Why Most Software Projects Fail Before Completion

custom software development

14 Aug Why Most Software Projects Fail Before Completion

Winston Churchill once famously said:

[tweet_box design=”default”]“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”[/tweet_box]

Obviously, he was never tasked with finding a complete software solution for his company.

Sure, I can agree that success is not final. However, blindly continuing on a doomed custom software development project just to stumble to the finish line is a recipe for disaster.

Are You Heading For Project “Runaway”?

Unfortunately, the simple fact of the matter is that the vast majority of projects do indeed fail in some way or another. According to a detailed report from IAG Consulting: 68% of companies surveyed were en route to project failure.

68% sounds pretty bad, right? It gets worse. Half of that number were considered project “runaways.” It sounds pretty self explanatory, and it is. The runaway project meant that it included two of these big-time failures:

  • Delivery time 180% over the original target
  • Budget over 160% the original goal
  • Less than 70% of the initial planned functionality

Of course, the fact that 68% of projects surveyed were destined for failure means that the glass isn’t two thirds empty. It’s one third full! There are ways to make sure that your company’s planned custom software development can be on the winning side of these stats. The easiest way to find out how is to look at why so many projects end up failing, and how to avoid these pitfalls.

Measure Once, Check Twice

For starters, your company has to be able to plan. In order to plan, you have to understand exactly what your business needs are. This is usually done with business analysis capability.

Essentially, either your company needs someone internally who is good enough at analysis, or you need an external analyst. Think about it. If you don’t know what you need, then how are you going to get it?

Custom software and application development companies aren’t mind readers. They need to know exactly what functionality you need in order to give it to you. According to the same survey by IAG, companies with poor business analysis capability will have 300% more project failures than they will successes.

Maintaining The Communication Flow

Of course, knowing exactly what you want is only the first step. Your company has to be able to communicate its needs. Again, don’t expect the development team to just make guesses about what your company’s software needs are.

The better the communication between customers, developers, and users are, the better the product will be. The communication lines can’t get cut off, either. A constant flow of exchanging information has to be maintained. This doesn’t mean that you need to manage the IT team, but it does mean that you need to keep track of milestones.

Speaking of milestones, one of the most important parts of the planning process is determining when things need to be done. There should be intermittent goals hit by the development team to illustrate progress.

However, these deadlines need to be realistic. If the deadline passes and the product isn’t finished, it will just end up costing more money, and this is money that hasn’t been budgeted for yet.

Is Your Budget Realistic?

Keeping deadlines realistic will have a trickle down effect, and make budgets more realistic and attainable as well. At the same time, make sure that the budget is possible too. Without enough funding from the beginning, the project is surely doomed to fail.

There also needs to be a system in place to revise initial budget and time expectations in case things start to take longer than expected.

According to a Gartner survey, you also need an exit strategy in case things start to spiral out of control. In fact, with careful planning, projects can be stopped before they get out of control. This is a great way to minimize loss and maximize success rates.

Harvard University breaks it down to three easy steps– and pages of other useful information, but these 3 keys to project success make it easy to understand.

To prevent project failure, you need:

  1. Top management support. In fact, having a dedicated CIO is becoming more and more popular. The idea is to have somebody who’s specific is to handle software decisions.
  2. Sound methodology. Essentially, make a plan, and stick to a plan, like we already focused on.
  3. Solid technological leadership by someone who has successfully completed a similar project. Seems simple enough: hire a team that has the experience, is reputable, and has a targeted background.

They also add later that simply hiring more developers is not necessarily a solution either. It can drive up the cost. It’s about hiring the right team and working the right way that makes your project’s chances better.

The Formula For Success?

Remember how I said the glass is (almost) half full? Things are getting better. According to a study from The Standish Group, the lowest success rate in their last five study periods was in 2004. Only 29% of projects were successful. In their study conducted in 2012, 39% projects ended up being successful.

Things are trending up because companies are getting smarter about how they are planning out their custom software projects, and making deliberate attempts to avoid the doomed pitfalls. There is also a much larger focus on the concept of agile software development, which incorporates many of the concepts that were discussed earlier.

Mainly, it is a revolutionary concept that encourages adaptive teams, evolutionary development, communication, and continuous improvement.

Ultimately, the key to your successful software project doesn’t just come down to one person. It is a team effort, and that the fact of the matter is that whether you are developer or a CIO you will get out as much as you put in – good or bad.

Red Rock Software is a custom software development firm in Perth, Australia. Talk to us today to see how we can help you with your custom software projects.