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HealthCare.gov: Lessons From Continuous Software Delivery

A tight cycle of development, design, and testing is the best way to keep a big project (even a supposedly Agile one) from blowing up.

HealthCare.gov, President Obama's healthcare exchange website, has been heavily scrutinized this past year. In their quest to extend healthcare to every American, federal leaders put too many roadblocks and a tight deadline in the way of delivering a site that functioned and performed well during the initial rollout.

Like conventional manufacturing, software development is no easy feat, and the complexity is only continuing to increase. While the team of contractors who were hired to develop the site followed the principles of Agile, a rapid and lean software development process, it was not enough. In fact, neither the principles of Agile nor the succeeding practice of continuous integration could solve the software delivery challenge by themselves. What could help is operating in a continuous delivery model, which is described by many as the culmination of all of these development practices.

[Accenture: Satisfied Customers Not Always Loyal]

Continuous delivery is a software strategy that seeks to err on the side of delivering working software, as opposed to new features. The core idea is to create a repeatable, reliable, and iterative process by which working software is ushered from concept to customer. The foundation for this repeatable and reliable process usually means replacing manual, error-prone processes with automation.

The truth is that the journey to deliver a well-functioning, high-performance site is difficult, and the only way to keep up with increasing user demands is to evolve our software development processes to include these high levels of automation. There are two areas specifically that made HealthCare.gov a project difficult to pull off in the short time frame.

1. Too many control points
There are too many points of command and control across the application development lifecycle that do not offer visibility into who is doing what and when. The US government had about 55 contractors working on the site. They operated under a tight timeline and communicated with multiple agencies throughout the process.

Read the full article on InformationWeek. 

Anders Wallgren brings with him more than 15 years of in-depth experience designing and building commercial software. Prior to joining Electric Cloud, he held executive positions at Aceva, Archistra, and Impresse. He also held management positions at Macromedia, Common Ground ... View Full Bio

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