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Why Software Projects Fail, and the Traps You Can Avoid That Could Spell Disaster A majority of companies actually expect failure for their software projects. But what if that didn't have to be?

By Thomas Smale

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Is failure a near-certainty in your business? That seems to be the case for software projects, at least, because a surprising number of them don't work.

In fact, companies are learning to expect a dismal outcome: In a study, Geneca found that 75 percent of business and IT executives surveyed admitted that their projects were either "always" or "usually "doomed" right from the start."

Related: 2018 Software Development Trends That You Can Count on Continuing Into 2019

But if software is an integral part of your business, failure is the last thing you need. Maybe you're developing a software as a service (SaaS) app. Or a bespoke customer relationship management (CRM) tool tailored to your company's needs. So if that's the case and your objective is to serve customers, proficiency during the development phase is key. In that regard, how do you avoid disaster?

Answer: You avoid the following traps:

Insufficient time to complete the project

It's not uncommon for companies to set unrealistic and arbitrary deadlines for their software projects without adequate data or reason to back up the decisions. Further, estimates are sometimes made hastily without consulation with the programmers to determine how much time they require for the project.

In short, companies are often in too much of a rush to get their software projects completed. And that's a problem because allowing insufficient time means sacrificing design and usability for the sake of completion. A broken or difficult-to-use software module often proves unusable.

Fortunately, this problem is easily solved by allowing time for planning before anyone writes a single line of code. If the developers are aware of the scope and parameters of the project and have had enough time to plan, they'll be better able to meet the deadlines you set.

Inadequate planning

In 2016, Innotas found that 55 percent of IT professionals surveyed indicated they'd had a project fail due to lack of time, staff, resources and budget. The overall success rate has improved somewhat since then, but only marginally.

Myriad things, of course, can go wrong when it comes to planning and ensuring the right resources are in place to guarantee project completion. Many companies simply don't realize how long a project will take or how much it will cost, and that often leads to unrealistic expectations.

One of the best ways to cut down on required planning is to ensure the active involvement of senior management from start to finish. The project requirements and scope often change midway through a project, so whoever will ultimately sign off should be actively involved in planning and execution.

Related: Why Tech Companies Need a Code of Ethics for Software Development

Unclear project requirements

Project specifications should be laid out at the early stages of planning. Unfortunately, it's possible that managers and executives weren't clear on the scope of the project to begin with, thereby leaving developers unsure of what features would be needed.

For instance, if the project is being built by developers who don't understand how the software will need to scale, they'll be unsure as to how to cater to your company's increasing demands.

Working with a professional team with a proven track record of scaling software can make a difference -- Tivix is a good example. After all, you don't want to just build your software and hope that it will stand up to the test of time. You want to make sure that it does.

Too many people assigned to the project

To cope with a lagging schedule, project managers frequently add more team members to work on a project. Logically speaking, this should speed up the project to meet deadlines. But just as having too few people on the project is problematic, too many people can result in failure, too.

First, adding more people to the project is costly. Second, it can result in compromised quality, because with more people come more opportunities for misunderstandings and unclear communication. In addition, issues sometimes arise when companies integrate different sections of code written by project members who joined the project at different times.

If a project is already late, adding more people probably won't do anything to rectify that problem, especially if the new staff need to be brought up to speed. Instead, the best way of handling this situation is to determine up-front the correct number of people who should work on the project.

Lack of testing

A lack of proper planning and insufficient time for it usually lead to little or no testing. But if you know anything about software, you know that it should be tested for bugs. When there's a lot of pressure to deliver on a project at a certain time, testing is typically the first thing to be abandoned.

If the software doesn't function properly, and anticipated features are broken or crash unexpectedly, your customers are going to be unimpressed -- or worse.

Sometimes, companies choose to test their software in its own production environment. Unfortunately, this can lead to security breaches. All testing should be completed in an environment that's separate from production.

Testing should also be carried out throughout the entire development lifecycle, with each component tested as it is completed. Naturally, you will also need to allot adequate time.

Failure to find a good project manager

A lack of time and planning, an absence of resources and an insufficient budget are all common reasons for failures with software. But the lack of a competent project manager is a particularly key, and recurring, problem.

Communication is a must for completing a project on time, so, without a project manager, a project will likely become disjointed and ambiguous. If no one on your team has the skills required to push through a development project, you may want to look into hiring outside consultants who can deliver the results you're looking for.

Related: How Software Teams Can Learn to Make Beautiful Music Together

Final thoughts

With so many projects failing, you won't do yourself any good rushing into development. So, be sure to determine your project scope and assign competent leadership to achieve the desired results.

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010. He has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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