Skip to main content

Case Studies: Software Systems Failure

Software nightmare stories are very common - but one thing I've learned by listening to these stories over the years is the technologist must be optimist at heart.  Why - because they deal constantly with tons of failure.  And out of those failures they create innovative disruptive new sectors of the world economy (sometimes, case in point the Apple Newton and then the iPod and iPhone).



Let's look at a few case studies.

Time has just published a look at the Obama Healthcare rescue team.  Code Red by Steven Brill

"What were the tech problems?  Where they beyond repair? Nothing I saw was beyond repair.  Yes, it was messed up.  Software wasn't built to talk to other software, stuff like that.  A lot of that,"  Abbott continues, "was because they had made the most basic mistake you can ever make.  The government is not used to shipping products to consumers.  You never open a service like this to everyone at once.  You open it in small concentric circles and expand" -- such as one state first, then a few more -- "so you can watch it, fix it and scale it."
What Abbott could not find, however, was leadership.  He says that to this day he cannot figure out who was supposed to have been in charge of the HealthCare.gov launch."

The Secret Startup That Saved the Worst Website in America  How a team of young people, living in a repurposed McMansion in Maryland, helped rebuild Healthcare.gov

Stock Options? Don’t Need ‘Em! I’m Coding For Uncle Sam! (Medium)
The people behind the new government agency that’s recruiting the nation’s best tech talent to reform its hideous computer systems.
"The Healthcare.gov experience shows how great the differences can be. In newly released figures, the government says that constructing the original enrollment system, known as the Federally Facilitated Marketplace operating system, cost $200 million and would have required $70 million a year to maintain. The new version of the site, revamped by USDS engineers from Google, Y Combinator startups and other commercial tech outposts, cost $4 million to produce, with annual maintenance costs also $4 million."
Or take a look at an Agile/Scrum successful rescue -- the FBI Sentinel case management system.
FBI's Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned by InformationWeek's John Foley
Case Study of a Difficult Federal Government Scrum Project: FBI Sentinel by Michael James
DoD Goes Agile by Jeff Sutherland 
DOJ's Report on Sentinel Project by Inspector General - Dec. 2011
How the FBI Proves Agile Works for Gov. Agencies by CIO's Jason Bloomberg
"Wait, agile rescued a huge money-pit fiasco of a government project? You mean, iterative, skunkworks, put-the-customer-on-the-team, forget-the-plan agile? You betcha. Agile turned out to be the hero in the tights and cape, coming to save the day."

Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods  GAO-12-681: Published: Jul 27, 2012
What can one make from failure? Well, author John Kotter of the airport best seller's shelf (Leading Change) created his 8 step model from investigating why companies consistently fail to institute the desired organizational changes that they assumed were mission critical. His conclusion, if they had just done eight things well then the organizational change would have succeeded.
So what can we learn from two of the US governments most recent software project failures?  I think it can be summarized in one phrase - the Big Bang model only works for universes (or God).  The rest of us better learn how to iterate, grow, and evolve systems.

See Also:
Before Scaling up, Consider...

Agile Failure Disrupting Organizational Performance - by Agilitrix

Agile Succeeds 3X more than Waterfall - CHAOS Report 2011 - MountainGoat Software
ObjectMentor success stories:
    Primavera
    Sabre takes extreme measures - ComputerWorld

"Led by IS&T’s vice president, John Charles, the ambitious reorganization began in February 2015 and aims to spur innovation through agile software development practices adopted from industry. Charles emphasizes that this is not a typical reorganization, but rather a complete transformation of MIT’s IT department."

The famous SalesForce all-in, one day transition
    Slideshare presentation   The Development Dilemma PDF

Scrum at Scale Keynote 2015 (Scrum Inc.) - has infographic from 2015 Chaos Report




A Case Study of SME Web Application Development Effectiveness via Agile Methods  by: Peter Clutterbuck, Terry Rowlands and Owen Seamons University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Agile Delivery at British Telecom  by Ian Evans, British Telecom  (Methods and Tools)


Live from LA Success Tour: 5 Stories of Agile Success (RallyDev)

LeSS Case Studies (over a dozen, mostly European companies)

Microsoft's agile case study - would you believe it? by Steve Denning of Forbes

Whole Foods Market case study Home Grown Agile - An Agile journey with one of America’s most trusted brands.

In 2016 there is a preponderance of organizations stating they are doing Digital Transformation.  What could this term mean?  Are they changing from analog to digital systems -or- are they mutating all employee numbers from arabic to binary?

Southwest Airlines’ Digital Transformation Takes Off - FastCompany
Rolling out new software is hard in any company, but it’s even harder when your employees still send faxes.

David Anderson suggest Agile is Costing You Too Much - makes the case that there are few if any Agile Case studies and publishes 8 Kanban case studies.  I loved the Sabre story David tells of circa 2006 Sabre reboot of "agile", I lived through a 2011-2013 reboot at Sabre.  They are continually rebooting that initiative - pondering why?

Agile Fails by Teri Christian


Post a Comment

Most Popular on Agile Complexification Inverter

David's notes on "Drive"

- "The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us" by Dan Pink.

Amazon book order
What I notice first and really like is the subtle implication in the shadow of the "i" in Drive is a person taking one step in a running motion.  This brings to mind the old saying - "there is no I in TEAM".  There is however a ME in TEAM, and there is an I in DRIVE.  And when one talks about motivating a team or an individual - it all starts with - what's in it for me.

Introduction

Pink starts with an early experiment with monkeys on problem solving.  Seems the monkeys were much better problem solver's than the scientist thought they should be.  This 1949 experiment is explained as the early understanding of motivation.  At the time there were two main drivers of motivation:  biological & external influences.  Harry F. Harlow defines the third drive in a novel theory:  "The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward" (p 3).  This is Dan Pink's M…

Software Development terms applied to Home Construction

Let's Invert the typically wrong headed view of Software Development project management as a construction project.  We can map it the other way just to see if it works... to have some fun, to explore the meaning of phrases we toss around quite frequently.


Normally Project Management terms come from a construction domain.  We are going to apply the lexicon of modern software to the construction of a home.  We will follow the construction project and meet some of the people doing the work.

This is a very small (8 homes from $600,000 skyward) program in my 30-40 year old neighborhood.

About 6 months ago I saw the programs landing page go up.  It gives casual observers and some of the stakeholders a general idea of the intent of the program.  And most importantly who to contact for additional information if you happen to be interested in their products.

The Refuge program has 8 product projects and has them running independently.  Yet much of their DevOps infrastructure has already b…

Where is Shakespeare When We Need Him?

We are desperately searching for a term for people that connotes the best of human kind.  The creative, sensing, combinatorial synergistic, empathic solutioning persons that have yet to been labeled with a role name that works.

Some of the old terms:
Staff, Workforce, Human Resource, My Team, Army, Company

Shakespeare created 1700 words in his time.  He mutated verbs to nouns, and vice-a-versa, transformed verbs into adjectives, and formed words from whole cloth never before heard.  This skill is rare, but there is a poet that can create the term we need in the twenty-first century.

What should this term define?

21st Century Human Resource; the generalizing specialist.

Yes, but what more?  What less?

Suggest your poetry in the comments, let us see if we cannot do 1/1700 as well as The Bard.

By-the-way; who create the phrase "coin a word"?




Innovation in the Automobile Industry

In the 1900s the automobile industry was the most important and innovation industry in the USA.  But one could question if this was good for our society in the long run.  And one could question if they actually innovated.

In the early 1900s there were few automobiles, very little infrastructure created to support the industry.  For example the road system was still designed for horse drawn wagons and the wagon wheel (remember a steal rim and wooden compression spoke wheel).  The future US Highways, or the 1950s Interstate Highway System at the cost of $425 billion were decades and many innovations away. There was no gas service station, there were however horse stables, farriers, and blacksmiths in each town along the roads.  There was no real "road map", there was no road naming system, like was created in 1926 - the United States Numbered Highway System.

The industry employees millions of people, and was a large factor in the economy of the USA.  It created or was created b…

Elements of an Effective Scrum Task Board

What are the individual elements that make a Scrum task board effective for the team and the leadership of the team?  There are a few basic elements that are quite obvious when you have seen a few good Scrum boards... but there are some other elements that appear to elude even the most servant of leaders of Scrum teams.









In general I'm referring to a physical Scrum board.  Although software applications will replicated may of the elements of a good Scrum board there will be affordances that are not easily replicated.  And software applications offer features not easily implemented in the physical domain also.





Scrum Info Radiator Checklist (PDF) Basic Elements
Board Framework - columns and rows laid out in bold colors (blue tape works well)
Attributes:  space for the total number of stickies that will need to belong in each cell of the matrix;  lines that are not easy eroded, but are also easy to replace;  see Orientation.

Columns (or Rows) - labeled
    Stories
    To Do
    Work In P…