As Congress investigates what went wrong with the introduction of HealthCare.gov, it's clear that the online health insurance marketplace has a variety of troubles, including accurate data collection and storage.
But let's focus on one problem that was, sadly, avoidable: the user experience. Putting all politics aside for a moment, some simple tactics in development, design and planning could have helped minimize the risks to the high-stakes rollout.
I've read a lot about the issues that ensued instead, but the best knowledge is always first-hand -- so I did a test drive myself. I found signs of many missteps, but most could be consolidated under five key points, applicable to brands building websites just as much as the government:
You Need a Captain
October 2011. That's when the government began subcontracting out development work for the website. Guess how many organizations this project was ultimately subcontracted to? 47.
With that many subcontractors, how could the government know at any given point who was working on the site and who was ultimately responsible for the overall user experience?
Any brand that's building a large site will have multiple departments, people and potentially companies working on it, but you need to make sure you have a UX captain that is all along ensuring the testing and usability of the site. If you don't, you will fail. No blurred lines there. Your UX captain can actually serve as the connective tissue from concept through development and launch. Use them. That's what they're there for.
Estimate Initial Demand But Prepare for 10 Times
U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park says the government expected 50,000 to 60,000 simultaneous users on Healthcare.gov at any given time and prepared for that. What happened? As many as 250,000 users tried to sign on at once.
It wouldn't have only been good for the rollout to prepare for bigger numbers, however: If you're building a site with a stated goal of "7 million users," scalability and capacity are critical in any case. If consumers can't get in, they might not come back.
Don't Scare Them with Commitment Language Right Out of the Gate