March 20, 2014

How Project Management Could Have Saved Cover Oregon

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Oregon and Oracle’s much-maligned partnership, the Cover Oregon health insurance exchange, has resulted in little to date except for a broken website, a $160M bill, and a cautionary tale about the importance of project management software. 

The management – or mismanagement – of Cover Oregon’s development has been closely watched by those interested in the national healthcare debate. Oregon was one of only a few states that received federal funding as an “early innovator,” and their partnership with Oracle was initially seen as an example for the rest of the country.

In an interview with the Associated Press in the fall of 2012, former Oregon official Carolyn Lawson claimed “the state of Oregon is leading the nation…according to the feds, we’re easily nine months ahead of any other state.” The Cover Oregon website was supposed go live October 1, 2013.

Five months later, Oregonians can download applications online, but according to KATU News, those applications are being processed on paper by over 400 state employees. Oregon is also asking the government for an extension on the March 31 open enrollment deadline.

In an internal report obtained by The Oregonian, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) found that while both parties share blame for the debacle, Cover Oregon’s haphazard project management was cumbersome, difficult, and inconsistent. According to CMS, “there is no dedicated Project Manager…no integrated project schedule” and, “…little, or no, ability to escalate [information] to the Cover Oregon leadership team.”

CMS found that in addition to not having a dedicated project manager, “Cover Oregon is not employing…any mainstream project management tool,” and was instead relying upon an assortment of Microsoft Office tools to track issues and progress.

Any good project manager knows that large assignments (say, the roll-out of a state health insurance exchange) require accountability and oversight – two things that Cover Oregon’s team sorely lacked. No project manager ever wants their process to be described as cumbersome, difficult, or inconsistent.

CMS’s findings prove that good project management software can help provide the transparency and communication required to successfully implement a project of any size.

In short, had Oregon given a project manager clear authority over the involved agencies, and used a quality project management solution, they might have been touting a technological victory, rather than a debacle.