Will the Healthcare.Gov Rollout Be Obama’s Sinking Ship?
On a pleasant August day in 1628, the Swedish ship Vasa, the most heavily armed warship built to that time, sank in Stockholm harbor after sailing less than a mile on its maiden voyage. The sinking came at a bad moment for Sweden’s King Gustavus Adophus, who was in the middle of a deadly naval conflict with the Poles. The mighty Vasa was supposed to have turned the whole war around. Its loss was a huge blow both militarily and financially.
Since that time, the Vasa disaster has become a classic case study in how not to manage the rollout of a technologically advanced new product. Will the launch problems of healthcare.gov be President Obama’s Vasa moment? If we read what modern business consultants and management professors have written about the Vasa debacle, we find some disturbing parallels.
The Vasa was lost neither in battle nor in a storm. It sank in on a clear day within sight of downtown Stockholm. It was, quite simply, a casualty of faulty design. Its narrow hull, inadequate ballast, and unprecedentedly heavy armament put its center of gravity too high. It rolled over and sank in a moderate breeze that was far below the maximum to which any sailing ship would be exposed as a matter of course.
Many observers see have pointed out analogous design flaws in the healthcare.gov website. It, too, is large and complex, yet the number of users required to put it out of action was no greater than what its designers could reasonably have expected. However, in at least one respect, the healthcare.gov designers have less of an excuse than did the builders of the Vasa. Whereas no one had ever built a ship equal in firepower to the Vasa, private firms from Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) to Zazzle have successfully built and operated websites even more complex than healthcare.gov. As the Financial Times reported, “If a website as vast and technologically complex as healthcare.gov had been launched in Silicon Valley, it would have been ramped up slowly, fine-tuned for months and taken offline at the first sign of trouble.” The Obama administration did none of these things as it launched the centerpiece of its flagship Affordable Care Act.