Why Software Projects Fail

A few years ago, Gartner conducted a survey on why software projects fail. We’ll take a look at what the study uncovered below, but here’s what’s notable about the company’s subsequent report. The top four reasons cited for IT development project failure then still—nearly a decade later—ring true.

When Zibtek set out to establish its software development process, these four issues were top-of-mind. From pre-project consultation to launch and maintenance, we know good communication, clear requirements, and detailed planning are essential to projects meeting original goals and being completed within budget.

5 Reasons Why IT Software Projects Fail

5 Reasons Why IT Software Projects Fail

As reported by respondents to Gartner’s survey, the top four reasons IT software projects fail are:

  1. A change in the organization’s priorities (39%). Sometimes there’s even a failure to reach a consensus on priorities. Whatever the priority problem may be, project owners (POs) and project teams must get aligned on top project priorities. Must-haves, should-haves, and could-haves need to be clearly laid out.
  2. A change in project objectives (37%). It’s extremely rare for a project’s scope to be a sealed deal upfront. It’s important, of course, to define what the project’s goal is, but all projects must be able to adapt to changing business requirements during the development process. POs and teams alike must know when to pivot, or their efforts will be at best ineffective and at worst, a failure.
  3. Inaccurate requirements gathering (35%). Clearly defined project requirements are arguably the most critical factor in an IT project’s success. POs and software developers can both be guilty of overlooking details that could potentially derail a software project. Many times, the project requirements aren’t clearly communicated, with both sides misunderstanding what’s needed. Detailed requirements exist for a good reason; they help everyone involved in the project to define clear goals and objectives and ensure the end product meets the PO’s actual expectations.
  4. Undefined opportunities and risks (29%). This mistake is comparable to building a house without blueprints. Every software development project contains elements of surprise and uncertainty. Negative or positive risks should be described in terms of potential effects on the project. Risk analysis, evaluation, and response planning build a framework for minimizing threats and revealing opportunities that can be maximized.

A fifth reason, poor communication, was reported by a quarter of respondents. It’s no surprise, of course, that effective communication is crucial to any project’s success. By establishing a culture of honesty and encouraging all stakeholders to speak up about ideas, complaints, or hesitations, the blame culture that pervades many project development teams can be eliminated.

Projects Need Less Complexity and More Governance

That’s the conclusion Gartner came to about why software projects fail. And that is one that Zibtek enthusiastically embraces. It’s our firm belief that proper planning can eliminate the top four failure triggers. When clients sometimes ask why a so-called Agile process requires so many planning sessions, we point out the sprint process is about structured flexibility, not a race to the finish line. By continually verifying priorities, objectives, and requirements, our engineers can adapt to change and incorporate new ideas.

Communication + Clear Requirements = Project Success

Zibtek believes one of the simplest ways to ensure a project stays on track is to work with a good PO who can facilitate clear communications, particularly on requirements, and help set practical expectations. Writing good [stories], backlog grooming, and [refinement meetings] are all necessary to clarify a project’s intentions and bring it to a successful launch. To learn more about Zibtek’s sprint planning process, including how it helps mitigate the most common reasons projects fail, contact us online today to schedule a consultation.