8 Warning Signs That Your Software Project Might Fail


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If you’ve ever tried to build any kind of custom software or been involved in a software development project, you’ve likely run into problems where projects get off-track. They don’t stick to the three principal constraints of time, cost, or quality. The top 6 Dialpad alternatives for small businesses have all experienced such hiccups during their development. 

These problems are fairly common, unfortunately. Standish has done decades of research on this subject, and while the failure rate of software projects has improved somewhat, it hasn’t gotten that much better, with a whopping 66% of projects ending in partial or complete failure.

Failed software projects carry a huge financial and opportunity cost. Therefore it’s important to avoid common pitfalls and be able to notice problems as they arise. 

This article will cover eight warning signs that your software project might fail.


1. Poor Project Management

The absence of a good project manager can be a sign your project is doomed to failure. Software projects are intricate; there are a lot of moving pieces. 

Whether it’s people, communication, logistics, or rolling out to users, everyone has a role to play, and coordinating these roles can be difficult. If there’s no project manager, or no good project manager, things slip through the cracks. 

There are a multitude of problems that can arise due to poor project management. For example, members of your team will ship features that never get announced and users never adopt. Or the software can get built the wrong way because certain modules are assembled in the wrong order. 

2. No Risk Assessment

Poor risk management or no risk management is another sign your software project might fail. Often, organizations and individuals don’t really think of risk because they

get a project and are headstrong about moving forward and making progress. 

However, risk assessment is an important part of any software project. Risks always exist and you need to be managing them. 

You may be building software for inventory accounting, for example. Even if you just do a simple analysis, you’ll be surprised at the potential problems you uncover. One risk that occurs over and over is team members being pulled onto different tasks. This leads to you not having the committed time you’re supposed to get from them.

This creates a risk to the project’s success, particularly the timeline. It becomes important because if you know this to be true, you need to put some sort of mitigation and contingency plan in place. You want to do this at the beginning of the project to pre-empt and resolve these issues before they become a problem


3. Using the Wrong Technology Stack

There are numerous technology stacks that serve different needs. Your software project might be failing because you chose the wrong one.

There are a few considerations you need to keep in mind as you go about deciding which technology stack is right for you. The first thing to ponder is which tool is suited to the job. Often, when we’re looking for the technology stack of our dreams, we have it backwards; we first focus on the tech and then try to figure out what kind of problem can be solved with it. 

From a business standpoint, you need to first focus on the product. What is the problem you’re trying to solve for people? Once you know the problem, you can decide which stack works best. 

For example, if you’re trying to create Skype alternatives PC, you probably need something like Phoenix or Elixir. However, if you’re creating a project that is mostly crowd-based, which entails operations for creating, reading, updating, and deleting data from a database, something like Ruby on Rails or Jungle will suffice.

4. Lack of Discovery

A major reason projects fail is the lack of discovery that’s done before beginning them. It’s always a challenge to spend that first week or two weeks, or even a separate session, trying to detail some of the requirements of the project with the client. Even then, it’s difficult to know everything until you get into the project. 

Perhaps this is why so many people resist a discovery or some sort of scoping session before a project begins. They feel it’s going to be expensive, or that if the project doesn’t get started immediately it will be set back. 

What they don’t realize is that if they take more time upfront to understand the project, they will prevent rework and have a deeper insight into the project.

This will greatly increase the likelihood of building the right thing the first time around. Most projects have so much rework in them that they take double the expected time. If you spend a couple of weeks upfront to get an in-depth understanding of the requirements, on the other hand, you save a lot of time and effort in the future.

A bonus tip is to look at other companies to aid your discovery. If you’re creating a telecommunications software, you can get an idea of the software requirements by looking at Broadvoice competitors, for example.


5. Unrealistic Expectations

Ultimately, we’re social creatures, and we want to make sure our tribe loves us. Perhaps this is why we commit to things we shouldn’t and set unrealistic expectations. Sometimes the client is given dates that are unachievable or only achievable in a vacuum.

For example, a developer might say they can complete an update on an enterprise commerce platform in four hours, but they’re only considering one part of the task. They can code in four hours, but they must also complete the other tasks involved, such as getting approval from the internal communications team or talking to the users that are going to be most affected.

It’s important to look at not just technical time, but the communication time and burden of rolling things out. Doing so will help align and manage expectations better. If your project is judged against unrealistic expectations, it will always fail.

6. Poor Communication

A major warning sign that your project is failing is poor team communication. When developers are working out a project and moving through milestones and sprints, there are things that need to be brought to the attention of other people. 

Successful project management can come down to how well your team communicates and the strength of their relationships. This includes communication with each other, the client, and the project manager. It’s important to be able to have those conversations and say, “Hey, this is something we learned from user reviews and user responses, so this is where we should make adjustments.”

It’s also important to remember different teams and departments don’t share the same vocabulary. The marketing team, for example, may not understand all of the technical terms a developer is using in a conversation. This leads to miscommunication and confusion. Developers must be able to translate new updates, issues, or adjustments into a language the recipient will understand.

Unfocused communication is poor communication. There’s no point debating the advantages and disadvantages of using VoIP in your software, for example, if that feature is not urgent or necessary.


7. Over-complexity

The next sign your project is failing is that it has become too complex, bloated, or unwieldy. You can’t run a lean project with heavy architecture.

 It’s easy to begin work on software projects with grand dreams. Perhaps one day you will have 10 million users. However, at the beginning, you need to build for only one. While it’s good to build flexibility into the platform, it’s important to not make your software too complex too quickly.

Building in unnecessary complexity will slow you down and pull you into a quagmire. Every piece you add to your architecture is something you have to support. You’ll spend countless hours making sure your queueing system works and debugging this and its integrations. That all takes time away from development, so it’s crucial to optimize software workflow.


8. Loss of Momentum

When you notice your software project losing momentum, it’s a surefire sign the project is failing.

One of the biggest factors in the success of a software project isn’t velocity but momentum. A lot of people think that as long as things are moving quickly, everything will get done. That’s not true. When things run out of momentum, velocity drops off almost instantaneously.

It’s hard to succeed when there’s no momentum, and you end up trotting through the project. Perhaps you are working on a large, complicated project, such as cloud RPA software. It’s important you keep things exciting and break them apart so they’re not as big and there are activities to be done up front.

When your team is not excited and is trudging through to the finish line, there are many small delays. These add up and can turn a one-year project into a two-year nightmare.

Put these tips to work today to stop your software project from starting the slow slide toward failure. 

Samuel O'Brien
Sam O’Brien is the Chief Marketing Officer for Affise—a Global SaaS Partner Marketing Solution. He is a growth marketing expert with a product management and design background. Sam has a passion for innovation, growth, and marketing technology.


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