4 Website Lessons From HealthCare.gov's Epic Failure

Looking more closely at what development problems caused the HealthCare.gov site to stumble will help you catch mistakes in your own projects.

While the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov last fall is now behind us, the buzz around the issues the site was having will be a topic of discussion and a great learning opportunity for many years to come.

The website was among the worst software launches in history: Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, outages and slow response times were the norm, and major brand equity was lost. The rollout was so terrible, in fact, the U.S. government had to apologize, and giant tech companies like Google and Red Hat rushed to the rescue.

So what happened? The HealthCare.gov site was reportedly never actually tested for scalability and performance before its launch.

What many people is the fact that most businesses make similar mistakes when launching their own mission-critical mobile or web apps. These range from small mom-and-pop shops to major brands--sometimes making the repercussions huge.

Here are a few key mistakes that I have observed throughout my career testing modern apps for performance and security risks:

MISTAKE #1: A BACK-LOADED TESTING SCHEDULE

When app development inevitably falls behind and testing is left until right before launch, it's too easy to cut corners and skip deep scalability and performance testing.

MISTAKE #2: POOR TESTING PRODUCTIVITY

If it takes days or weeks to create and execute tests (instead of a few hours), then your testing coverage will likely be limited.

MISTAKE #3: UNNECESSARY RELIANCE ON CODE

Because testing engineers are probably not your best coders, if you have to write substantial code to create deep load tests, then you're setting yourself up for errors or failure.

MISTAKE #4: LIMITED USER PATHWAYS

If you're only testing a few user scenarios--not the dozens of variations that occur in modern apps--then you won't uncover hidden performance and security bottlenecks.

The HealthCare.gov fiasco is a clear example of how businesses can seriously undermine their business goals when launching a new app or user platform. Brands must do performance testing even when their app or website has much smaller loads than HealthCare.gov.

We have all navigated through websites that show startlingly slow responses from apps and sites, which usually signals that the creators failed to do performance testing. These are bottlenecks that can absolutely be fixed before launch.

--Kevin Surace is CEO of Appvance. Appvance Performance Cloud is a third-generation technology--tools, methodology, and platform--for testing modern apps for performance and security risks. With Appvance, businesses can quickly test millions of virtual users and determine the root cause of potential performance and security bottlenecks--achieving 600% more productivity than prior-generation testing tools.

[Image: Flickr user Tom Thai]

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