Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

The Personal Lessons of HealthCare.gov

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I listen with sadness to the problems plaguing the Federal Government’s health exchange website rollout. I’ve been working on a website that is kind of a big deal to me since May, and I’ve been doing it alone. I can’t afford IT people. Besides, when I hired an IT person to build a different site, they gave me lousy artwork, pages that didn’t link and grammar that sounded like it came from the same people who made “I want cheezburger” famous.

The fewer people working on a project, the better, although alone isn’t ideal either. The progress is really slow. But the accountability is 100% and that can make it worth it. This problem with healthcare.gov reminds me of the British problems with the rollout of its health service website 5 years ago, the Medicare Part D portion of Bush’s prescription drug plan seven years ago, and most recently, the massive foul up associated with the reworking of the USAjobs website. Whew!

And, I’m seeing that being in a rush to make other people look bad only gives them ammunition that eventually makes you look bad. So, I don’t have a deadline for my website, but I am working diligently and consistently to finish it. With no deadline per se, I can go through the steps with everything I’ve learned and everything I already know.

And there are a lot of them. There are the design questions like, what do I want the site to look like, since for webpages, function follows form. And there are other, big sky questions – What do I want the site to do? Can I do it? Will it deliver the value I expect it to? Then, there are the technical questions. I’ve shared plenty of those – how to create a scroll follow box, how to deal with host site content limitations, how to create an image map, how to link drop down menu selections, how to overcome out of memory messages, etc.

And there are marketing questions – who should be contacted; newspapers? Think tanks? Political bloggers? Marketing basics say never use a shotgun to spread your message because you’ll tell a lot of people who don’t care. But the people who care, really care. So devoting the time to them is extremely important.  And that comes down to the grunt work of creating lists.

The saddest thing about the healthcare.gov debacle is somewhere along the way, somebody said they were bringing in the “A Team” to fix it, to which I wonder, so who did you start with?  No IT person wants to come in to clean up the mess of a lesser IT person.

My site will be the most complicated thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done it essentially by myself. And I will have some advantages over heathcare.gov; I’ll be able to test pieces of it independently and collectively because I don’t have to coordinate with other IT people or their schedules half a world away; I’ll get opinions on the content from people most interested in it – people whose opinions I trust; I can remove stuff, tweak stuff or add stuff. But the greatest luxury I have is time.

That being said, I think my site will be ready by Veteran’s Day.

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Written by Interviewer

October 24, 2013 at 06:45

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