We’ve talked to a lot of customers and others responsible for IT projects. We hear about their software challenges, frustrations, and failures, both when software is developed in-house and when working with outside consultants.
The economic impact of those issues is obvious: whether as simple as wasted hours and expanding budget or as complex as ruptured relationships that led to employee turnover and projects stretching multiple years beyond their original timeline.
The broad themes are unlikely to surprise those who have managed software projects. While each situation is unique, the problems are familiar.
Here’s what we learned about failing IT projects…
1. People Issues Eclipse Technology Issues
Even for the most technical people we spoke with, the majority of our conversations centered around non-technical issues. Their frustrations were around people, dynamics, and teams, and involved issues such as trust, mentorship, and conflict resolution. At all levels, people dynamics were seen as central to the ultimate success of a project.
2. Talk to the Front Lines
On the front lines is where the work happens, so that’s the first place we go for answers.
Front-line developers express:
- Frustration over poorly defined or ambiguous business requirements, both from internal teams and from external project teams.
- Frustrations with ineffective management.
- A sense that as information flowed down from management or from the client, it was diluted to the point of becoming unhelpful.
- A belief that a different process (“We should be more agile”) would solve their problems.
Those feelings, applied across the many stakeholders of a project, tend to inhibit open communication, collaboration, and transparency. The resulting defensiveness and transactional behaviors (e.g., “you need to tell me very clearly what you want, in detail, in writing”) strongly correlated with poor outcomes.
3. Process is Paramount
Additionally, in conversations with developers, the focus on process, and most commonly Agile development, seems to be particularly top of mind. They tend to focus on this as an opportunity to improve outcomes, while executives and clients were more skeptical. As one executive told us, “agile feels to me like a way for project teams to avoid having to meet deadlines.”
And even when Agile works as intended, it doesn’t necessarily account for the downstream dependencies associated with meeting launch deadlines, keeping budget in check, training sales teams, building a marketing plan, or preparing customer support teams.
4. The Impact of Shortcuts is Insidious and Cumulative
“Technical debt” is maddeningly ambiguous to define, and nearly impossible to measure.
The cumulative impact of shortcuts, compromises, and decisions made under the pressure of looming deadlines was widely acknowledged, and described in terms such as “capacity drain” that over time costs money and slows feature development.
5. Many Software Delivery Failures are Predictable
The perils of software development projects are no secret, and it’s common knowledge that software delivery efforts are likely to be behind schedule, over budget, and/or of poor quality.
One outside study validated this, concluding that large ($6M+) government technology projects have a success rate of only 13%. Another study concluded that only 29% of IT project implementations were considered successful, while 19% were categorized as complete failures.
IT project failure is a complex and multifaceted issue.
- Understand broad patterns in why IT projects fail
- Get specific at your organization – make sure you have visibility into how your project is going
- Ensure you have the right information at the right time – more isn’t always better