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Question

There can be numerous factors that contribute to failed information technology projects. Are there consistent factors that emerge in  all failed projects or is each project unique? Analyse the case history of an IT system that failed and explain why it failed. Propose interventions that might have prevented the failure include explanations for why you think these interventions should work.

Answer

Failed Information Technology Projects

Information technology (IT) projects are complex to implement and run effectively. Often, new projects experience partial or even total failure in the worst case scenarios. Statistics indicate that more than half of information technology projects fail due to various reasons such as poor planning, ineffective controls, lack of a clear scope, poor change management, and among other reasons. While other industries also suffer from project failure, the IT industry is more susceptible to the risk of failure compared to other industries. This paper will analyze the case history of HealthCare.gov, giving reasons that contributed to its failure and possible preventative measures that could have been taken.

In 2013, the U.S. federal government launched HealthCare.gov which was meant to be a digital health platform that could provide health services to millions of Americans with ease. Soon after the website was launched, over 20 million Americans visited the site but only about 500,000 Americans were able to assess the website (Johnson & Reed, 2013). Even then, only a smaller number were able to obtain medical coverage. Just like in other failed IT projects, the reasons for the failure were consistent. Most IT projects fail due to unclear objectives, inadequate skills, poor stakeholder consultation, lack of clear scope of the project, wrong leaders, unrealistic timescales, lack of planning, poor communication, and among other common reasons. In the health care system, the main reasons why the IT project failed were lack of planning and inadequate skills for those who were involved in the implementation. 

According to Johnson & Reed (2013), the company that worn the tender to build HealthCare.gov was not the best qualified for the job. Due to a complex tendering process, the company that worn the contract was the one able to negotiate the legal process best, but not the one capable of best handling the complexity of the project. The project management team lacked the required expertise in handling such a complex project. This was notable with the flawed design of the website. For example, the designers did not integrate the use of cache in the system. This means that for each information accessed, the request had to go through the system database, creating congestion in the (Angelo, 2015). The project leadership was also not handled in the correct way. According to Boulton (2013), the project did not have an appointed leader in charge of decision making. This contributed to a series of failures such as lack of software integration that eventually led to the failure of the whole project. In addition, several deadlines for the project were missed especially in developing health exchanges. 

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An outdated project management methodology was also used (Angelo, 2015). The waterfall model which is a type of a sequential design process was used. This design model may not be the best since it encourages designers to work on a particular process or level of development and then proceed to the next. In this case, it is difficult to make alterations since there is no working software produced until after the entire project nears completion. In this case, there is a high amount of risk taken and uncertainty in the entire project. It is also difficult to go back and make modifications once the project is in the testing stages. A single launch of the health website meant that it was not tested in various development stages (Angelo, 2015). The single launch was catastrophic since there were many errors with the entire system which had not been identified.

There are a number of interventions that could have prevented the failure of the healthcare system website. One such intervention is the use of highly qualified team of developers. The team of developers from CGI Group lacked experience in complex IT projects which increased the risks of the project failing. A new trend has emerged whereby the government forms a highly skilled team of IT professionals to implement various projects instead of entrusting them to outside developers.  A staged roll-out of the healthcare system would have prevented the failure of the system. This is because errors would be identified at each of the stages and then resolved before the project proceeded to the final launch stage. Testing and observation of the system at each stage would also have prevented the project failure. Testing ensures that errors are identified early before the project reaches the final stages.

Leadership was clearly lacking in the implementation of the healthcare system project. If there was a strong leadership at the top, the project would likely have been a success. Leadership is important in ensuring that a project goes on as stipulated. Leadership helps in ensuring the project remains within budget and is completed in the established timeframe. A strong leadership could also help in ensuring that all requirements of the system are met. Communication is crucial in project management. It is the role of the project leader to maintain communication among all the parties involved such as the government, stakeholders, developers, and users.

In conclusion, IT projects are at a higher risk of failure due to the numerous challenges involved during implementation. Often, IT project failure emanates from recurrent problems such as poor planning and inadequate skills. HealthCare.gov website failed mainly due to inadequate skills of the developers and poor project leadership.

References

Angelo, R. (2015). HealthCare.gov: A retrospective lesson in the failure of the project stakeholders. Issues in Information Systems, 16(1): 15-20.

Boulton, C. (2013, Dec 24). HealthCare.gov’s Sickly Launch Defined Bad IT Projects in 2013. The Wall Street Journal, p. 12.

Johnson, C., & Reed, H. (2013, Oct. 24). Why the Government Never Gets Tech Right. The New York Times, p. 6

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