VISTA Enterprise Network - Successful Implementation, World Class Support

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Interlude: Do the Right Thing

Dear Reader,

Do you want VISTA to succeed, to help us drive medical error out of the top five killers in America? Here are seven steps to make that much more likely:

1) Cancel every VISTA-replacement project going on in the VA and never fund another.

2) Reassemble the primary package-development teams and resume the traditional cycles of rapid patch development and regular releases of new versions of all packages. That lifecycle made VISTA great; violating it crippled VISTA in the DOD, and is crippling it in VA. Put authority over the software back in the programmers' hands and leave it there; they know more about what's possible than you do.

3) Reorganize VA to put the majority of programmers back to work for local hospitals and regional networks. Put authority over the hospital computer systems back in the hands of hospitals and local networks; they know more about how to make VISTA serve their hospitals than you do.

4) Invest heavily in training up a new generation of VISTA experts. This is the second most important item on this list, just behind the next one:

5) Let users' requests for bug fixes and enhancements directly drive all VISTA development. Put authority over development priorities back in the users' hands and leave it there; they know more about what they need than you do.

6) Gut the Clinger Cohen Act so VA and IHS can do the right thing and invest in the people they need instead of being forced to outsource all their expertise and capabilities. The Clinger Cohen Act requires VA and other federal agencies to strangle themselves, which they've been working on doing since 1996. The results speak for themselves.

7) Invest heavily in rebuilding the tattered support community VISTA had before VA shredded it in the mid 90s, the support community the VA needs and cannot thrive without. VA needs to give up its siege mentality, needs to tear down the iron curtain it has built between itself and the rest of the world and start really collaborating with other VISTA organizations, beginning with IHS. Terrorists are not assaulting the VA, and VA's own VISTA experts are not the enemy; VA needs to spend less time and money investigating its VISTA experts for possible "collaboration without permission" and instead seek out and invest in opportunities to work together with others. Having frustrated, insulted, and driven away half of its top-tier VISTA expertise, VA will never again be the sole arbiter of VISTA's future. VA will never again be in a position to do as much damage to VISTA as it did over the last fifteen years. But if VA does all of the right things, if for example it does these seven things among many others, then VA could become a good VISTA organization again, instead of a hostile organization where good VISTA professionals sacrifice and struggle to do the right thing even though they know they may well be punished for it.

I'm hopeful about new VA CIO Roger Baker, but I'm looking for more than hope. It will be easy to measure whether he can fulfill the promise of his good words and good intentions, because deeply experienced VISTA hardhats know what he needs to do to turn things around.

"It's the thought that counts" is a pleasant thought, but in the end what matters is that we find a way to do the right thing. You're not in the dark. You're not lost. You're surrounded by people who know what you need to do to succeed with VISTA. Listen to them. Help them help you to do the right thing.

Yours truly,