Why Do So Many Software Development Projects Fail?

Although the world depends on software to run nearly everything these days, most software development projects either fail completely or deliver only a fraction of the value intended. Why is this?

Allan Milne Lees

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Broadly speaking, there are two major kinds of software project: off-the-shelf large systems implementation, and custom development. In this article we’ll be looking at the latter, and I’ll cover the former in another article in the near future.

First let’s provide a little background: I’ve been in the hi-tech arena for nearly thirty-five years and in that time I’ve co-founded several startups, worked for a large software company, implemented a wide range of operational systems for various organizations, and have worked on software development and remediation projects for a wide range of multinational clients. As a result of all this experience I’ve learned a few things about why projects fail and I’m going to do my best to impart some of this knowledge in this article in the hope that it may help a few people to avoid some obvious pitfalls in their own software development projects.

One of the most common mistakes is for people to have an idea in mind and then fail to take outside information into account. Of course, on extremely rare occasions the initial idea is indeed the most desirable one, but in general nearly every concept goes through several bouts of iteration before firming up into a minimum viable product. Sadly, the majority of would-be entrepreneurs filter out helpful external feedback and thereby set themselves up for failure. I’ve briefly consulted to more than thirty hopeful entrepreneurs over the years and the two who took my advice went on to found quite successful companies that generated real revenues; the other twenty-eight ignored my advice and every single one ended up burning money and abandoning their dreams. The reason this happens is because would-be entrepreneurs reject inputs that contradict their pre-existing beliefs. “This guy isn’t right for my project because he just doesn’t get it, he doesn’t have the vision” is a common self-deluding posture among inexperienced entrepreneurs and it guarantees eventual failure. Sure, experts are…

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Allan Milne Lees

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.