The Web Won't Solve Your Org's Problems

I worked for a long time at a state funded university as a web developer and besides the great insurance they offered, it was a pretty annoying experience. We usually we'd sit down with teachers or researchers to develop custom web applications, but every once and a while we'd sit down with deans or heads of departments and be asked to program some monolithic web app that coordinated data across several departments and organizations. Some of these projects came to fruition but most ended up in total disarray and failure.

This was because of several things, poor management of the project, not enough planning, etc, but I think the main reason is that the entities didn't want to take responsibility for the proverbial cow. This isn't because they didn't care about the project (although some didn't), but because it would add more work to their already loaded schedules and therefore 'passing the buck' was the status quo.

Yesterday, I sat in on a meeting with a local state funded organization, who built a web application that 25 other state-funded, and private organizations were supposed to use to track grant-funded activities. This overly complex and detailed application looked to me like it took at least 6 months to write, and hardly any of these organizations used it, none on a regular basis. I don't know how many tax dollars or grant funds were wasted on this project, but it just makes me mad to think that this happens all the time. And it just proves that government funded programs have an incredibly hard time getting anything worthwhile coded because 1) they don't work together 2) management often changes every few years 3) when management does change, the new management seeks to rewrite everything that has been done so they can get a few extra lines on their resumes.

Often these organizations think that their communications problems can be solved by a slick web app, especially if their current one isn't working right. So it's fun to point out to them that if what they have now isn't being used, then whatever would be written most likely wouldn't be used either. They don't have a software problem, they have a staff or organizational problem that needs to get solved before any programming takes place. In my experience, these recommendations get completely ignored, you loose the bid, and their new project fails just like the last one did.