Nate Nead is the CEO of DEV.co and SEO.co. Nate and his teams specialize in custom software development, web design and digital marketing.
Most business leaders are excited to launch new software development projects. This is the chance to create a new product or make the business more efficient with the help of a brand new tool. If done right, it can make a client happy, streamline your efficiency or help you make more money in some other way. But if done wrong, it can be a total waste of time and resources.
That’s why it’s so disconcerting to learn that only 1 in 4 software development projects is considered a success. Why do so many software development projects fail? And what steps can you take to prevent those avenues for failure?
What is failure?
First, let’s define what a “failure” truly is.
• Total collapse. It could be that the entire project collapses under its own weight. Due to a combination of funding running out, developers quitting, the business-facing legal trouble or other factors, the project is unable to ever be completed.
• Delays. Sometimes, you can consider the project a failure if it faces a lengthy delay. If you were planning to launch in March and you’re pushed to May, you’ll miss out on months of recurring revenue (and lose public confidence and trust).
• Major changes to scope or delivery. If you realize that the original scope is too broad or too demanding, you could be forced to make major changes to the scope of the project or the final delivery. This could be viewed as a failure.
• Unsatisfactory finished product. Of course, if the finished software product is unsatisfactory — if it doesn’t work quite right or if it doesn’t adhere to the original scope — the project can also be considered a failure.
The Most Common Factors for Software Development Failure (And How to Prevent Them)
• Imbalance of software developers. It could be that your team is imbalanced in some way. With too few developers, you won’t have the manpower or the creative problem-solving potential to get the project done in time. With too many, you’ll exhaust your budget prematurely. One option to remedy this is to utilize a flexible software development firm, so you can get all the resources you need whenever you have to scale.
• Budget woes. Limited funding can also impact who you can hire and the tech you can use. Conducting another round of financing or funding could help you close the gap, but you might be better off cutting costs wherever possible. The simple transition from a traditional office to working remotely, for example, could save you thousands of dollars per month.
• Unforgiving deadlines. If the deadline is too tight or too unforgiving, one of two things will happen: either the deadline will be missed or the finished product will not meet expectations. That’s one reason why deadlines should always involve open communication and negotiation. Make sure not to overpromise or set expectations too high, and consider building in a buffer so even a delay will not result in failing to meet your commitment.
• Scope creep. Early scope documents set the course for the entire project, so what happens when they change halfway through? Usually, it means more deadline woes, developer confusion, more spending and a worse final product. It’s important to get ahead of scope creep using proven techniques and address it head-on before it becomes a serious problem.
• Lack of flexibility. That said, it also pays to be a little bit flexible. Not every project will be developed and completed the way you initially envision; it’s important to work with the team to ensure they can adapt to new requests and the discovery of new information.
• Tech stack issues. If your tech stack doesn’t allow your developers to work efficiently, or if it presents some logistical or security issues, it could undermine the entire project. Talk to your most experienced developers and be willing to invest in this crucial component to successful project delivery.
• Lack of transparency/visibility. Sometimes, project managers falsely believe that the project is coming along nicely without realizing the mess of code at the center of the project or noticing that some developers aren’t doing their share of the work. Often, this is a transparency issue; it’s important to have procedures in place so project managers and project leads know what’s really going on at all times.
• Ineffective testing. Project failure can also be a result of ineffective (or a total lack of) testing. Without a thorough round of testing, it’s almost impossible to definitively gauge whether a project has met all criteria outlined in the initial scope. Make sure to include testing into your budget and deadline.
Fortunately, the vast majority of problems faced by software development projects are preventable. With a bit of proactive investment and a handful of contingency plans, you should be able to avoid most destructive issues and become part of the coveted software development projects that are true successes.