Apart from the Snowden leaks of state surveillance activities, perhaps no other single issue contributed to a diminished approval rating for President Obama more than the botched Obamacare website, www.healthcare.gov – the Health Insurance Marketplace.
From over ambitious goals, frequent missed timeliness and all too frequent downtimes, exhausted and frustrated project team members, to a furious American public, www.healthcare.gov gave critics and the general public a window of opportunity to peep into and tear down President Obama’s signature healthcare programme.
That was not in the President’s script! Suddenly the Republicans who had come out worse off from the budget impasse weeks earlier now have not just a better approval rating but also tangible ammunition in the battle for congressional seats in 2014!
More than just a website…it is a brand issue
John C. Maxwell once declared that “everything rises and falls on leadership”. I cannot agree more…the bulk stops at the top!
President Obama accepted from the onset that a failure of the website was a failure that went all the way to his office. After the disastrous launch, he must have had sleepless nights setting up the new team, adopting the best damage control approach, deciding how to phase this complex project, etc.
Beyond a website, www.healthcare.gov speaks about his legacy. We all know Obama as one of the finest orators of our time but like a Chinese proverb goes, “talk does not cook rice”. Failure here could not be an option as there was too much at stake. As a commentator stated, “If President Obama cannot develop and manage a website (www.healthcare.gov), how can he get Obamacare (the programme) to work?” President Obama needed to define his legacy around “performance” and not “talk”. He needed to bring the Commander bit of his job description to bear. He had to become the CEO…Chief Errand Officer to get things to work!
The website has finally been launched and the glitches are disappearing one after the other but truth be told, the momentum may just have been lost but hey who knows...
It is a communication issue
Don’t lose your message! Own your narrative!! Organizations cannot afford to be misunderstood and misrepresented. To demonstrate its importance, President Obama on several occasions PROACTIVELY initiated the discussions around the then failing website project. Like many political and business leaders, he is not a digital expert BUT it happened under his watch.
Taking personal responsibility even in communicating the team’s efforts towards salvaging the website must have been deeply humbling for a man used to adulation and lavish praise. From press conferences, town hall meetings, TV and radio interviews to email newsletters, specially prepared videos, he and his team went into a communication overdrive.
The challenge with not managing communications effectively is that an organization stands to lose the people’s trust even more. Trust is the biggest currency in the digital space. Over communicate if you must but NEVER, NEVER, NEVER under-communicate!
It is a classic project management issue
A great project is anchored on a triad of time, cost and quality. A delay in any of these increases cost, might compromise quality and/or delays the go live period. My view is that the Obamacare strategy team probably had an overambitious scope that could not have been realistically met without compromising either one or all of time, cost and quality.
Simply put, the website development team had too much to do in too short a time. How engaged were the employees/team who worked on the project?
Knowing how complex and interactive the website was meant to be, experienced leaders of innovation and change management within the technical team should have asked at least 4 cardinal questions:
1) When is the website supposed to go live?
2) What are the features the website is meant to have?
3) In the worst case scenario, which of these features should the version 1 have? The version 1 is the version that goes live initially.
4) What is the preferred roll out of the features assuming that we have to phase the project?
We may never know if and to what extent this conversation occurred. If it did, we might not even have noticed any unexpected glitch on the website. Every few weeks, a new feature would be added to the website and life would go on seamlessly. But if wishes were horses…?
Today it is President Obama and www.healthcare.gov
Tomorrow it might be you and your organization? How ready are you?
What is your brand’s promise? Like www.healthcare.gov how well did you bridge the gaps between your brand promise and the actual delivery of the promise?
In 2013 how well did you and your organizations use digital approaches, tools and techniques to improve your strategy, products and services, service delivery, people management, marketing communications, competitor insights and social responsibility functions? What would you do differently in 2014?
What worked this year? What did not turn out as expected?
Even if yours is a digitally mature organization, there is still room to optimize…to improve. It is a year to lead and not lag.
You must better integrate your traditional and digital approaches, strategy, products, channels and communication.
There is going to be more disruption in the New Year…one that would require a new alignment between individuals and organizations with shared interests. What kind of partnerships and collaborations in the digital space should you seek out in 2014 to make it more rewarding?
It is a year where we must implement approaches that promote intimacy with our customers.
My wish for you in 2014 is that yours would become a more digitally enabled organization.
P.S: This article was also published in the 25th of December 2013 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read
Also see the BBC's story on US healthcare insurance help offered in run-up to deadline