Monthly Archives: September 2014

Design Matters

Since hurricane Sandy hit the NY city area in 2012, devastated homeowners have been mired in an over designed process that was so poorly managed that not one of the 20,000 homeowners who applied for assistance rebuilding their homes had seen any work begin until very recently (almost two years later).

The obstacle to progress may be attributable to the design and execution of the program by the previous administration of Mayor Bloomberg.

More than one or two poor design and execution decisions were made (What processes should be put in place to reduce this risk?):

  • Cinder Block Phenomenon: The administration hired external consultants at $400-$800/hr that created a housing damage assistance process so rigid and sequentially linear that it was almost unworkable (to reduce the risk of corruption seen in New Orleans after Katrina)-a painful example of waterfall failure?
  • Dilution of Strategy: The administration reserved money for initiatives seen as strategic including long-term risk management for future disasters vs. money toward urgent individual family housing needs-design
  • Training: the call centers were staffed with quickly hired temporary workers who received limited training-execution
  • Deep Domain Knowledge: They ran the program without local municipal managers present and little meaningful oversight of the contractors they hired-execution
  • Define the Problem Correctly: The well dressed consultants recommended focusing on lower-income applicants first, while admirable in principle, it created very long delays for moderate-income families including teachers and firefighters. It meant impacted residents would have to go to great lengths to document their incomes, on top of endless other documentation requirements (many these personal documents were of course lost in the storm damage)-design
  • Automation Failure: Applications were intended to be stored in a custom computer program, but the software became best known for losing documents without a trace.

In the end, a new mayor was elected and put new leadership in place that began to change the dynamics; it was the only answer, and finally resulted in quantifiable progress and impact on housing, but still gravely behind what other state and local governments have delivered to date with better designed programs.