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Can we also get rid of consultants and consultant-speak? That trend deserve to die a long time ago too.

  19. 19
    Chyron HR says:

    Even the liberal Atrios admits that this is Obama’s Iraqatrina. POLL: Should Obama be impeached or guillotined?

  20. 20
    Baud says:

    @Corner Stone:

    What does that mean? Extending open enrollment for 6 weeks? I thought the mandate was done on a yearly basis.

  21. 21
    Corner Stone says:

    @MattF:

    It’s process, it’s requirements gamesmanship, it’s “Who’s in charge here?”, it’s contractual legalism. You name it.

    I deal with all that in the private sector. All the politics and etc. I guess my question was, “How does this process differ for the govt in strict terms of what choices are available in the structured process?”
    Or in other words, is there a point in the process where a competent and skilled manager can make an informed change or decision? Or is it all a routine with the smallest possible choices for deviation, where competency is minimized?

  22. 22
    Citizen Alan says:

    This business of everyone turning on Sibelius is just ridiculous. The Repukes want her out so that Obama will have to get a new HHS Secretary through the Senate and they’ll have another extortion choke point. She needs to keep her head down and keep pushing to make the website better and she’ll get through it all fine.

  23. 23
    Corner Stone says:

    @Baud: After Insurance Industry Pow-Wow, White House Delays Obamacare’s Individual Mandate By Six Weeks

    It’s a Forbes article so take away some of the BS editorializing included in the “article” at the end.

  24. 24
    Violet says:

    @Chyron HR: Lynched, of course. He’s black.

  25. 25
    tomvox1 says:

    @Corner Stone: That’s not quite correct: they are delaying the enrollment period so it lines up with the March 31st deadline. “Delaying the mandate” is today’s GOP framing so best not to buy into it. Link at GOS: http://m.dailykos.com/stories/1250080

  26. 26
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    I don’t think it’s that big of a deal that the Healthcare.gov website is overwhelmed, or whatever. I think it feeds into the larger narrative that people want healthcare options. Conservatives were going to complain about it anyway. Let ’em complain that their constituents are having problems accessing the program they so thoroughly opposed and tried to block over and over.

  27. 27
    👾 Martin says:

    But, you know, I knew people in HHS who assured me (awhile ago) that Sebelius was on top of implementation

    The exchange website is very, very, very far from the entirety of ‘implementation’ of ACA. It may be the public face of ACA, and therefore be very important as a result, but ACA is fucking enormous in both its scope and its implication. Every state insurance commissioner has to sign off on plans offered on the exchanges, and a good 2 dozen of them think that ACA is a Marxist plot. There are new co-ops that needed rules, funding, and overall support – and help from HHS to cross state lines. There’s a tremendous amount of work just getting the insurance companies in a state that they can participate in the exchanges – but logistically and technologically. There’s a new clinic network being encouraged and set up. There’s lobbying for the Medicaid expansion that’s needed due to SCOTUS. There’s changes to every single existing health program from the VA to Medicare to SCHIP. There’s a never-ending stream of litigation from every employer that believes Jesus knows what’s best for employees – and the ongoing lobbying and politicking needed to get ahead of those. There’s the employer mandate and the small business provisions. There’s all of the pieces already put in place – staying on parents insurance, pre-existing conditions, generic coverage in D, free preventative care. There’s the back-end improvements – incentives for doctors and hospitals to lower costs, getting the Medicare C programs under control and dumping the old bonus model and developing a new outcomes based model. There’s all of the business with the drug companies that the WH worked out independently. There’s the business with the device makers and the consequences to them from dropping or changing a whole mountain of things covered under Medicare. California wanted a way to directly plug the student insurance requirement into the exchanges (we have about a quarter million students here that are too old for parents insurance) and needed approval and clarification for how to do that, and so there’s a ton of isolated issues like that to work out.

    And all of that stuff had loopholes and lack of clarity in the original bill that needed to be interpreted and massaged by HHS. Yes, the employer mandate didn’t come off perfectly, and yes, the national exchange website is a bit of a mess but the implementation of this has gone stunningly well when you look at all of the involved pieces.

  28. 28
    Corner Stone says:

    @tomvox1: Yeah, it’s a Forbes article linked through Yahoo News so I used fair amounts of salt.
    The talking points aspect is what I was referring to initially. I should have been more clear and linked the Forbes article in the same post.

  29. 29
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    @wrb: I guess those of us with state websites are immune to the federal glitches. Colorado’s seems to run smoothly – I’ve helped several people sign up, though I haven’t yet. I’m still unhappy with the plans offered and am digging my heels in on this.

    So, still pissed at insurance companies, check. Glitch free Obamacare implementation, check. I’d blame Obama, but my experience with money grubbing health insurance companies whose main goal seems to be to bankrupt and kill their customers precedes the big O.

  30. 30
    Corner Stone says:

    @👾 Martin: Thank God they’ve finally decided to bring you in on this, Martin. I’m feeling better about things already.

  31. 31
    Baud says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Thanks. Horrible article though. But I’m not opposed to giving people time to sign up.

  32. 32
    RSR says:

    Atrios didn’t included it in his post, but had this follow up on twitter a bit later:

    if argument is that federal payscales are too low so that we need to spend 20X to hire contractors I think everybody’s missing something

  33. 33
    MattF says:

    @Corner Stone: You’re asking if it’s even possible to do things well. I’d say it’s possible for a government project manager to succeed, but it’s hard and chancy even in the best circumstances.

  34. 34
    The Other Chuck says:

    The rugby terminology comes from the Scrum Methodology, which falls into the Agile camp. If you think scrum is annoying, the buzzwordy jargon of its ancestor XP (eXtreme Programming, I kid you not) which kicked off the whole “Agile” business is unbearable.

    Still there are things in agile methodologies that just make sense. Pervasive unit testing works with today’s technology because your computer is fast enough now do do those hundreds and thousands of setups and teardowns that once took a QA test plan days to run through. Similarly due to the faster feedback of quick deployments, you don’t need to plan massive year-long dev cycles. It’s less about “turning the knobs to 11” (just one of XP’s annoying slogans) and more about making processes catch up with the power of current technology. Sort of like how spreadsheets replaced the all-day task of “running the numbers”.

  35. 35
    Biff Longbotham says:

    So, what does this fustercluck prove? That governing is difficult and does not proceed smoothly? That having a goal is not sufficient, that the rub comes in the implementation of the plan? Nothing new here. We may comfort ourselves with the thought that ‘we’ do policy and implementation better than ‘they’, and that’s no small thing. However…it sure would be nice to turn the House over in 2014. This ‘glitch’ ain’t making that any easier.

  36. 36
    Jeremy says:

    I’m sp tired of the doom and gloom about a website that is improving. The only reason why the media is bringing this up is because they can’t stand the fact that the republicans got their asses beat during the government shutdown. The beltway press have tried everything in order to destroy the Obama’s and all of their attempts have failed.

  37. 37
    burnspbesq says:

    In a perfect world, the Federal government would have its own, interagency software development shop with authority to go off GS and pay market comp to people with the necessary skills. That’s not likely to happen in any of out lifetimes.

  38. 38
    Jeremy says:

    @Jeremy: Correction : so.

  39. 39
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Violet:

    Can we also get rid of consultants and consultant-speak?

    In my experience a plague of consultants (a minor footnote: in Exodus God was keeping this one in reserve just in case Pharaoh hardened his heart yet again) and outsourcing are both symptoms of the same underlying disease, which is a breakdown of social capital within the organization and a lack of trust between management and employees.

    Outsourcing is a rational strategy when management doesn’t treat employees well enough that a thinking person inside the organization should be invested in its long term success, and consultants feed freely where management doesn’t trust the employees and just wants a convenient club to beat them with.

  40. 40
    Kay says:

    @Citizen Alan:

    This business of everyone turning on Sibelius is just ridiculous. The Repukes want her out so that Obama will have to get a new HHS Secretary through the Senate and they’ll have another extortion choke point. She needs to keep her head down and keep pushing to make the website better and she’ll get through it all fine.

    Yup. They also need a scalp to throw to the base on Obamacare, because they got nothing last time.

    It’s hard for me to feel sympathy for the state governments who refused to run their own exchanges (this includes my state). I get that the exchange should work, I agree it should work, but jesus christ. Just do the job. Are they going to “refuse” to work on any other federal/state partnerships? Is this now just normal? What part of “their job” is their job?

  41. 41
    Keith P. says:

    I’ve done Agile at a few of my jobs. My current one just adopted it due to constantly late projects. This time around, the manager brought in these playing cards (for bidding on tasks) and had a whole meeting/presentation about all the new terms (in spite of the fact we’ve been doing defacto scrums for the last 2 years). It’s like he bought an Agile kit with all these toys and now wants us to bask in its coolness (as a non-manager, I don’t think any of it’s cool). To me, Agile is just scrums and sprints, but to a project manager, it’s scrums, sprints, backlogs, bid cards, and plug-ins to support it, along with the requisite meetings to talk about it.

  42. 42
    Yatsuno says:

    @burnspbesq: That only happens if they dump all the pay scales period. Something I would not be in favour of. There really is no private sector equivalent of my job, how do you determine what’s fair pay for me if there is nothing to compare it to? The GS scale is at least a good standard to start from on that.

  43. 43
    different-church-lady says:

    We all remember how everyone got such jollies from making fun of the Hubble telescope, of course.

    Right?

  44. 44
    The Other Chuck says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: It’s also a rational strategy when a third party does it better and cheaper due to economies of scale. There’s really no reason my company needs to do its own payroll when ADP does it far better. That said, ADP has to adhere to real actual standards and isn’t engaged in a race to the bottom that tosses them all out. Funny how accountable contractors become when they’re responsible for everyone’s money in the company.

  45. 45
    burnspbesq says:

    @TaMara (BHF):

    I’m still unhappy with the plans offered and am digging my heels in on this.

    Digging in your heels and hoping for what?

    WYSIWYG, at least for 2014.

  46. 46
    Mnemosyne says:

    @tomvox1:

    See, I would call that an “extension of the open enrollment period.” As in “now you have more time to sign up!”

    Frickin’ right-wing MSM.

  47. 47
    John D. says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Consultants are also a totally rational strategy when your goal is to bring in expertise you lack on a short-term basis for implementation and training. Experts do not come cheap, and do not do short-term employment. They don’t have to. So, tell me how you rapidly gain expertise in a critical field without consultants?

    (To put it more succinctly – you are vastly oversimplifying a very complex subject.)

  48. 48
    FDRLincoln says:

    I live in Kansas and Sebelius was our governor before Obama tapped her for HHS.

    She had a reputation as a very competent administrator during her time here and ran a coalition of Dems and moderate Republicans. The state fell apart after she left and Brownback won the 2010 governor’s election as part of the tea party wave.

    Maybe she has screwed up HHS, but as governor she was a fine administrator and leader. I would vote for her without hesitation. A lot of people would…she would have a chance to beat Brownback (whose approval rating is in the 30s) if she came back home and ran again.

  49. 49
    Mnemosyne says:

    @TaMara (BHF):

    Seriously, though, you guys in Colorado need some answers about why the hell you’re getting screwed. Maybe California can share some of their exchanges with you in return for the water we use?

  50. 50
    different-church-lady says:

    @The Other Chuck: The stupid part is when it becomes dogma instead of practicality.

    A business ought to evaluate a situation and say, “We can buy this better than we can do it ourselves,” or say, “We can do this ourselves better than outsourcing it,” and then do the thing that makes the most sense.

    But nooooo… we gotta have a dogma that one is always better than the other…

  51. 51

    I wish Sebelius had changed that, but I’m not surprised she couldn’t.

    I don’t hold her responsible, however. At her level, I honestly don’t think there was much she could do. The IT director….now that’s a different story. He/She would and should bear a great deal of responsibility. STILL it seems that expecting anyone to produce a working website of such scope within the time allotted and within a government contract clusterf*ck would be impossible for anyone.

    Unfortunately, in these cases poop does roll up hill so Sibelius will probably get sh*tcanned.

  52. 52
    Botsplainer says:

    As somebody who now buys Apple products because he doesn’t give a shit about customization or the availability of a huge cache of open source apps (and instead is only interested in equipment that works and combines effortlessly to sychronize calendar, email and contact functions), I can say that tech guys are way too full of themselves on how important their pointless updates and tweaking of products are to society as a whole.

    Also, I expect fuckups, and don’t go spastic over them. I figure they’ll be addressed in a reasonable timeframe.

  53. 53
    becca says:

    I haven’t had health insurance for years now. Lost job, lost benefits. The private insurance available for people with any previous hospitalization is insanely expensive. No way could I keep a roof over my head and eat paying those rates. Only possible solution is to move to a state that provides the subsidies. Not fun. I could not care less that there have been major glitches in one aspect of the implementation. Trees, forests, etc.

    ACA is a curtain-pull exposing the insanity of our system of employer-based healthcare. Sometimes I feel like it was designed only to do that. Years ago, Ken Mehlman said universal coverage was the future. Coming from a GOP national chair a moment of honesty. The math is obvious.

    My feeling is we will have universal coverage if America holds together as a nation. That’s the big question to me.

  54. 54
    different-church-lady says:

    @Botsplainer: It’s like getting advice about your Honda from the guys who hang out in a custom car club.

  55. 55
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @John D.:

    how you rapidly gain expertise in a critical field without consultants?

    If the field in question is critical in the sense that it plays a key role in the success or failure of the organization’s business model, and you don’t already have in-house expertise or a plan for acquiring such as rapidly as possible (if for no other reason than how else do you pick which consultants to bring in and determine if they are providing fair value for the money spent or not), then either the organization is a start-up or something is very wrong and the organization is likely headed for failure.

    Consultants are fine for peripheral functions, but not for core functions, that’s where I draw the line. And yes, this is a ridiculous oversimplification of a complex subject.

  56. 56
    Mike E says:

    @Jamey: Heh…your concern is noted there, EzraDuncan.

  57. 57
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Wrong.

  58. 58
    Anoniminous says:

    @Violet:

    Can we also get rid of consultants and consultant-speak?

    No. They provide Upper Management and their Excel spreadsheet obsessed sycophants and toadies the necessary illusions to conceal the fact 80% of them could be turned into Soylent Green with decided benefits to the organization.

  59. 59
    Mike E says:

    @RSR: Is this called, “burying the lede”? I don’t think Atrios planned that roll out before posting.

  60. 60
    different-church-lady says:

    @Anoniminous: A PowerPoint with the title “SOYLENT CONSULTANT = PROFIT CENTER” is really all we’d need to get the ball rolling on that.

  61. 61
    Higgs Boson's Mate (Crystal Set) says:

    @Botsplainer:

    … (and instead is only interested in equipment that works and combines effortlessly to sychronize calendar, email and contact functions), I can say that tech guys are way too full of themselves on how important their pointless updates and tweaking of products are to society as a whole.

    In the running for oxymoron of the year.

  62. 62
    Emma says:

    Can anyone tell me when we went back to taking the Republican framing for everything and using it in a Democratic circular firing squad?

    I thought we had decided to stop after watching the President and the Democrats in Congress march in lockstep during our recent debacle and proving it could be a successful tactic. But no sooner we win something that we go back to our old ways.

  63. 63
    Tommy says:

    It took me a little over a week, and I was on the site day one, to get through. Finally at like 4 AM I did. I work for myself. I am blessed with amazing health. I like to joke I don’t even have aspirin in my house. I will save more $97/month and have a BETTER plan. I am on the border line of getting a little assistance.

  64. 64
    Tommy says:

    @Anoniminous: Yes I often worked in a field and had consultants pulled in. They seemed to think they knew every thing. They had an MBA from Wharton. We’d often ask, have you ever launched a national advertising campaign, or did you just read about it?

    You think you know everything and we’re are trying to be polite, but we want to laugh at you.

    Things like that were said in meetings I attended, during the dot.com thing, when my clients (huge companies) would bring in these folks from Anderson or KPMG.

    I now work as a consultant …. but I know what I know. I don’t overstep into other areas.

  65. 65
    Mnemosyne says:

    @becca:

    IIRC, everyone gets the subsidies if they qualify even if their state doesn’t have its own exchange — where people are getting screwed is if they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for a subsidy. If you make more than 125% of the poverty level, you’re eligible for a subsidy even if you don’t have a state exchange. If you make between 100% and 125% of poverty level in a state that did not accept the Medicaid increase, you are unfortunately screwed.

    OTOH, I know there’s one Southern state (Alabama?) that did not accept the Medicaid expansion but did backfill that gap so you can get a state subsidy to buy health insurance if you don’t qualify for Medicaid but make less than 125% of the poverty level. So it’s definitely worth checking the website or calling 1-800-318-2596 to find out exactly what your situation is.

  66. 66
    mclaren says:

    Atrios has it wrong and mistermix has it right. Atrios and the rest of the liberal caucus seem to delude themselves into fantasizing that “good governance is a matter of getting the right people to implement policies.”

    No, good governance is a matter of implementing the right policies.

    Let’s be clear about this, folks: if the most competent military people in the world had invaded Iraq in 2003 it still would’ve been a clusterfuck.

    If FDR’s staff and Dwight D. Eisenhower and General George Marshall had all come back to life, and if George Washington had risen from the grave to serve as president to run the Iraq 2003 invasion it still would’ve crashed and burned, Iraq still would’ve turned into a charnel house of crazed anarchy with massive civil war, and the effort to produce a “laboratory of democracy” in the middle east by overthrowing Saddam Hussein still would’ve hit a dead end and fallen apart.

    Why?

    Because the fundamental mission of the Iraq 2003 invasion was insane and impossible and unworkable. You cannot foster democracy by overthrowing a dictator and installing a puppet, while getting rid of all the competent civil and military administrators who were previously running the country (de-Baathization) and at the same time letting the Shiite-vs-Sunni factions run wild. That’s not a recipe for a viable democracy, that’s a recipe for civil war, chaos, the disintegration of the state, and mass genocidal mania.

    The entire goal of the 2003 Iraq invasion was stupid and insane and impossible. America can’t just run around the world forcing people in Third World countries to change their societies into a replica of Des Moines Iowa in 1955. You can’t just skylift democracy into some Third World hellhole where the annual income is a dollar a day and drop it on the population and expect it to work. It’s impossible. The world doesn’t work that way. Goals like “winning the hearts and minds of the people” are insane if there’s no tradition of democracy in the region, and if there’s no separation twixt religion and the state, and if for thousands of years the only way people in that region have been governed is by tribal feuds.

    So what relation has this with the ACA website?

    In the same way, no matter how wonderful and how competent the managers and software engineers you turn loose on a clusterfuck like mandated purchase of unaffordable for-profit private insurance, it’s still going to be a clusterfuck. It will never work because the whole goddamn system is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy too complex. Too many private doctors dealing with too many for-profit private hospitals dealing with too many for-profit private medical devicemakers dealing with too many for-profit private imaging clinics and blood test labs and pathology labs dealing with too many private for-profit insurance companies.

    You want a digitized computer-networked health care system that works?

    Simplify it.

    Get rid of all the private fiefdoms. Strip out all the price-gouging. Strip out the sweetheart contracts. Strip out the nondisclosure agreements to cover up the real prices of medical procedures. Jettison the georgraphic territorial schemes by which insurance companies and hospitals divvy up the country to insure they don’t have to compete with each other on price.

    Get rid of all that, and you’ll have a simple national healthcare system that’s easy to implement in software.

    But of course once you do that, you’ve got nationalized single-payer health care. No complexities, because the government sets the prices. No need to create labyrinthine networks of balkanized private insurers and private hospitals and private doctor’s groups all bollixed up with intricate webs of nondisclosure aggreements and secret contracts that lock in sky-high prices to maximize profit.

    Until you people cut the Gordian knot, you’re never going to have a goddamn workable nationwide health care system. Get profit out of the system. Nationwide single-payer. That’s a simple system to implement. You can roll out that software and it will work.

    All this other shit, not so much.

    None of you seem to ask why it’s necessary to have umpteen zillion computer systems talking to umpteen zillion different other computer systems in healthcare.gov. The reason is that the whole ACA design is insane. It’s all balkanized, left to the states to implement the exchanges, left to doctors and hospitals and private insurers and medical devicemakers to charge whatever the market will bear, so they’ve all got every incentive to make the entire system as complex and non-transparent as possible so as to squeeze every last dime of profit out of the patient. What the fuck do you expect when you set up a system like that?

    I’m just surprised that the medical bills don’t arrive in Hittite cuneiform encrypted with boustrophedon in an obscure dialect of Serbo-Croation using base 60 fractions. That’s even more obscure, and would allow even more price-gouging.

  67. 67
    Anoniminous says:

    @different-church-lady:

    Anyone showing up with a PowerPoint presentation needs to shoved into the intake hopper as well.

    While millions cheer.

  68. 68
    sparrow says:

    @Jamey: Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine. The “no true scotsman” argument is supposed to be a logical fallacy whereby a person cannot have done something because of their membership in a particular group (the latter point not being in dispute except by the fallacious arguer). The “not true” scotsmen in the original case, were in fact scotsmen.

    You cannot apply this criticism to people saying some “liberals” are in fact centrist or even center-right in beliefs in a more “global” scale of political identification (which is based on real values, not labels).

  69. 69
    Baud says:

    @Emma:

    This. It’s very frustrating. It’s like people don’t want to give up their security blanket.

  70. 70
    John D. says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: I’ll give you a real example from my own life.

    In 2006 I worked for a company that had under 20 employees, and got more than 75% of their revenue from a single customer. In August, they received a phone call, followed by a letter, indicating that unless they received ISO 9001 certification, that customer would be unable to buy from them in the future.

    The deadline for certification was 12/31/06.

    Now, you tell me, how that FUCKING CRITICAL CERTIFICATION would have been able to be obtained without grabbing a consultant and learning how to develop and implement a quality system – something we did not have AT ALL in 8/06. We tried hiring a quality manager – every one of them laughed at us when we explained the circumstances.

    Should we have just given up and folded? Or should we have hired a consultant to — as I said in my first post — help us implement a quality system and train a QM in-house?

  71. 71
    PurpleGirl says:

    A little tale of a database migration: The nonprofit I worked for initially had a proprietary database which had been developed for a Jewish congregation. It tracked donations and a few other revenue items. It was wonky as hell and changed had to designed by the original programmer. Anyway, it was kludgy. It was decided we needed something better. (At long last it seemed there were commercial products which would do what we needed.)

    Fast forward ahead. The decision is made to buy and implement Raisers’ Edge (RE). But we would still need to hire consultants to manage the migration and other things. It is projected to take six (6) months. It took two (2) years before we stopped double entering donations. First we didn’t buy all the modules we should have, we decided to kludge the volunteer tracker to track donations. Secondly, there were things we tracked on volunteers that didn’t have fields in the program so we did some name changes (with permission from RE). Things just didn’t fall into place cleanly. There was a lot of fixing to do. It was pain, a royal pain. A true horror show for us. And it was only a migration within one organization, not even a multi-office thing or agency thing.

    (I’m about to leave the house for a couple of hours. I just wanted to say something about the database migration I had experienced.)

  72. 72
    C.V. Danes says:

    The current one is “Agile Development”, which has a whole strange vocabulary related to Rugby. I know Agile is about to die because I’m hearing corporate types talk about “scrums” and “scrum masters”, two Agile buzzwords.

    A couple of things here that are patently wrong with your statement.

    1. You are confusing “Agile” with “Scrum.” Scrum is Agile, but Agile is not Scrum. Scrum is merely one implementation of the Agile design methodology. There are many others, such as DSDM, XP, and Kanban that don’t even use the word “scrum” anywhere in their terminology.

    2. The primary problem with software development is that standard (Waterfall or “Traditional”) project management techniques are historically designed for product manufacturing, not new product development. Software development is, by definition, almost always new development, which is an entirely different beast than manufacturing. This is why the “adaptive” techniques (Agile) are much better suited to software development than the “traditional” predictive techniques, and why the so-called “traditional” techniques almost always fail.

    3. Agile is a very robust development methodology, and, once you get past the terminology, a very common sense way of doing software development. It is not “about to die.” Indeed, it is very much alive and well.

    I agree that software development is extremely complex. But it is only complex because traditional project management makes it that way. Almost all of the Agile projects I have been on and led have been productive, highly successful, and, (I am not ashamed to say) fun.

    Sorry for the rant. I just felt compelled…

  73. 73
    Anoniminous says:

    @Tommy:

    I’ve been on both sides. I’ve had hired guns parachuted in and been the parachutist. Never seen a “Management Consultant” worth the costs. Have seen “Technical Consultants” worth it but only when they have the necessary skill set to address the immediate problem(s).

    (And speaking OF that, back to it.)

  74. 74
    Mike E says:

    @mclaren: I totally agree the whole “You didn’t do that right/enough/harder/earlier” tactic is the old hacksaw used by abusers, fucking fence-sitters, all. The GOP clings to this more than most, but it does grate when Dems employ this stupidity.

    As for Serbo-Croatian: Jebi se!

  75. 75
    Kay says:

    I’m going to stick up for Sebelius, too, because, God, what an awful job she’s had these last years.

    The comparison to Brownie is ridiculous. Brownie didn’t have to put in a whole new FEMA system while surrounded by screeching lunatics for 6 years.

    Who wants her job? Anyone? They better keep her, because you’d have to be insane to take that job.

  76. 76
    Harold Samson says:

    @mclaren:

    Not to argue with your lovely and delicate rant, but here’s a bit of news;

    The “real” goals of the 2003 Iraq Invasion, i.e. the goals in the minds of the primary instigators, were *not* the same as the publicly stated, widely advertised goals ( something about spreading democracy. )

    The real goals have been achieved quite well. America has an excuse to keep a military thumb on Iraq, certain select people have grabbed a huge amount of government money, and we have a major hand in deciding the future of all that oil. Mission accomplished.

    The rest of your rant is the usual
    “Experts” have their expert fun,
    Ex-cathedra telling one,
    Just how nothing can be done.

    Cynical, tiresome, mostly wrong.

  77. 77
    StringOnAStick says:

    @Mnemosyne: Isn’t the Colorado problem basically an expression of the rural/urban cost structure difference that Richard Mayhew has discussed? A friend who lives on the edge of Denver just posted that thanks to ACA his monthly costs dropped from $600 to $260, and previously he only had once choice because he has Type 2 diabetes.

  78. 78
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Keith P.:

    To me, Agile is just scrums and sprints, but to a project manager, it’s scrums, sprints, backlogs, bid cards, and plug-ins to support it, along with the requisite meetings to talk about it.

    You’re right. Project manager is wrong. And if somebody tries to put a 30 minute “scrum” on your calendar, take it as a hint that you can be late, put the phone on mute, and generally ignore it except to listen for your name. (15 minutes, max.)

  79. 79
  80. 80
    Mike in NC says:

    Outsourcing firms throw (relatively) cheap bodies at tasks, they deploy resources stupidly and haphazardly according to their profit motive, and they live in a world where running up the bill, not delivering a working system, is the end goal.

    That’s why they call these companies “Beltway Bandits”.

  81. 81
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Baud: yup. Some people feel icky when they find themselves rooting for a team along with a bunch of other people. They’d rather be aloof and above it all. They’d rather be special.

  82. 82
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Bill Arnold:

    backlogs, bid cards, and plug-ins

    I played rugby for years and those things have no place in the the game.

  83. 83
    Bill Arnold says:

    @different-church-lady:

    We all remember how everyone got such jollies from making fun of the Hubble telescope, of course.
    Right?

    I recall noting that the primary contractor had lots of experience with space telescopes (looking down), and still got it wrong.

  84. 84
    Harold Samson says:

    @Tommy:

    Yes I often worked in a field and had consultants pulled in. They seemed to think they knew every thing.

    Which is why they’re hired in the first place.

  85. 85
    Comrade Mary says:

    I’m two days late on something that I thought would be ready early. I think I have 4 hours left, but don’t bet the farm on it.

  86. 86
    C.V. Danes says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    Because it seems to me that putting a major project in the hands of people who are not deeply committed to the long term success of your organization is so obviously a path to failure that only trendiness can explain the popularity of this tactic. And this trend passed its sell-by date a very long time ago

    I guess that would be true, if you wanted your tax dollars to go to paying for state IT teams with the competency for building complex web sites, instead of maintaining them.

    The purpose of hiring consultants is for projects that you do not want or need to maintain competency for in house. Not sure the government needs to be in the business of building web sites.

  87. 87
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Malovich: Totally agree with everything you said.

  88. 88
    StringOnAStick says:

    @C.V. Danes: I heard a story on NPR yesterday (yeah, I know) yesterday about how the British went from contracting out websites/IT after a few too many very expensive failures from private contractors to doing it all in-house a few years ago. Something was mentioned about going to one government web portal for basically all your needs as a citizen; health services, passports, etc.

    Government may not need to be in the business of building websites, but they will damned sure need to be able to maintain, support, and add-on to websites. Does that mean that once you get the contract you’ve got a consulting job for life, or should there be in-house government programmers as well?

  89. 89
    BrianM says:

    Agile is a collection of “branded” styles of work that have enough in common that they got lumped together under an umbrella term in 2001. Scrum, with its “scrum masters”, is one of those brands. It’s by far the most popular with management. Unlike my favorite, XP, which has a heavy emphasis on programmers and actual software, Scrum is easy to turn into something that appeals to the “a good manager can manage anything” MBA crowd.

    It’s the same old story: scrappy upstarts produce something new (partly aided, as The Other Chuck noted, by technology catching up with some old ideas). It works dandy in small organizations, but large organizations have domesticated it and consultantized it to the point where it’s non-threatening mush.

    Programmers have largely dropped out of the Agile conference scene, it seems, because, as one wrote me:

    I’ve also been tired for years of software people who seem embarrassed to admit that, at some point in the proceedings, someone competent has to write some damn code.

  90. 90
    Mnemosyne says:

    @StringOnAStick:

    That’s a big part of it, but it seems like Colorado is having a bigger problem with cost disparities than similar states, even states that don’t have state-level exchanges.

    I think someone explained once that Colorado had two or three companies that had a virtual monopoly in the state well before Obamacare, so the “market reforms” didn’t help much given the existing stranglehold those companies had.

  91. 91
    C.V. Danes says:

    @John D.:

    Consultants are also a totally rational strategy when your goal is to bring in expertise you lack on a short-term basis for implementation and training. Experts do not come cheap, and do not do short-term employment. They don’t have to. So, tell me how you rapidly gain expertise in a critical field without consultants?

    Exactly. And most consulting firms that I have dealt with (and worked for) do something that most other companies don’t, which is invest in the education of their employees. Because that is their bread and butter.

  92. 92
    piratedan says:

    so is Agile the new Lean Six Sigma?

  93. 93

    @wrb: that’s because your exchange is a STATE exchange.
    here in PA, Governor Tom “I’m a Drunk and I Hate Women and Children” Corbett refused to open an exchange, so all we have is healthcare.gov.

    Which doesn’t work.

  94. 94
    LAC says:

    @Jeremy: Yep…..is this how the playstation boards sound after a game launch?

    I think I will go down the hall to some of our IT folks (some of who are contractors and probably didn’t get a couple of paychecks) and say “Hey, fucknuts! Some folks from Balloon Juice think you are cheap pieces of shit that are part of the failure of government! Who’s Balloon Juice, you ask? No, they are not computer company, but they know, okay? And you are not committed to success of your job. Byeeee….”

    Sounds good…

  95. 95
    different-church-lady says:

    @brendancalling: And there you provide a good example of the problem: people are using the website synonymously with the ACA — if one’s experience with heathcare.gov sucks it means the ACA is a failure, and if one’s experience with a state website is great the ACA is great.

    And polemicists like it that way.

  96. 96
    Hill Dweller says:

    @Kay:

    I’m going to stick up for Sebelius, too, because, God, what an awful job she’s had these last years.

    Having to run 36 state exchanges was never part of the plan. Republican sabotage has made Sebelius’ job so much harder.

    Throw in the Roberts court giving the wingnut state governments the opportunity to back out of medicare expansion, and we find ourselves in the current predicament.

  97. 97
    am says:

    Read up on uppercase A Agile vs lowercase a agile.

    The idea of working in short time boxes, working on tractable chunks of problems, estimating, and continuous improvement don’t need a name or process consultants. Lowercase agile has some good things to offer, as does waterfall, Kanban, etc. The secret is having a competent staff and fitting the process to the project. Competent teams are the really important part, and are completely orthagonal to how work is organized.

  98. 98
    LAC says:

    @Emma: “Forget it, Emma. It’s balloon juice town”

    fog rising, music and scene :)

  99. 99
    cat says:

    Engineering complex software is one of the hardest things human beings do. The fact that every decade or so we see a new fad that’s supposed to revolutionize software development is pretty clear evidence of that fact. If we knew how to engineer software the way we engineer bridges or automobiles, nobody would be “reinventing” software engineering every decade

    Its actually relatively straight forward to engineer software the same way you engineer bridges and cars, its just that nobody wants to pay for it. It would also reduce the talent pool by orders of magnitudes due the fact average sized software projects are of the scope of an automobile design and their are very few Software Architects of that caliber because we don’t create any because for the most part everyone calls it Software Engineering but its really just programming with some guidelines.

    The lightweight processes we have been inventing are a way to skirt around having to do Engineering because most organizations have Lots of Software Engineers but almost none of them have ever practiced Engineering of any kind and have never been trained to do Engineering.

  100. 100
  101. 101
    Citizen_X says:

    @Emma:

    Can anyone tell me when we went back to taking the Republican framing for everything and using it in a Democratic circular firing squad?

    That. I’m all for self-criticism, but this Eeyore thread is ridiculous.

    Engineering complex software is one of the hardest things human beings do.

    For fuck’s sake. Fly a man to the moon and and bring him back safely, and then get back to me. Or plan and carry out an invasion of Fortress Europe from across the English Channel. Or wipe out polio. Or develop plate tectonic theory. Or create the Mayan calendar.

    Writing a big chunk of software is not the only complex, critical thing with a lot of moving parts and a lot of people involved that humans do. Get some perspective.

  102. 102
    Ripley says:

    Can anyone tell me when we went back to taking the Republican framing for everything and using it in a Democratic circular firing squad?

    The day after the shutdown ended.

  103. 103
    cat says:

    @BrianM:

    Programmers have largely dropped out of the Agile conference scene, it seems, because, as one wrote me:

    I’ve also been tired for years of software people who seem embarrassed to admit that, at some point in the proceedings, someone competent has to write some damn code.

    Of course a programmer would say that, what do they care of Maintainability, Customer Satisfaction, etc. as they just want to write some code and ship some product. Anything can be fixed with another clever patch.

  104. 104
    different-church-lady says:

    @StringOnAStick: Great points. I’ll add that contracting and outsourcing are not the same things. You can have contractors and consultants crawling all over your project and still have it be an in-house project, run by in-house managers.

    I’ll make a categorical statement that I feel is true: the problem is there are far too many lazy ass people in management. This is true whether they’re on-staff or consulting.

    I’ve got direct experience with this: I had a long-term client for 13 years. In that period they went from incredibly dysfunctional and chaotic to a well oiled machine. The thing that made the difference was a very slow process of getting rid of all the lazy-asses who just wanted to hold down their desks and replacing them with people who got enjoyment out of getting stuff done.

    But I’ll be damned if I know how to make that happen on a regular basis. For us it was just luck — the guy who had all the power would express frustrations to me about how things were going and I’d listen and I’d re-explain and re-interpret that to the rest of the team. And some of them got it and some of them didn’t care. And over time the ones who didn’t get it would get fired or leave and the ones who got it stayed and made big bucks. And we got shit done and every project we did was better than the last and everyone was happy.

    And then that guy retired and the new people stopped hiring the good talent and everything went back to shit again.

  105. 105
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @John D.:

    Should we have just given up and folded? Or should we have hired a consultant to — as I said in my first post — help us implement a quality system and train a QM in-house?

    You did exactly the right thing, I would have done the same under the same circumstances. On the other hand, I have firsthand experience with different circumstances such that bringing in consultants created more problems than it solved and was in almost all cases a symptom of underlying dysfunctional relationships within the organization. I’ve seen this firsthand on multiple occasions over the course of a business career spanning 4 decades and in a variety of organizational settings ranging from very small scale specialized organizations like in your example to companies in the multi-billion dollar per year range.

    You and I have ahold of different ends of a very large and complex elephant. I thought I had covered that aspect sufficiently with the caveat “In my experience…” in my comment which you reacted to, but apparently not. My bad, I’ll try to use that qualifier more explicitly in the future. Thanks.

  106. 106
    jc says:

    Sorry, but I’m fed up with asking every few months: how could the Obama team have been so clueless? Re: Wall St., chained CPI, entitlement cuts, deficit distractions, clumsy health care negotiations, etc. etc.

  107. 107
    different-church-lady says:

    @Citizen_X:

    but this Eeyore thread is ridiculous.

    There’s a certain kind of miserable person who isn’t happy until everyone else is as miserable as they are.

  108. 108
    different-church-lady says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    …and was in almost all cases a symptom of underlying dysfunctional relationships within the organization.

    DING DING DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER!!!!!

  109. 109
    Baud says:

    @jc:

    Then stop asking.

  110. 110
    Chyron HR says:

    @Baud:

    But THE ENTITLEMENT CUTS, man! What about all those entitlements Obama’s been cutting everywhere? And Chained CPI, which is totally going to happen ANY MINUTE NOW. And why couldn’t he have negotiated health care in a non-clumsy way, like Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton did?

  111. 111
    Baud says:

    @Chyron HR:

    Obama has ruined America’s streak of perfect presidents.

    I blame Obama.

  112. 112
    different-church-lady says:

    @Chyron HR: Tellin’ ya, he’s got a jones for bombing Syria, it’s totally gonna happen…

  113. 113

    Engineering complex software is one of the hardest things human beings do.

    Do you have kids?

  114. 114
    different-church-lady says:

    @The Ancient Randonneur: Having kids is a piece of cake.

    Maintaining the sanity of all human beings involved? Not so much.

  115. 115
  116. 116
    Mike E says:

    @Citizen_X:

    Or create the Mayan calendar

    They got the final date r0ng! The whole thing was a LIE!!

  117. 117
    Corner Stone says:

    @Citizen_X:

    Fly a man to the moon and and bring him back safely, and then get back to me

    Astronauts to the moon?

    [Beldar and Prymatt laugh]

  118. 118
    MattR says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: You know what is guaranteed to be a disaster? Hiring a contractor to manage a project whose team is a combination of company employees and contractors who work for that PM’s consulting firm. The funny thing is that upper management was actually surprised when the contractors were billing 80 hours a week to do complex tasks while the fulltime employees were given busy work that took much less than 40 hours and the PM was pushing to get rid of the “lazy” employees to hire more of his consultants. The only reason we were saved is the company was sold so we had an entirely new upper management team come in who realized the scam the PM was pulling.

  119. 119
    Botsplainer says:

    Sitting at the annual mandatory continuing legal education with my dog. He’s a hit with the lawyers, not so much with staff.

  120. 120
    muricafukyea says:

    roflmao

    Once again muckymux, a guy who cannot even manage the ball juice wordpress site properly, tries to ‘splain’ to us the issues involved in running healthcare.gov.

    Oh and btw. I don’t know wft Atrios is going on about some ‘clusterfuck’. Clearly the guy drinking right wing koolaid because the site does work and is considered easy to use by many people. It has capacity problems early on and they are working to make things even easier to use and doing things to avoid some of the timeouts.

    Nothing I have read from credible sources said anything about clusterfuck so I can only assume Atrios also has his head up his ass with nothing better to blog about.

  121. 121
    catclub says:

    @Citizen_X: “Writing a big chunk of software is not the only complex, critical thing with a lot of moving parts and a lot of people involved that humans do. Get some perspective. ”

    Indeed. I just read that the Manhattan project took about 1/3 of the entire War Effort.

    You put that many people and dollars on a project and you get a lot out. Meanwhile, Congress
    is trying to cut the legs out from under the ACA any way they can. Money, lawsuits, even whining to the NFL not to run ads. I also did not notice Congress sniping at NASA and trying to cut its budgets in the 1960’s. Or suing it into the ground because space flight is not in the constitution.

  122. 122
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Botsplainer: Shouldn’t you be paying attention to the presentation instead of fucking around on the web?

    #thingsthatneverhappen

  123. 123
    JaneE says:

    The last year of my professional career was doing QA for a major system implementation programmed in-house. It was scheduled for deployment live in May, I think. The programmers were responsible for testing their individual programs and I was responsible for developing the integration test plan and doing the initial full system test, and developing data and coordinating the full integration test with all modules working in a real world test environment. It took about a month of my time to copy all the transactions related to actual production, change the names, and set up a mirror of the production systems with our test databases and programs added. The whole point was to create an environment which was identical to what would be on the factory floor when we went live, and could be used to train operations with yesterday’s actual production when the testing was completed.

    The programmers assured me that their programs worked. The programmers were watching the first tests, because they were certain that their programs were “perfect”. Is anyone surprised that my initial log on to the system produced an abort? Could not even sign on and call up the program without it going belly up. Out of five programmers and a dozen initial entry points into the new system, only one program produced a screen to look at. Most never did anything except abort, some would flash half a screen before they died. So much for perfection. And they tried to blame me because I didn’t execute it right. As if the production people are going to be using the special parameters that make it work, instead of logging on to the system to do their jobs.

    Three days later we could at least see the first screens. A month later we were still finding lines of code that plugged a result because the other modules weren’t ready, i.e. every thing came out 15673 no matter what the input was. Not one programmer expected anything but perfect input. Pressing a key at the wrong time, or hitting the wrong function key, or just not filling in an input produced aborts, or even loops. These are the type of errors you expect from trainees, and every one of these guys had at least 10 years of experience.

    We spent more time getting the programs fixed than we had in the initial programming. And the lead analyst had time to make a backup plan for production if the system had to be halted for fixes after go-live. We did still have some problems after implementation, but not many. And when there was a program problem, the operations people were the ones to decide to wait until it was fixed, rather than go back to the old methods of recording. The fact that they liked their new system better than the “good old days” was high praise indeed.

    The system we developed was simple and straightforward compared to the ACA. It can and will be fixed. Eventually.

  124. 124
    cat says:

    @Citizen_X:

    For fuck’s sake. Fly a man to the moon and and bring him back safely, and then get back to me. Or plan and carry out an invasion of Fortress Europe from across the English Channel. Or wipe out polio. Or develop plate tectonic theory. Or create the Mayan calendar.

    Writing a big chunk of software is not the only complex, critical thing with a lot of moving parts and a lot of people involved that humans do. Get some perspective.

    Some of your examples are not like the others…

    Even though the original statement was a bit of hyperbole, a software project with several hundred thousands lines of written code is the most complicated system most people will ever develop. There are 10,000s of projects of this size going on around the world and 1,000s of 1M+LOC projects as well.

  125. 125

    Have these media bots never had to work with a buggy system before, either at school or at work? Beltway media discovers the blue screen of death.

  126. 126
    different-church-lady says:

    @muricafukyea: Dude/dude-ette: it’s the 21st century — “minor problem” and “clusterfuck” have no linguistic distinctions from each other.

  127. 127
    different-church-lady says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Fruit flies have longer memories that beltway yappers.

  128. 128
    different-church-lady says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: And waste quality fucking-off time?

  129. 129
    jrg says:

    Agile Development is a steaming pile of shit. I’ve never seen it succeed, but I’ve seen it fail (spectacularly) a number of times.

  130. 130
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @MattR:

    To generalize, the problems I’ve seen over the years (in which inappropriate use of outside consultants and outsourcing created more problems than it solved) strike me as a modern variation of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?.

    Ultimately if you want to get something done and can’t or won’t do it yourself, the crucial question becomes: who do you trust to do it right and why do you trust them more than somebody else? When those questions haven’t been asked openly and explicitly and provided with good answers, there’s going to be stormy weather up ahead, in my experience.

  131. 131

    Booman has a good post up about why rural residents in red states are worst off under ACA. Hint: Their governors.

    ETA: A chess master weighs in on ZOMG THE WEBSITE: Garry Kasparov ‏@Kasparov63
    It’s a tactical error to draw attention to an opponent’s flaw when that flaw is easy to fix. It’s a favor. Distracts from the big issues.

  132. 132
    handsmile says:

    @katdip:

    Seconding your recommendation of that excellent essay by the reliably astute Mike Konczal, founder of the late, lamented Rortybomb and now a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. His blog there is Next New Deal:

    http://www.nextnewdeal.net/rortybomb

    Inasmuch as Duncan Black first linked favorably to that essay yesterday afternoon and occasional BJ commenter Jay Ackroyd did the same this morning in his post at the Eschaton website, I would say that McLaren got it precisely wrong about what she believes to be the delusion of “Atrios and the rest of the liberal caucus.”

    While I’m not authorized to speak on behalf of the entire caucus, one of Atrios’ bete noires is the explicit notion of technocratic supremacy to address issues/problems of governance, i.e., the idea that “good governance is a matter of getting the right people to implement policies.” Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is perhaps Atrios’ favorite poster boy for a technocrat who fails to “implement the right policies.”

  133. 133
    DJShay12 says:

    So, you’re saying Obamacare will become defunct because the website insn’t working? LOL. Ok.

  134. 134
    C.V. Danes says:

    @StringOnAStick:

    Does that mean that once you get the contract you’ve got a consulting job for life, or should there be in-house government programmers as well?

    No, what that means is that you don’t need to be a trained auto mechanic in order to change the oil and spark plugs in your car. But it’s nice to be able to hire a trained auto mechanic if you need one :-)

  135. 135
    The Other Chuck says:

    @The Ancient Randonneur: The majority of people on the planet managed to pull off that job seven billion times within the last century alone. We are quite literally built for that job.

  136. 136
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    @brendancalling: Doesn’t work for whom? People have been getting through for a couple of weeks now. My issue with it appears to have been the length of my user name; cutting it back from 16 to 15 characters immediately allowed me to register.

    I didn’t sign up for anything this year because I wouldn’t save anything after looking at how the prescription coverage would work out (I would have had to buy gold-level to have the same prescription out of pocket), but it does work.

  137. 137
    RaflW says:

    As an accountability and good gov’t wonk here in Minnesota, I’m watching the new Vikings stadium project very closely. Like attending multiple public meetings and signed on to a 3-year transparency campaign.

    One of the keys is a Guaranteed Maximum Price that makes the two private contractors who are serving as the construction manager the party at risk.

    As long as federal contractors get to f*ck up and get paid, we’ll have shit like this healthcare.gov rollout.

    Private industry is better than gov’t, Republicans? OK, then, have your buddies put their asses on the line. That is all it takes.

  138. 138
    Jeremy says:

    For all the idiot emos who say the ACA won’t work the Mass. example refutes that point. Also for all the complaining about not getting Single Payer immediately, how were we going to get it when there were not enough votes in the senate and the house ?

    The choice was moving the ball forward or doing nothing.

  139. 139
    chopper, interrupted says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    political hipsterism. once more than a dozen other people like your favorite band, they instantly become sellouts.

  140. 140
    Felinious Wench says:

    Agile is going to die? Seriously?

    Dude, Mistermix, I’m going to assume you’re not on any kind of serious product engineering team, right? Like, real stuff?

    The “agile” methodologies you’re applying an umbrella statement to have been around since the 1950s with the X-15 hypersonic jet build team (iterative incremental development) and THAT was driven off the work of Walter Shewart in the 1930s. There is nothing “new” about agile methodologies. They just seem to be new to you, which makes me think you’re not heavily involved in any kind of serious software engineering.

    And you’re referring to one agile methodology, Scrum, that’s been around since 1990. My company, a very large software engineering company, adopted it in 2000. We have since moved on to Kanban…which has been around in one form or another since 1985.

    What an ignorant post.

  141. 141
    Annamal says:

    I like agile if only because it lets a team make decisions on the fly and (because our clients are inhouse) gives the people who will be using the software a voice.

    I would say that agile is fantastic for small projects but has the potential to fall apart dramatically over large projects(actually anything falls apart over large projects).

  142. 142
    Mike G says:

    I’m trying to think of what the reaction would be if this had happened in the CheneyBush White House:

    “There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s perfect and you’re all lying, and you’re a terrist who hates Murka.”

    Funny how Obamacare went from DeathPanelSochulizmEvilBeAfraid to, “The website doesn’t work very well.”

  143. 143
    different-church-lady says:

    OK, so true story that just happened, which is a good case example of what we’re talking about: I have a new client who insists on paying through PayPal.

    So I spend 20 minutes looking for the log in information to my established PayPal account which I haven’t used in years. And I start to go through the process of getting my money out of PayPal and into my bank.

    A process which fails FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES IN FOUR DIFFERENT INFURIATING, INSCRUTABLE, CONFUSING WAYS. And cannot be resolved without a half-hour long phonecall to god knows where. And the result of which is PayPal now has a whole bunch of my personal and financial information I was not at all comfortable giving them.

    HOW FUCKING LONG HAS PAYPAL BEEN AROUND? AND IT’S STILL 15 POUNDS OF SUCK IN A 5 OZ. GLASS TUMBLER? (“The world’s most loved way to pay and be paid” MY ASS!)

    And yet somehow healthcare.gov is supposed to be perfect right out of the gate?

    (And, BTW, I'm predicting that the number of times I've used the name of that service drops me straight into moderation…) Nope. The spam filter works in mysterious ways…

  144. 144
    Uncle Ebeneezer says:

    Office Space basically nails the truth of management consultants, in my experience (warning: long rambling story ahead.)

    We had a consultant come in for a reorganization at my old job in Solar Energy. His first move was to lay off the one girl who had done just about every job in the company, had a wealth of institutional knowledge and had been working there since the early start-up years. We were all baffled. There were plenty of people that were dead-weight to the company, she was NOT one of them.

    In the following months we all had to have these long meetings with the consultant explaining to him everything we did as part of our job, writing extensive handbooks (so they could replace us) and listen to him tell us all these ways we could make the company better through greater efficiency. My job was a thankless, detail-oriented grind, collecting government rebates from multiple utilities and other agencies. The rebate $ was the lifeblood of our cash-flow and the numerous programs were convoluted, constantly changing and took me a 6-months just to really wrap my head around them. Not to mention, the art of dealing with public utilities which are often as bad as they are commonly stereotyped with their red tape and less-than-helpful attitudes.

    Just before Xmas of 2011 the consultant asked to see me at 5:30 on a Friday night and I had a bad feeling. He told me that they were deciding to eliminate my position altogether and have the CEO’s assistant (who was already totally overwhelmed) take over all of my duties. During our conversation it became clear that the consultant still had no idea what I actually did despite me telling him 500 times and even writing a freaking handbook. He told me the company might need me to act as a consultant in the following weeks to help train the assistant so we should keep in touch. I told him I wasn’t sure about that because at the time my Mom had just begun chemotherapy and I may have to travel back to help my family. And he responded “so you see, maybe this is a GOOD thing!”

    A couple days later the assistant called me and was crying and begging me to come in and show her the ropes. She was totally clueless and there were a whole bunch of big rebates that needed to be applied for/collected etc., and any mistake could cost the company major $. So I calculated what my old salary plus benefits would be and tacked on a little more and called the company and told them I would come in and give the assistant two weeks of training at about 3x my old pay rate. I warned them that if they didn’t take me up on it they were pretty much guaranteed to lose an equivalent amount or more in learning-curve mistakes. Supposedly the CEO (who hated the fact that I never kissed his ass) laughed it off and said “no way.” Well you can probably guess what happened. My 2 week offer would have been a great bargain compared to all the problems and losses that followed.

    The consultant got like $80K for laying off a handful of people. Everyone there feels like he was the biggest waste of $ the company has ever flushed down the drain. All the people laid-off were competent and loyal workers who mostly refused to kiss the CEO’s ass. The eager ass-kissers were of course, all kept no matter how bad they were (one guy who pushed very hard for them to get rid of me ended up assaulting a co-worker and possibly stealing from the company. He was the CEO’s BFF at the time I left.) The competent people who remained have all mostly moved on to other jobs because of the toxic atmosphere. And now there is talk that the company is in serious jeopardy of going under.

    The assistant who held out for another year and a half enduring routine abuse and suffering serious depression, was just laid off and told me that the CEO still likes to blame me for problems that occurred long after I left and that I had nothing to do with. Even though my ex-co-workers all claim that I was the only person who actually ever knew what I was doing in the position.

    And the consultant is no doubt collecting big $ from another mark as we speak.

  145. 145
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Emma:

    Can anyone tell me when we went back to taking the Republican framing for everything and using it in a Democratic circular firing squad?

    How about this frame? The Dems are the party of good government, the GOP are the party of “fuck government”. If you believe in good government, then you take HC.gov as a wake-up call to sort out procurement. If you think that the correct political response is “la la la nothing to see” then eventually there’s going to be a project built on those foundations that fucks up in a way that can’t be fixed.

    @StringOnAStick:

    I heard a story on NPR yesterday (yeah, I know) yesterday about how the British went from contracting out websites/IT after a few too many very expensive failures from private contractors to doing it all in-house a few years ago.

    Here’s the piece. The people at work on that process are pretty damn good at what they do. They’re using small-a agile for rapid deployment, because the fundamental aim is to ship. You can also read this piece from somebody who’s involved with it.

  146. 146
    StringOnAStick says:

    @Uncle Ebeneezer: I just wanted you to know that I read your story and can completely relate. I hope you landed in greener, happier pastures!

  147. 147
    jrg says:

    @Felinious Wench:

    The “agile” methodologies you’re applying an umbrella statement to have been around since the 1950s with the X-15

    LOL. Agile zealots make me laugh… Take an example from the 50s that predates Scrum and XP by a half century, and cite it as a huge Agile success. Then, every time Agile flops, it’s because whoever did it wasn’t being agilly enough. Agile can never fail, it can only be failed!

    There’s a reason every other type of Engineering has a design phase. The “fuck it, let’s start coding!” attitude Agile espouses always, always causes hackish middleware layers, a huge defect backlog, and tremendously screwed up data schemas. Sorry, but if you’re doing anything enterprise class, there is no substitute for a design spec.

  148. 148
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @jrg:

    Sorry, but if you’re doing anything enterprise class, there is no substitute for a design spec.

    I’m really not going to perpetuate this, but ‘enterprise class’ so often means means ‘shit class’. As the old line goes, enterprise software is bought (or commissioned) by people who are never going to have to use it.

  149. 149
    Leslie says:

    Given what this piece says about the Federal contracting process generally, and in IT specifically, I don’t see any way Sebelius could have done things differently. The entire contracting/subcontracting process seems to be pretty FUBAR.

  150. 150
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    Harper Reed and Clay Johnson’s op-ed in the NYT — basically the culmination of both of them receiving countless interview requests over the past few days — is also worth a read. If you’re going to argue that they don’t know their shit about building web-fronted tech projects, you can go away right now.

  151. 151
    Uncle Ebeneezer says:

    @StringOnAStick: Thanks SOS. I have moved on to better pastures. Got married and am now playing music (my love) rather than a desk-job working for an abusive a-hole.

    The thing that was so bizarre about those management types like my CEO and his consultant is that they are clearly intelligent people, but they are so blinded by their arrogance and egos that they can’t listen to anything that doesn’t fit into their blinkered management worldview. Amai wrote a great post about republicans as punishers, and I think alot of that pertains to business-management types. Their primary concern is maintaining the power-structure that allows them to feel superior to their underlings and allows them to constantly dump on them. So much so that they are incapable of diagnosing real problems within their business because it would mean actually listening to the proles. Any attempt by an employee to raise a concern or tell the manager how it really is down in the trenches, is waved away or viewed as making excuses and evidence that the employee just doesn’t have what it takes. It’s one of the reasons that I’m hoping to find a way to never have to work in an office again.

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