Whilst we are very proud of our reputation of ensuring all our software projects are a success, there have been many high-profile IT project failures that have hit the headlines and many more journalistic articles stating ridiculously high statistics for the proportion of IT project failures. We explore 5 reasons we’ve seen software projects fail.

Offering project recovery or rescue services means we’ve been asked to help with a wide variety of projects that have failed. They fail for many different reasons, from the typical to the obscure.  Understanding these failures helps us to choose our projects (and customers) with care, and manage all our projects to a successful conclusion.

So, what are some of the reasons we’ve seen projects fail?  Here we list a few of the common and more surprising ones.

Mismatch in expectations

Absolute clarity in understanding exactly what’s needed, what’s going to be delivered, how the parties work together and what charges become applicable are crucial in avoiding disappointment. It is possibly the most difficult to get right as it is so easy for everyone to make big assumptions that can cause issues further down the line. Honesty and clarity of communication is vital to ensure that no assumptions are made.

This ties in with the next reason, as a mismatch in expectations often comes about by a lack of communication.

Poor Communication

Communication is key in almost every walk of life, and IT projects are no exception.  It is vital that both parties understand each other, keep each other informed and support each other.

Building relationships between the key parties that are going to be working closely together is important to ensure they pick up on the more subtle aspects of communication.

Regular discussions, updates and appropriate levels of documentation are crucial in maintaining communication.  Whilst a large amount of communication can be performed by email or instant messaging these days, there’s often huge value gained in face to face meetings from time to time, or by using video conferencing technology if the parties are far apart.

Loss of Trust

Trust is key in any relationship.  No-one wants to rely on contracts and lawyers to ensure promises get delivered and people keep to their side of the deal.  We’ve seen some distasteful situations with development companies, both in the UK and abroad treating customers badly; from not delivering on their promises, to outrageously using the code developed to set up in competition to the customer!

Win-Lose Imbalance

This is true in all aspects of life – a good transaction will mean that both parties win.  Commercially, that normally means one party gets the software they want (their win) and the other gets paid a fair price for delivering it (their win).  If one party thinks they can get ahead by making sure they win and the other party loses out, it’s not a good recipe for a long term relationship and it’s only going to go one way.  A satisfactory outcome of a project will increase the likelihood of further business and referrals.

Departure of the only developer

Internal systems can often come about from a single developer that has built the requirement in-house. Equally, for cost savings, a one-man band is used to develop a system.  The trouble comes when that person leaves, or as we’ve seen before, disappears under the proverbial bus.  Even more so if the code that was developed is lost under the bus with them.

We ensure our team share information and all code is managed in our source control system, so that we don’t fall foul of unexpected buses.

These are just some of the types of issues we’ve seen when customers have come to us for project recovery services.

Whilst it’s probably unrealistic for us to claim to be perfect in every way, our decades of experience have taught us the best ways to build the practices, culture and focus needed to achieve successful projects time and again.