Agile insights from LitheSpeed

Healthcare.Gov Issues: No Thin Slice?

This is the second in a series of posts about the ongoing Healthcare.Gov saga.  In my first post, I suggested that the project had simply too many cooks in the kitchen to be successful. In this post, let’s take a look at whether the project team got some fundamental things correct.


One of the fundamental of agile methods is “thin slicing or sashimi slicing.”   According to Andre Dhondt, this is a keystone habit of agile.  Ever since, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber popularized Scrum, the leading agile method, a couple of decades ago, the powerful mental image of “sashimi slicing” has stayed with me.

The basic idea is that we develop systems one “thin vertical slice” at a time. That is, each “slice” is instantiated as a epic or user story (system feature) from end-to-end across multiple tiers at a time: the front-end, middle-tier, and the back end persistence layers of the system.  By doing this, we can incrementally build our systems one slice at a time. We can check each slice against a predefined Definition of Done (DoD).

Further, these slices are meant to be driven by the end user experience, and tested rigorously one slice at a time.  Clearly, that did not happen with the Healthcare.gov system.  So, despite building a relatively trouble-free front-end using agile techniques, the team ran into trouble because they did not thin slice – that is, they did not extend the slice from the UI tier across the remaining tiers.

So, no thin slice, no agile!