How to save a failing software project

How to save a failing software project

Posted On November 02, 2022

Project failure is something any project manager has to grapple with from time to time. Luckily, you can save failing projects from disaster with the right approach.

What is project failure?

If your project is failing, it isn’t on track to deliver what is required of it. Successful projects deliver to budget, on time and meet stakeholder expectations.

Project failure statistics

According to Gartner, at least 85% of big data projects fail. Shocked? You shouldn’t be — high rates of project failure in the tech industry are a long-standing issue. Let’s look at some other project failure statistics:

  • Businesses that undervalue the importance of project management for driving change see their project failure rate increase by 67%
  • Executive leaders consider organisational agility, choosing the right technologies and securing relevant skills to be the main drivers of project success
  • One survey found the average IT project runs over budget by 27%
  • A lack of clear goals is the most common factor for project failure, identified as the most important factor responsible for failure by 37% of respondents
  • 44% of projects fail due to a lack of alignment between business and project objective

How to get a failing project back on track in five steps

Failing projects can mean substantial financial losses for a business. Here are the five steps to help you save a failing project.

Analyse the problem

It can be easy to blame issues on technology, especially when working on software development projects. But, Gartner analyst Nick Heudecker argues, the problem isn’t technology — it’s you.

So, what causes projects to fail? More often than not, small inefficiencies, conflicts, or mistakes cause project failures. Let’s look at some examples:

    • A key team member exits the project or the business
    • Conflict between team members or failure to find consensus halts progress
    • Substandard software and code causes delays
    • Lack of planning leads to inefficiencies and missed deadlines
    • Poorly managed scope creep eats into budgets

With a potentially never-ending list of reasons why a project may be heading towards failure, it’s essential to understand the root cause of the issues your team is facing. While poorly organised project goals and inefficient project management are significant contributing factors, you can’t rule out issues with your existing source code, documentation and databases.

Review the entire project, from project management to database setup, to uncover what issues need rectifying before you can move forward.

Redefine project goals

Now you’ve uncovered what’s gone wrong, you can focus on making improvements. The first step forward is to redefine the project’s goals. Timelines and budgets have likely changed since you initially set your goals.

The project manager or leader is responsible for this task, which involves evaluating what you can realistically accomplish with the remaining budget and time available and what plan of action will get you there. If you need to spend time covering old ground to apply fixes, make sure to factor this into your calculations.

Prioritise fixes

You’ll likely have several problems to fix. You may even have dozens, which can feel overwhelming. Use the Eisenhower matrix to list the fixes you need to make and rank them by priority.

First, review your list of fixes. Decide whether each to-do is urgent and important. This reveals the order in which you should approach the fixes. Fixes that are urgent and important should be tackled first, followed by those that are important but not urgent. If possible, delegate the important but not urgent fixes and only take on the fixes marked neither urgent nor important fixes if you have the budget and time.

Review the team

If a project is heading towards failure due to issues within the team, a shake-up may be in order. From missing technical knowledge to poor leadership and inter-team conflict, there are dozens of reasons why a team may be unsuccessful.

As restructuring your project has the potential to cause more issues if not executed correctly, it isn’t a measure to take lightly. Whether you bring in new workers to offer a fresh perspective or reassign responsibilities, involve the team in the process to avoid blind sighting them.

Outsource the project

Lastly, if you’ve followed these steps and your project is still on track to fail, consider outsourcing the project. Outsourcing can breathe new life into a project while freeing your internal team up to tackle new challenges.

Outsourcing is a great way to get a failing project back on track, even when working to tight deadlines. At WeAssemble, we’re experts in assembling flexible and low-cost offshore teams based in India, made up of highly skilled software developers and specialists hired to meet your exact project requirements. Get in touch to connect with talented full-stack developers, QA engineers, UX designers, and more.

FAQ

Want to know more about project failure? Read our FAQs.

How common is project failure?

Gartner previously estimated that 60% of projects fail. However, it revised this statistic in 2017, stating that the previous percentage estimate was too conservative and the true number is closer to 85%.

Why do most IT software projects fail?

IT software projects fail for a range of reasons, including a lack of understanding of a business’s needs and goals, conflict amongst team members, poor planning, breakdowns in communication, lack of necessary skills and scope creep. Many of the top factors are caused by human error or issues.

How do you know if a project is failing?

While there are no specific warning signs that indicate a project may fail, regular assessment of progress and team dynamics can help identify issues that may cause the project to go off the rails. For example, if you haven’t planned for risks or feel the project is risk-free, processes aren’t being adhered to, the team struggles with regular miscommunications, and you aren’t sticking to a plan, you can expect your project to begin to spiral out of control quickly.

How do I rescue a failing software project?

In this article, we’ve outlined the five key steps you should take to rescue a failing software project and avoid business-damaging disasters. Exactly how you apply these learnings will depend on your project and the issues you’re facing. Still, careful analysis of the project will help you identify your problems and, therefore, your solutions.