Saturday, November 30, 2013

Diagnosing the Fiasco

The latest issue of The New York Review of Books has a well-reasoned and highly readable analysis of the fiasco associated with the launch of It is written by Sue Halpern, no stranger to the complications that arise at the interface between the objective world (such as the world of computer software) and the social world (such as the world of the intended users of that software). The title of her article could not be more apposite: "The Flop."

This is definitely a case in which failure has many parents. It was not, as I had initially assumed, simply another case of the failure of the Federal Government to engage people with a sufficient skill level to take on a project that required designing and implementing both software functionality and a usable interface to that functionality. Ultimately, it was a far more complicated story of the failure to manage properly a highly complex software development project with the misfortune to be embedded in a complex of both inadequate funding and an ideologically crippled government incapable of addressing problems associated with both funding and people management.

Halpern makes a convincing case that just about every aspect of this project was riddled with incompetence. Furthermore, while she never mentions it explicitly, her analysis is likely to remind many readers of the sign that President Harry Truman had on his desk stating simply:
The buck stops here.
In other words all of her accusations of incompetence can ultimately be directed to a single desk, and that is the desk in the Oval Office.

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