It’s Frustrating that the Senators are not asking the right questions and that the White house advisers are giving bad information, both out of ignorance and the typical politics of CYA and Pin the Blame on the Donkey. But nobody is asking the question of who picked this consulting firm, who in the government is responsible for not demanding an azure (or other cloud based) solution for something that was textbook for use case. It’s odd as a consultant I look at this situation as a classic example of how the customer messed up the project and the consultant is blamed.
How Did it Ever Get This Messed Up?
Well that is simple, (see cartoon above) it’s commonly said you can get it done cheep or you can do it right. Now don’t get me wrong I think the government way overspent for this application, but how does this really happen? Here is an iconic cartoon that very clearly illustrates this common problem is software development:
- This is going to be a simple place where you can go get insurance, or a subsidy and compare prices.
- The project leader(s) understood that they were cut off at the knees due to legal jargon and statutes.
- The analyst inaccuracy assumed that there would be a steady small flow of people signing up (not all 300 million people in the US would try signing up day one).
- The developer did the best they could (hopefully) with the information they were given.
- Someone know how to make this thing luxurious and functional, with all the bells and whistles (even though they were not directly asked for)
- As time goes on and deadlines start coming or being missed what good is a document saying how the system works when it doesn’t even work.
- If I don’t tel you to put an engine on my buggy I’ll get a horse drawn carriage as opposed to a model T, because you can’t bill me for an engine I didn’t ask for.!
- The customer billing one is obvious.
- The people who’s jobs would be on the line when this whole thing blows up were too busy with other important stuff..
- We ultimately want only a tire swing, this is what the president’s advisers told him he was getting.
O.k. that’s funny but what does it really say? The number one reason that software projects fail is a lack of communication. “A Lack of communication in politics! HA!” You say sarcastically. It is the same story whether your a multi-billion dollar organization or you only hope to clear 100K in a year. You have the competing triad of
All three need to come together to have success, and when you have “politics” (whether that is in the government or in the office) you don’t have a team. Without a consensus or accepted leadership your business has no idea whether they are coming going or just missed a meeting. And if nobody cares about success, or even worse is trying to pin failure on another party they will not accept their money being spent to aid that initiative, stopping the train before it even gets started.
But what many may not be aware of is that the landscape is never simple. When it comes time for anyone who is familiar with government software to start explaining it they always start with shaking their heads. Lets take the simple case of a new federal fishing license for interstate and international waters. We have differing fish populations on each of the 4 Cartesian boarders of Minnesota. To the north Canada (which makes setting licensing restrictions slightly easier because it is only one party for many of the states, but in Minnesota the fish on the east side ate very different from those in the middle and even those on the western edge. allowing even one Muskie to be taken from the red river could be considered a violation on endangered habitat, yet there are places that you have problems keeping them off your hook in the north west(or so it has been rumored in dark corners by old drunken fisher persons). Now look at the species along the Wisconsin boarder, where they are fighting invasive species and it is all river (similar to North and South Dakota), and there are no Wilderness preserves. O.k. well lets take each place on a per case basis then what you get is something like:
- If it is the Canadian Border
- If it west of Lake of the Woods…
- If it east of Lake Of the woods…
- If it is the ….
- If it is the Wisconsin Border
- If it is north of the St Thomas Falls …
- If it is north of St Croix Falls …
- If it is the ….
- If it is the ….
And the scope of the logic just exponentially increases as we take into consideration things like handicapped access (use of a crossbow for bow fishing) .. Bow Fishing!.. you can see how a simple place to go get a license can get complicated quick depending especially on what that license is intended to cover. Here is our simple diagram of that was just described:
So the next time your thinking about building that governmental website, give one person the budget tell them to make it, and get out of their hair!
Why is it Funny?
It’s funny because every developer knows this and yet everyone who has never worked in construction, development or any field where you must operate behold-ant to expectations and hard reality you will always have to explain why it is so complicated even when it should be obvious…