Even with its presidential imprimatur, the Ad Hoc team sometimes struggled to implement the newer approach. Contractor employees, for example, balked at taking up New Relic, a software product that monitors a server or application’s performance in real time. (Previously, the engineers had to rely on human testers to tell them whether the system was running slow or working poorly). After one such encounter, Dickerson blew up. “If I hear one more person tell me we can’t use New Relic,” he announced at one meeting, “I’ll punch him in the face.”
Eventually, the outsiders won the grudging respect of the lifers, as they brought order to the site through careful monitoring, automated testing, and a collaborative, methodical, common-sense approach to bug-fixing. Though the Ad Hoc engineers didn’t exactly transform a lumbering beast into a gazelle, they successfully patched HealthCare.gov to the point where it could at least perform its mission. In April, President Obama told the nation that despite its woeful debut, HealthCare.gov ultimately was key to the government exceeding its goal as 8 million people signed up online for new health insurance policies. Few in the know could dispute a secondary outcome of the tech surge: It proved that even in complicated government projects, Silicon Valley’s agile style really worked. And it gave Todd Park a perfect opportunity to pounce.