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Software Project Failure and Reasons We Struggle With It

Software project failures and the top reasons it happens.
Software project failures, why it happens and what we can do about it.

What is software project failure

More often than should be the case, we must deal with software project failure. But why does this happen? What are we doing, or not doing, that causes this? More to the point, how do we mitigate and stop software project failure.

Let’s explore this and how we can better meet the goals of a software project. After all, what is software project failure, if not simply the failure to achieve the goals of the software project. Missing the opportunity to deliver business value.

Because software projects are so important. Either because of the needs that the software represents. Or because of the cost to implement and potential money to be gained from successful completion. This makes addressing the causes of software project failure so important.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for software project failure

What are the reasons for software project failure


The requirements of a software project, and issues with them, are often a cause of software project failure. Requirements, and the idea of defining all items to be done in a software development project is often the goal. It is made to be part of the planning. While good in theory, in practice it is not so easy. So buying into the idea that you can define everything, figure out what you’re supposed to do, then go do it all. That is often a flawed practice.

Not finding all of the requirements needed and missing needs happens too often. Or the requirements are partially incorrect is another issue. Either way, it comes down to a reliance on requirements. On strict definition of a job to be done. Which, is just about impossible to determine before you start the work. Sometimes the best way to meet deliverables is by starting the work.

Priorities are not clear

The priorities of the varied work is not clear and in conflict. Which, leads to spending resources on time on things that aren’t needed or aren’t needed right now. The issue here is really about relative priority of the work. Where all work items have a priority in relation to other work items. There can’t be a sub-set that is tracked and well understood. All while other work items come in from all angles and also have to be done.

Prioritize continuously!

True prioritization requires some harder decisions, but allows you to focus on the high value items. It also enables you to go execute on those high value items, which is even better. When teams know what the top priority work is, it is much more difficult to miss the goal. Helping to avoid software project failure. Project success can only be achieved when the development team knows the top things do to, and is enabled to work them.

Not meant to be

Maybe the software project was just doomed from the beginning. This really is a combination of other causes that are just never addressed, causing the ultimate software project failure.

In other words, there were issues from before the software development project was even started. They were not addressed and ultimately caused missed objectives for the work. Killing the product and software development process before it could even get off the ground.

User needs are not understood

Not truly understanding user needs is a huge cause of software project failure. In any software, there is some kind of user. Making the need to understand that users needs critical when building and updating any software. As if any software or product development process is to be successful, the user must be able to do what they need and what they want to do.

But why do we not understand user needs?

Often this comes back to requirements, where we try to define requirements and execute on the work. Instead of tackling the work with the user in mind and getting good user feedback. Check out more info on user feedback here. Not getting good feedback and using it to learn is one of the top reasons for project failure.

Simply not feasible

Biting off more than you can chew happens more than we would like to admit. Maybe the project was just a bit more ambitious than could be done. This can happen. We get caught up in the excitement and take on new and interesting challenges. But sometimes they just cannot be done. Or maybe they can be done, but it is not worth the effort to create what is needed to achieve the end result. The cost doesn’t justify the benefit.

Software project was not responsive to change

Not responding to changes in the environment and needs. Adhering to a rigid and inflexible plan throughout the life of the software project. Because technology and business change at an ever increasing pace it seems like, work has to adapt to that. Sometimes goals and needs change and the software project work needs to change.

But all too often a plan was already created. Resources, requirements definition and timeline were already formalized and the team and organization holds to it. Even though not adapting means the work is much less valuable or not valuable at all anymore. Rigid and inflexible plans create software errors.

This item can happen as well. Maybe it is not necessarily issues with the software project itself, but issues within the team. Poor team communication and collaboration that leads to incorrect work or missed goals.

Maybe there are missing skills and experience within the team. Items needed for success of the project.

There are many items that could fall into this category. But it is important to remember that the success of the team helps enable the success of the software project. And specifically in software and product development work, Agile practices are here to help. Here are some Agile practices that help.

The stakeholder and leadership issues could be much like the team issues. There are many possibilities here. A common one is the stakeholders and leadership just not understanding the work and what it takes to successfully complete the project. Thus not giving the team what it needs to complete that work successfully.

Or maybe there are motivation issues. It is all too common of a problem that teams are overworked and undervalued. Having to take on too much work with ever shrinking timelines and ever increasing scope. Maybe they are just burned out and it’s not feasible. These are project management failures as well, by not getting the team what they need to complete the task.


Too much complexity without the resources to handle it increases the chances of software failure. Software and product development teams are capable of incredible work, but too many things are in flight and always changing. Making the ability to handle complexity difficult to say the least. Reducing complexity is a top way to fight software errors and why software fails.


What is software project failure?

When a software project fails to meet the needs of users, and/or also fails to achieve the objectives of the software project team, stakeholders and the organization.

Why software projects fail

Projects are the sum of their pieces and project failure is because pieces are not correct or not in place to enable success. From unclear user needs and a lack of proper priority, there are many ideas that feed into reasons for project failure. Failed software projects are project management failures.

How do you avoid software project failure

Look to the reasons of why software fails and take mitigating action. Leverage better practices to help enable the and empower the team. Failed IT projects are often because the team can’t do what they need to do, to be successful. So enable and empower the team to see better results.

Additional reading on Agile processes that help mitigate software errors