Why Software Projects Fail

While there is great debate over why software projects fail, it is commonly believed that many— if not most—software projects fail in some way. Because of the fear of probable failure, many organizations continue to run their organization with antiquated or outdated software and processes rather than attempt a new software implementation. 

As it turns out, Gartner, Inc. a leading information technology research and advisory company assessed the frequency of software project failure rates last year. Although not quite as high as 50%, the failure rate is significant. According to the 2008 Gartner survey, projects considered failures occurred at rates of:

  • 14% for small projects
  • 20% for medium projects
  • 22% for large projects
  • Averaging about 20% for all types of projects(1) .

Additionally, 25% of projects failed due to functionality issues, 15% of projects failed because of high cost variance, 20% were canceled during delivery, and 18% were unsuccessful because they were substantially late(2).  

Because technology projects, more specifically software implementations, require the effective management of human resources in order to meet the target schedule, cost and quality requirements, it is reasonable to assume that ineffective resource management is a leading contributor to the failure of technology projects.

The primary implementation issues in software come down to:

While all of these issues must be appropriately addressed, managing the staff (resources) for a new software implementation can be the most challenging, especially when the project is not the staff’s only job.  Tools can be utilized to help keep assignments, schedules, and cost on track – but these are no substitute for the communication and feedback that needs to happen during an implementation.  The tools and methods that are used to communicate and manage these important aspects are vital to the successful outcome of the project. 

Today, approximately 80% of technology projects employ project management techniques at some level.  These techniques and processes are designed to help with managing scope, schedule, cost, and resources.  While the use of good project management may not keep the implementation from failing, the chances of success are greatly increased if the team performing the implementation project utilizes common tools and techniques during the implementation. Here are a couple categories and tools I have found especially useful in successful project management:

  • Project Schedule tool – MS Project, Planview, Clarity, Primavera
  • Collaborative Portal – MS SharePoint, E-Room, Custom Web site Reporting tool – SharePoint, Clarity, MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint
  • Resource Management / Time tracking tool – ProjectXecute, Tenrox, Primavera,

Each of these categories and tools, while serving a different purpose, help communication between team members and project managers.  It is important that whichever tools you implement and use, all of the staff and team members know how to utilize them and understand the need to keep information accurate.  A status report or a time sheet that is not accurate will never help the PM to understand where the project stands.  In fact, the biggest fear I see on software implementations is that people will not follow the schedule or estimates that have been made for the project.  This can only be monitored and managed by the tools that are used for the software project.

Please share your experiences, both successful and failing, in terms of using PM tools and techniques.

1. Apfel, Audrey L.; Hanford, Michael; Light, Matt; Stang, Daniel B.; Mieritz, Lars; Fitzgerald, Donna; 2008

 2. Apfel, Hanford, Light, Stang, Mieritz, & Fitzgerald; 2008


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