Warning signs of project failure

by Don Lowe

October 30, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Many have ideas for a software project and some have the means to make it happen but few truly understand what a software project really is and what it requires. This lack of understanding can have disastrous consequences, both for the project itself but also for the individual behind it.  

Project failure is an all too common reality, and not just for the IT industry. Even so, the ​main causes of project failure frequently go unnoticed until it is too late.

It is important to remember that software projects must at least have an agreed upon process and a well-defined goal that you work towards. The solution should enable operational staff to do their work more efficiently or to enable the business to reach more customers. 

Warning signs of a poorly led project

​So why do projects fail? Frequently it is because of poor management. Luckily the warning signs are often quite similar. Are any of the following warning signs familiar to you?

  • You were told that the project could be completed in six to eight months but two years down the line, it is at 95% and still several months from delivery.
  • The development team has to rework features to account for demands of a dependent feature.
  • Individuals carry out activities in the way they think is most suitable, rather than an agreed upon work process.
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    Each project (and likely individuals within the project) uses their own templates and tools.
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    It is difficult to work pro-actively as a team, as it is difficult to know what others will be working on next.
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    Team members are unsure about what is expected of them or how they will be measured

If you are experiencing a few of the above problems, then you do not have a well led project. However, if you are experiencing several of them, then you might not even have a project. The best thing to do, is take a short pause, go back to basics and get your project back on track. Please read on to understand what the costs of a poorly run project can be.

The cost of running a poorly led project

There are some obvious negative consequences to running a poorly managed project. Without an agreed upon process that all members of the team adhere to you will likely end up with multiple individuals working separately to achieve similar outcomes.

If your projects or team members use their own individual templates and tools you can expect mismatches and poor communication. This in turn will also lead to duplication of work and loss of efficiency.  

cost of poorly managing software project paper waste

People who transfer between projects are especially vulnerable to poor management. If the regular team have a hard time determining what others are going to work on, then it is safe to assume that it is near impossible for the newcomer. This not only leads to delays and complications with the project, but also stress and anxiety for the team members. If they on top of that are uncertain as to what is expected of them those harmful feelings are only going to get worse.  

Furthermore, poor software project management will result in: 

  • Work being initiated without a clear understanding of what capability is really needed 
  • A lack of understanding of the scope of the project 
  • Testing the solution reveals that it does not do what you expected it to 
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    A number of changes being made that do not necessarily contribute to achieving the project objectives 

Not understanding the processes of a project will result in work being done in the wrong order, which wastes time, money and goodwill.  

The long-term harm done by poor software management 

However, there are also other consequences that might not be immediately apparent to everyone. This is because problems in software development normally have knock on consequences. These include: 

  • ​Loss of reputation and trust
  • People avoiding getting involved in new projects with you 
  • Loss of revenue that could have been realised if the solution was released
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    ​Delays in other projects and work being initiated
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    ​Operational staff not being able to work effectively as they do not have the software solutions that would improve their efficiency

These are all serious and costly problems that will harm you in the long run.

What does it take to run a project?

So, how do you go about planning software projects? Where do you start? You might have a great idea but it is still important to not put the cart before the horse. 

Once you have a clear goal for the project and you know what outcome you are looking for, you can use the following control variables to validate your project.

It is important to determine what your tolerances are within these areas:

  • ​Costs
  • ​Benefits
  • ​Time
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software management planning checklist

Knowing the above will in turn allow you to determine how large your core team should be and what skills are needed. When reviewing your in-house assets to determine who is suitable to work on your new software project you should also consider if there is any aspect of the development process that you need to outsource

Do not despair, delivering successful projects is not that difficult

It is actually relatively easy to deliver successful project if you know how. Here are some resources to help you understand different aspects of software project management.