Businesses looking to stay on the cutting edge of automation and efficiency inevitably turn to technology to achieve these goals. Businesses implementing and learning a new piece of technology can be as difficult as the development process itself. With that in mind, there are three crucial steps in the software development process that, while difficult and time consuming, inevitably make the roll-out seamless and bug free. In an effort to meet a deadline, the federal government rolled out the healthcare exchange on without following the necessary development processes which caused it to fall flat. Businesses can learn an important lesson on development from this failed roll-out before taking on their next technology project.

Defining Needs and Scope

The first stage in any development cycle is defining the business needs and how the scope of the technology application will support those needs. During the needs analysis process the business must identify how the technology and the total user populace will interact in different ways based on how the populace is segmented or what their roles and needs are. This process helps better shape the scope of the project in totality.

For example, when defining the needs of a large scale platform like the Federal Healthcare Exchange there are many different ways the populace may interact with the platform based on their age, location, health care needs, etc. If a User want to know their health insurance eligibility based on employment status or income, the platform needs to move that User through the process seamlessly in order to successfully meet the end User’s goal of purchasing the right insurance policy through the exchange.

These population segments and scenarios need to be thought through in advance to ensure the platform can dynamically react to how the end User interacts with it. Through the process of defining the end User’s needs and the scenarios of how the platform will accommodate those needs a business will better understand the scope of the project.

Design and Requirements

Once the needs of the end User have been defined, the next step in the process is to design all possible navigation and interaction paths throughout the platform and build requirements documentation that explains in detail how the platform will support those interactions. This includes the interactions and paths on the front end of the platform as well as how the database needs to be modeled to support those interactions. It is imperative that this documentation is well thought out in order to fulfill the needs and objectives of the platform. Without this step being performed flawlessly, the business inevitably ends up making it up as they go – a time consuming and costly mistake.

For the healthcare exchange platform, this is most likely the step in the process that wasn’t executed properly and we are seeing the consequences of not doing so. For most businesses this step is the most difficult because of the time commitment associated with it. Essentially this is the blueprinting process before development starts. To compound the difficulty of this stage in the development cycle, ownership and management are usually required to be involved as they have the best understanding of how technology can solve problems and place the business in a better strategic position.

Implementation and TESTING

The last step in an application development cycle is the implementation, or development, of the platform requirements and testing, testing and more testing. Developers usually write code in “Sprints” to stay nimble and allow for testing to occur in parallel with development efforts. Testing is the most important step to ensure the platform requirements are met during the development stage. Since this is the last step before a platform is released to the end User, it’s imperative that enough time is given to this stage. In most instances the testing phase can take months to complete before a platform is deemed ready for launch.

This is the most visible step in any development cycle. If the application is not built to work as expected, render properly in different browsers and devices or handle expected volume of Users, it will be immediately apparent to the end User. This is exactly what happened on the healthcare exchange when people went to sign up and purchase policies. As John O’Donnell, the President of Insurance Consultants of Central Florida, is quoted as saying, “100% of benefit administrators and employees we work with were ready to sign on and shop available policies the day the exchange went live. The problem was in their inability to do so which has caused a lot of confusion and frustration.”

Before any business jumps into the software development frying pan it’s imperative that how the end User will interact with the system meets the business objectives set forth at the onset of the project. From there its execution of the development phases to ensure the technology supports the business as expected and rolls out into production seamlessly. Learn from the highly visible mistakes of the healthcare exchange roll-out to ensure your business doesn’t get caught with an expensive machine that doesn’t work.

Image via Shutterstock