Custom Software Apps & SharePoint Consulting

Custom web development gone wrong

NBC reported today that the custom web development project to create Healthcare.gov is many millions of dollars over budget. The website, which is intended by the government facilitate sign up for health care exchanges, has many bugs and appears to be unable to handle the necessary volume.

Custom web development: Healthcare.govCommentators in the NBC story said that quick turn-around, changes in scope due to more states joining the exchange, and last minute design changes are all big factors. So what could have the government and the development company, CGI Federal, have done differently?

Planning makes a difference

As we’ve discussed in the past, every custom web development project has some element of risk involved. Starting out, the problem being solved must be clearly defined. If a quick turn-around is required, a plan must be developed to maintain quality and leave sufficient time for testing before launch.

One question we have about this project is whether Agile or Waterfall custom development methodologies were used. The shifting requirements and quick deadline in this case would appear to lend itself to Agile.

CGI Federal’s senior vice president was even quoted last year as saying that they are moving in the direction of Agile methodologies for these complicated government projects. “Agile will allow us the flexibility to continue to develop in that environment and be able to come to the end results in a timely fashion with the appropriate solutions.”

In this case with Healthcare.gov, it’s hard to believe that the principles of Agile were applied to development. Said Entrance’s director of consulting, Chad, “We start our Agile projects with an understanding of what the minimum functionality required is, and then build from there.”

If a high volume of users and functionality for all fifty states were both top priorities, then these should have been the driving forces of the project.

Here are our top three tips for starting out a custom web development project:

  • Make quality a top priority. If new features or additions look like they will jeopardize the project, save those for a future release.
  • Always keep the business goal top of mind. Losing sight of this can mean that the project doesn’t meet anyone’s needs.
  • Be realistic. Time, resources, and functionality all come at a price. If you have a tight timeline, then either resources or functionality will have to give.

For more on getting the most from your custom web development project, check out our post on the improvements one client saw in the success of their project after switching from Waterfall to Agile.


Nate Richards
Nate has over 18 years of software engineering and consulting experience. He founded Entrance in 2003. Nate is the past President of the Board of LifeHouse Houston, a Christ-centered maternity home ministry, and is past Executive committee member and Treasurer of Houston Achievement Place, a foster care and social skills training non-profit organization.
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