There were a couple of articles over at The Washington Post discussing if an Agile Development approach could work for a site like heathcare.gov. A way that I’ve seen Agile Development work successfully is for the team to publish core interactions of the site first and add functionality in as it’s developed and optimize the user experience by tracking behavior and feedback on the live site. If we set aside the technical aspects of developing the site, using Agile Development in this way in an organization with a sensitive brand image can be a real challenge. The political nature that surrounds heathcare.gov puts a magnifying glass on any issues or less than ideal experiences, so a publicly staged approach is a challenge.
If they had asked for User Insight’s input to work in an Agile system, this is what we would recommend. Rather than exposing early versions of the site to a live user base, we would recruit representative samples of that user base, preferably using behavioral clusters rather than demographic segmentation, and expose working versions of healthcare.gov; enabling our strategy and research team to identify and resolve emerging issues. The recommendations would be a combination of our experience in the healthcare field as well as applying User Insight proprietary knowledge about user behavior. What makes this approach so successful? The people identifying usability and user experience issues wouldn’t be the developers and quality assurance, but UX experts, who understand the issues and how to fix them. Not only do we identify issues and build solutions but we build a meaningful story for the development team so they understand the nuances of a UX issue and begin to build with the user in mind. This approach keeps everyone focused on the same goal, optimizes the experience, and allows developers to focus on the build, which ultimately helps avoid pushing deadlines. We would integrate with the team by previewing and providing guidance for upcoming cycles, guide development within the current cycle, and review updated work from previous cycles, thus, keeping everyone in step and on pace to meet delivery goals without sacrificing quality.
I believe we could have helped Healthcare.gov have a successful launch from a User Experience perspective by marrying Agile Development to a User-Centered approach.