Software development team projects have an alarmingly high mortality rate. According to a 2009 IDC report, as many as 20% to 25% of all software development projects don’t provide any returns, and 50 percent require a massive amount of rework before they can be labeled finished. And this doesn’t even include the companies that hide their failed projects. So why do so many projects fail?
According to IBM System Magazine, only 3 percent of projects fail due to technological issues. Even if your development team is highly skilled, there are still a number of ways things can go off the rails. We’ve explored some of the most common reasons for project failure.
1. Lack Of Experience
The road to expertise is paved with hard work and learning from mistakes. An ideal development team has a mixture of general and expert knowledge that covers all relevant areas of skill needed to complete a project. Hiring the right talent can be difficult, as experienced team members can be costly. However, an inexperienced and less qualified developer team can lead to poor results.
Some roles are more critical than others and should be given greater priority during when hiring. It’s not unlikely for an engineer to make a mistake in the code — but a project manager should be able to audit the project and find any critical flaws before delivering the code. In the case of a project manager, paying for the expertise and experience is well worth the money.
2. Lack Of Leadership
Any project which involves the effort of multiple people requires some central authority who can combine the efforts of all those people and provide a sense of direction. A good leader looks after his or her team, listening to their concerns, providing feedback, praising good work, and most importantly, making good decisions. In a technical environment, the leader should have a strong understanding of the technology on which his team is working.
When a leader fails to provide a strong sense of direction, overlooking the importance of setting objectives, managing risks, and coordinating everyone’s efforts, the team is at a severe disadvantage and more likely to fail.
3. Lack Of Architecture
In order to build a well thought-out house that’s both beautiful and functional, one needs to have detailed blueprints. Similarly, for a development project to start and end successfully, the team needs to create and follow a logical system architecture. Although extremely important, the use of architecture is often omitted. Lack of architecture means potential issues with security, performance, scalability, and manageability.
4. Unrealistic Deadlines
Sometimes teams, in order for the company to stay afloat, are pushed to get the finished product out as fast as possible. This can cause the quality of the product to suffer and lead to larger problems down the road. Sometimes it is the client who breathes down the neck of the team, badgering them for updates.
Teams are often already working at capacity with more than they can handle already on their plates. Trying to complete as many projects as possible in the shortest amount of time often leads. This can result from a ‘speed over accuracy’ mentality originating from upper management. Whatever the reason may be, having too tight of a timeline will result in rushed products, incurring technical debt and team burn-out.
5. Scope Creep / Moving Targets
A project is almost guaranteed to fail if the development team does not have clearly stated objectives. If a client fails to provide clear and pre-defined goals, the ambiguity leads to wasted time, wasted resources, and wasted efforts. When a manager continually changes his or her mind, or a client adds further requests extending past the agreed-upon contract, work quality suffers and frustration grows among the team.
6. Lack Of Motivation
A team with low morale and low motivation can be worse than no team. Without a drive to work hard and produce quality results, the work a defeated team produces can be riddled with errors. This technical debt will either render the project nearly useless or require a massive amount of time to be fixed.
Any number of factors can contribute to low team morale. Perhaps it is an issue with compensation, the division of labor, or workplace environment. Sometimes the problem lies in the team members themselves due to poor hiring practices. Whatever the case may be, low motivation is a serious blocker to quality results and successful projects.
7. Lack Of Discipline
In any system or group, a lack of discipline can lead to chaos and confusion. In order to ensure that everybody is on the same page, organizations create standards. They assign roles, give directions, and commit to certain best practices. Discipline is the practice of adhering to these rules, roles, and directions. An undisciplined development team is at risk to waste time just doing whatever they want. A strong sense of discipline often comes from the culture that is modeled and encouraged from within. Strong leaders and company veterans set the tone for the rest of the team, so it is important to achieve this early on.
8. Communication Problems
No team is immune to communication problems. Certain barriers to communication only make things worse:
- Use of technical jargon — Not everyone in the organization will have the required knowledge to understand the technical terms. Development teams should ensure that communication with clients, upper-level management, and customers is clear and easy to understand. Even simple misunderstandings can have disastrous consequences.
- Personal barriers. Intimidation from bosses and managers can cripple the incentive a development team has to communicate. When employees feel ignored or mistreated, even important conversations may be avoided. Clashing personalities can also lead to an unhealthy work environment.
- Organizational barriers. These problems are caused by the structure of the organization that restricts the flow of information. The team might have trouble coordinating with other departments, or company policy might not prohibit informal, yet quicker communication.
9. Internal politics
Politics are always at play. Within the team, a number of issues can arise. Conflicts can arise between members, project managers may fail to give proper credit, and sometimes even a wronged employee can deliberately try to sabotage a project. The consequences of internal politics within the company can lead to development teams not receiving enough funding and unhealthy competition between departments.
10. Lack of innovation
Ultimately, the end users of every project are people. These human beings are looking for you to provide value to them. Value comes in many forms, but in order to continuously provide value long term, your company must innovate. The world is changing, and therefore the problems it faces are changing. Your goal is to identify these problems and solve them. Innovation can look like:
- Finding an unmet need and providing a solution for it.
- Inventing a product that raises the quality of life for the customer.
- Improving upon an existing product in a significant manner.
Development teams can be extremely skilled at solving complex tasks, but there will always be areas where human nature produces vulnerabilities. Understanding these most common reasons for failure can help you anticipate issues before they cause serious problems.