Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Cost of Quality

Last week I read this story about the Census Bureau and their “Paper Based Operations Control System” (the emphasis is mine):

A computer system that the Census Bureau needs to manage its door-to-door count of the U.S. population remained buggy and prone to crash a day before enumerators were set to begin their work, government officials said Friday.

Great! A computer based software system for counting results from the Census – in 2010 – imagine that.

The bureau's Paper Based Operations Control System did not function reliably in tests and, despite hardware and software upgrades, "may not be able to perform as needed under full operational loads," the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report.

Translation – the system was slow and unstable and rather than apply quality software practices, we decided to get a bigger box – brilliant!

The paper-based system's hasty design began in early 2008, after the census bureau scrapped plans to use a handheld-computer method that ended up costing more than $700 million but did not operate adequately.

I’m sorry, could you please repeat that, I don’t think I heard you correctly. Did you say two years of design and $700 million (and let us not forget, that is 700 million tax dollars) and the system still doesn’t work!?!? Who was coding this (a very important detail missing from the story)? I wonder how much of that budget was spent on QA. At what point in the process did the project manager decided to scrap unit testing to “save costs” and “meet the schedule”?

Returning to paper-based method boosted the cost of the census by about $3 billion that using the handheld computers was supposed to have saved.

So not only was the system a complete failure, and the development effort cost $700 million, the total cost the American tax payers will be stuck with is $3.7 billion.

"We will get the census done with this system," he said after the hearing. "The question is, will everyone be smiling when it's done."

Well at least the users have found a way around the system. And by the way, the developers are not only smiling, but laughing all the way to the bank with $700 million check in tow.

1 comment:

  1. Another sickening thought: $700 million dollars does a pretty good job ensuring the future of whatever company developed the handheld system...