The failed rollout of the federal website, which was supposed to be fully operational on October 1 for use by millions of Americans buying health coverage for 2014, was catastrophic for those who wanted or needed to buy a policy. For small businesses, the rollout debacle and the information obtained through Congressional hearings about the rollout provides four valuable lessons of what not to do. Here's my take:
1. There must be a leader.
A big project -- whether in government or in business -- can't proceed without strong leadership. Someone has to oversee activities to make sure that deadlines are met, quality is assured, and the goal is met.
2. Deadlines must be realistic.
When a business has a project, it sets its own deadlines. The dates fixed for a project should be realistic in light of the work that needs to be done
3. The needs of customers should be paramount.
You may have a great idea. Is it something that your customers want and are willing to pay for?
Before you develop a project and pour money into it, reach out to customers and get feedback about your idea. Get help from questionnaire sites, such as Constant Contact
4. Be truthful.
Whatever happens, take responsibility for glitches that may occur. Don't lie to customers or try to shift blame. More likely than not, if you don't tell the trust, the buzz on social media sites won't be kind -- and that kind of publicity can haunt a business or initiative for a long, long time. Conversely, if you admit to errors, missteps, and problems, you'll likely garner sympathy and understanding, and retain customer loyalty.
You know that I'm all about using failure to teach valuable lessons (just read my book Smooth Failing)
. The government's health care rollout catastrophe is a cornucopia of lessons about what not do to. Fortunately for small businesses, we're more nimble than large government bureaucracies and can better react when problems arise. Hopefully, the lessons learned from the government's experience will help us all avoid similar debacles.