Leadership, or lack of it, is "top of mind" for many people and the topic comes up weekly in conversation. The topic is especially relevant because of recent failures to deliver by top leadership, job elimination, and concerns about U.S. jobs moving offshore when experienced talent is available all around us.
Recently, discussions have included the HIM problems. I've commented to a number of people that I expected the system to fail. They ask me what I see as delivery problems. I recall reading a description of the design for the HIM system sometime last year. I actually laughed out loud when I read the description of the background processing. That was an easy prediction of failure. Obvious concerns: the complexity, arduous collaboration and leadership requirements and pricing as outlined in the article.
Complexity - Obviously, there is a need for complex processing in the background, but a boutique expert company, a few mid-market, partnered companies, or even our largest and best tech firms don't usually have all those skills in one place. A better approach is a business and tech leadership team who identifies and retains the top talent required for the various functions to be delivered, i.e. - web user interface & its performance, lookup of credit and health history, pricing, location sensitivity, etc. Oh, and did I mention system performance and security experts?
Leadership/accountability/collaboration - Let's say we took the above approach, or even the one the government selected, the foundational issues are overall and daily leadership/accountability: strategy, planning, task identification and assignment, schedule, prototyping, testing, acceptance reviews. These are just the basics and, as I said above, they are arduous. You have to establish real milestones and accountability. If an early prototype passes the contract requirements, but doesn't work, that's an immediate "red flag" and cause to stop and evaluate the project by every leader involved. So many times I hear that the project was in compliance with the Statement of Work, but we felt like "more should be happening." If it doesn't look right and feel right, it probably isn't! If you can't touch it and see it function, it doesn't exist. Trust your instincts.
Pricing - The award for business these days is usually based on lowest price and, often, shortest delivery time. I'm not sure why anyone still has that mentality, but it is pervasive, especially in the government. You still “get what you pay for.” If a client has an innovative and rich functionality expectation (HIM), you can’t deliver that on lowest bid. The two don't match. Evaluate costs for accuracy and adequacy to ensure you have all the resources and time needed. Then add a special fund for innovation.
Further, vendors should demonstrate that they can deliver the functionality designed rather than making an impressive presentation and coming up with the lowest bid. Advance funds to deliver the prototype, but, if it doesn't meet the deliverables at that stage, part, or all, of the funds are returned. If it passes the prototype, funds for the next milestone are advanced. But remember that you, as a manager, don't wait for the milestone delivery to know if the project is on track. As I said before, it is a daily, weekly and monthly job, and it is not an easy job.
As a small business owner who has led many strategic technology and "turnaround" projects, from small to very large corporations, having the right people/skills, right price and right leadership are essential ingredients for quality, on-time delivery of innovative products.
To President Obama, "Sir, respectfully, are you sure you have those requirements more than adequately covered at this point?" Those same factors are essential for the turnaround.