This is a story of contrast between two popular methods of software development. One is called “waterfall,” the other, “agile.”
Waterfall development favors listing a huge set of requirements for a system up front, letting developers go away for months (if not longer) and expecting a huge software product in the end.
The agile method does the opposite, favoring work done in phases, delivering “minimum shippable” parts of a software system in weekly or biweekly cycles. This allows for iterating — or adjusting to hiccups discovered in the previous cycle, changing features or quashing bugs quickly and avoiding getting an end product that doesn’t look a thing like what your users need.
Like many government projects, HealthCare.gov was developed under the waterfall approach — and to its near doom.
The key findings in the presentation found here come on Page 5. Even though it was written in March, the slide sums up most of the key problems we eventually saw with the rollout of HealthCare.gov last month: limited testing time, evolving requirements, over-reliance on contractors and “stacking” of all the phases of development. The really damaging decision, according to the consultants: launching “at scale.”