VISTA Enterprise Network - Successful Implementation, World Class Support

Monday, March 8, 2010

VISTA & Homeostasis: An Introduction

[1638 engraving by Peter Paul Rubens of Hippocrates of Kos, whose precept "First, do no harm" is one of the foundational principles of medicine (Wikipedia)]

Dear Reader,

Would you want to be treated by a doctor who doesn't understand the importance of the circulation of your blood? What if he knows it's important but not that the heart has anything to do with it? Would it be okay with you if he knows the heart's involved but not the brain?

In general, how much would you trust your health to someone who doesn't understand what keeps you healthy?

People were successfully treated for millennia by care providers who didn't understand these or other systems but who did know to be cautious with the things they didn't understand. They knew that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. They abided by the fundamental medical principle, First, do no harm.

What happens when people subvert this principle, when they decide a better fundamental principle would be First, get control?

Replacing the Hippocratic principle with a totalitarian one leads to scenarios like this: your doctor removes your brain when he becomes your primary care provider because it's too complicated, difficult to manage, an irritating distraction, always making your body do things without first consulting him, probably not important anyway because he can tell your heart when it needs to pump.

We make physicians swear an oath to uphold Hippocratic principles before we let them treat patients, in part to help prevent things like that from happening. Too bad we don't make medical-software programmers and managers swear the same oaths.

Over the last fifteen years, VA central management has been conducting dangerous and unnecessary surgery on VISTA's lifecycle, removing all of its living systems one by one and replacing them with simple mechanical controls that put central office in charge of everything. They call this getting VISTA under control.

As a result, VA's VISTA program is in a state of accelerating collapse that's passed the tipping point, yet VA keeps trying even harder to control and centralize VISTA. Doing the same thing but expecting different results . . . there's a word for that.

To help you understand why the way VA used to manage VISTA was healthy and why the last decade and a half have made it sick, I need to teach you about VISTA's vital signs and systems, the processes that make VISTA development healthy. All of these systems are based on homeostasis, so they're self-correcting when we let them do what comes naturally to them. To break those systems you'd have to dismantle their built-in self-correction and try to take control of them yourself. Sound familiar?

Let's start with one of two VISTA homeostatic systems that balances innovation against standardization—the tension between class-three and class-one software, that is, the tension between local and national development.

Yours truly,

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