Cover Oregon software failed due to “ideological blindness” to the organization and management failures

Cover Oregon ran Oregon’s failed online health insurance market; it never enrolled a private individual and is being abandoned in a shift to the Federal HealthCare.gov web service.

The system never worked but insiders refused to believe what they were seeing because a “true believer mentality won out”.

This mind set is common in too many software projects with thoughts like “its just a few problems and will work fine once we get through this”, “we will make up the lost time later”, “the defects are not that serious-they are fixable”, “we can just drop a few features”.

Though the beta site was limited to insurance agents and certified consumer assisters, exchange managers — not unexpectedly — encountered bugs. “On Day 1, agents couldn’t even log in,” Jovick said.

It was the reaction from certain other people in the room that was disturbing.

Troubleshooters for Oracle, the project’s lead vendor, “were flabbergasted” and completely stumped by how the system was malfunctioning, Jovick recalled. Rather than knowing who to call to get problems fixed, Oracle’s reaction was “Huh? How did that happen?'”At that point, no one realized Oregon and Oracle had built “this absolute disaster that just didn’t do anything,” Jovick said.

via Cover Oregon insider Tom Jovick speaks: Health exchange problems stumped Oracle, blindsided staff video | OregonLive.com.

The management team ignored the warnings of many consultants who found “lousy code”, poor testing, lack of test environments, and more.  They were true believers in the ideals of the project and were blinded to what was in front of them.

Oregon ended up enrolling people by hand using paper applications. They lost 20,000 applications and enrolled 4,500 “non documented” immigrants (formerly known as illegal aliens) who did not qualify.

There is a potential that the  Cover Oregon organization be shut down and the staff laid off  (Update: Cover Oregon was shut down after spending about $450 million and never enabling a single consumer to enroll online). From a traditional business perspective, it seems they made need an entirely new organization that is not carrying “emotional baggage”, which is unfortunate for the staff. From a marketing perspective the “Cover Oregon” brand is irreparably damaged and should be replaced.

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