Obamacare's "Man Month" Problem

A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 21 2013 7:23 AM

Obamacare's "Man Month" Problem

Botched literary references aside, a number of correspondents suggested to me that the book that administration officials really need to read to understand the challenges with a "tech surge" approach to fixing the Obamacare Web interface is Frederick Brooks' classic The Mythical Man-Month.

This is a book I have not actually read, but the reference is common enough in development circles that I think I can relay the basic point. Imagine a programming task that will take a skilled programmer a year to complete. Now imagine a boss who wants the project done in a month. The programmer says, "I can't do it that fast." So the boss says, "Let's hire 11 more skilled programmers—we have 12 months' of work to do, and I want the job finished in one month, so I need 12 guys."


Brooks' point is that this doesn't really work. Not that you can't do collaborative software development projects (obviously you can—they happen all the time), but the complexity of the work really spirals upward once you start adding more people, because coordinating what everyone's doing is a difficult task all on its own.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.