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Horrific Technology Expectations

Frightening House In MoonlightAlthough it’s Halloween, most people have horrific technology expectations all year round. Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified for 3 1/2 hours before the House Energy and Commerce Committee concerning Obamacare implementation. Being a former insurance commissioner, Sebelius knows insurance and is very articulate. However, the damage was already done. Her only choice was to apologize profusely, accept blame, explain where possible, and pledge to do better.

Putting political views aside, expectation levels were set far too high on the implementation of Obamacare. In fact, the spectacle televised yesterday is a common occurrence in businesses large and small around the world every day. The only difference is that there is no video of the carnage.

Pick any technology project and various camps have their own agenda. For whatever reason, software troubles tend to be personal. With any hint of problems, the attack is always on who is to blame. It’s a fruitless endeavor as the real issue is correcting problems and preventing similar mistakes in the future. The first and on-going mistake is failing to set reasonable expectations upfront, and communicating potential pitfalls throughout.

If the message from the President had set a different tone and progress regularly communicated, then the nation wouldn’t be quite so upset at this late juncture:

We are embarking on one of the greatest endeavors of our time to build one of the largest and most sophisticated systems to provide affordable healthcare options to everyone. The timeline is aggressive and at startup, there will be more people accessing the system than the largest websites in the world combined. The demand will be high and we anticipate some potential glitches, but are committed to providing this service and appreciate your support and patience.

Timeframes and budget are difficult to control in large technology projects. You’re not building a road. There are dozens of more things out of your control. Sebelius drew a line in the sand for when all the problems would be resolved. Like in Obamacare fails with custom code, there is a high likelihood that new needs will surface as “problems” and trigger more costs now and for pending upgrades in just a few years.

Perhaps all of the above is Project Management 101, but we’re missing another basic understanding. It’s amazing that after nearly 70 years, there is no general term for people who provide technology that parallels attorney, doctor, or accountant. No Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) exists for the majority of the technology industry either. Since technology will increasingly be at the forefront of virtually every modern issue, maybe this oversight should be corrected soon?

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