Project failure is a possibility in every sector, and all project managers must be aware of the key risks that may threaten the success of their project, and manage these risks accordingly. Software development projects require a specific approach. These kinds of projects have their own characteristics, are particularly prone to certain risks that may cause them to fail.
Before embarking on a software development project, it is important to understand the most common reasons for the failure of these types of projects. By being aware of the mistakes made by others in the past, you can try to avoid following in their footsteps.
So, on that note, let’s dive into the 6 most common reasons for software development project failure.
1. Communication Problems
We all know important communication is in project management, and this is particularly true when it comes to software development. Failures of communication within the project team can hold up the progress of the project, or may even threaten the final result.
Failures of communication between the project team and the client are also far too common in software development projects. One characteristic feature of these kinds of projects is that clients sometimes have little subject matter knowledge of the end product. This means that there is a high risk of false expectations in terms of the end result of the project, and the capabilities and potential of the final product.
The fix: Clear and comprehensive communication between the project team and the client from the earliest stages will help to avoid misunderstandings and manage expectations. Developing a comprehensive communications plan that covers both internal communication procedures and communication between the project team and stakeholders at the outset of the project, and following it carefully, will avoid most communication issues.
2. Scope Creep
Another common reason for project failure in the software development sector is scope creep. It may be that the project meets the original requirements of the brief, but that this scope has expanded or shifted over time. However, in such a case the result is still a failure if it does not meet stakeholders’ needs or expectations.
It is all too easy for scope creep to occur, especially when it comes to software development projects. Even if the project scope starts with clearly-defined parameters, this can quickly evolve over time. Once the scope starts to creep, this can gain its own momentum and spin out of control. It is important to be prepared for potential scope creep and be ready to react accordingly.
The fix: One common reason for scope creep is that the initial analysis of requirements was not complete or accurate. Therefore, ensuring a proper analysis of requirements at the outset of the project will help to avoid issues with the scope down the road. Even more importantly, know that the scope will probably change over time and you need to be agile and ready to respond.
3. Poor Team Coordination
If IT project managers do not have a proper overview of project resources and the workload of all team members, this can lead to overloading certain members of the team or particular resources. As these team members struggle to try to complete their overfull tasks lists, the project inevitably falls behind and/or tasks are completed to a sub-standard level of quality.
It may seem illogical, but this problem can be exacerbated if too many people are assigned to a project. As the project falls behind, project managers may assign more people to the team in an effort to catch up. However, not only will this increase project overheads, if tasks and workloads are not properly coordinated, the vicious cycle will only continue.
The fix: Create a system for having better visibility of resource workload. If management has a thorough understanding of all of the tasks that the team are performing, they can ensure that no team members are overloaded or under-utilized.
Online PM tools can be very useful here. There are a number of great tools around that allow for better project overview and team coordination, like ClickUp. You can also explore old-school options like a physical organization chart complete with custom clear stickers to give you a visual overview of resources.
4. Confusion over Project Requirements
Another fatal risk for software development projects is a lack of clarity over project objectives. If the project team and stakeholders start (and continue) the project with different project requirements and objectives in mind, the project is doomed to failure.
It will not matter how well the project is executed, if the project team is working towards objectives that are different to those that the client or end users have in mind, it will never be successful! For example, the developers may build software that meets the end user’s current requirements but are not suitable for scaling in the future, while the client wants software that will continue to work as their business grows.
The fix: The initial project scope must include clear definitions of project objectives and requirements. Furthermore, in the initial stages of the project, the project team should have comprehensive discussions with stakeholders about their business goals and future development plans to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
5. Insufficient Testing
Testing is an essential part of any software development project. For projects that fail, all too often a lack of proper testing is partly or entirely to blame. Testing may be minimized or eliminated entirely because the project runs behind schedule, or due to a lack of planning.
This can put any project at risk but is particularly true when it comes to software development projects. Software needs comprehensive testing to identify any bugs and address these before the final product is rolled out.
The fix: Plan ahead to factor in time for comprehensive testing, as well as time for bug fixes. Also, ensure that software is tested in a separate environment to production to avoid security breaches.
6. Poor Leadership
Like any kind of project, software development failure frequently comes back to the project manager. Although the project manager cannot be blamed for all of the problems experienced by a project, it cannot be denied that they are crucial to the success of the project. As such, a competent (or otherwise) project manager can literally make or break a project.
The fix: It is the responsibility of executive management to choose the right project manager for each project. The PM should not only be competent but have the required skills, experience, and tenacity to push through that particular project.
It is not uncommon for software development projects to fail due to bad management. There are a number of common reasons for project failure, from poor communication and team coordination to a lack of testing.
By taking some key steps particularly at the early stages of the project, project managers can help to avoid these issues and ensure a successful project.