Sunday, October 20, 2013

The laughable HHS tech surge

Fred Brooks wrote the Mythical Man-Month in 1975 where he penned Brooks law, "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later". The Obama administration apparently hasn't caught up with that. It's embarrassing to watch a supposedly tech savvy administration fall for the software development equivalent of nine women can make a baby in one month. Now Brooke's law doesn't apply everywhere and at every point in a project. In a project that is perfectly partitionable, where a lot of independent tasks have to be done, it is possible to add people on to tasks that haven't even been started yet and not get into the problems of ramp up and communication that Brooks warned against. But that's not what HHS is facing. All the units are at least supposed to be done. This is a repair job and bringing in a new crew on an already built piece of software that has launched, has live data in it, and will be continuing to run as the programmers work to fix things is probably one of the cases where Brooks law applies. A portion of the existing team's time is going to have to be taken away from coding and testing to ramping up the new people who are added so that they know what they are doing. The additional people are going to increase the overall coordination and communication load of the project. There was enormous pressure to get this out the door on time for political reasons. An all hands call is a natural political response to a bad situation. In the case of a software development effort, this is a very bad idea.