7 Indicators That Your Software Development Project Might Fail

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Weronika Włodarczyk

Oct 20, 2022 • 9 min read
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No software development project is without risk, but some projects are more likely to fail than others. If you're concerned that your project might not make it, here are 7 indicators that you should watch out for.

By being aware of these risks, you can take steps to mitigate them and improve your chances of success. So, if you're feeling uneasy about your project, read on – it could mean the difference between a successful outcome and a failed one.

Unrealistic expectations

The project is only successful if stakeholders/investors/clients deem it as successful. It may be a brilliant project from a technical perspective, but if certain expectations regarding timeliness, budget, performance or user experience are not met – it will be a failure.

That’s why working on setting realistic expectations is crucial so that all the people involved are satisfied. Expectations should be discussed and agreed on every step of the way, not only during the planning phase of project development.

Every task that developers take has to meet certain criteria and if there is a risk that they will not be met, all parties should be notified. Clear communication is the most important tool and stakeholders should always be presented a realistic picture of what can be expected from the team.

Unreasonable budget

Every project needs a budget even before the development process is started, but it is hardly ever an accurate one. There are a couple of reasons why the budget may fall short in the middle of project development, but the main one is setting an unrealistic budget for your project.

You may not have analyzed all the risks and therefore planned for a nearly impossible development strategy, and as a result, your project will end up in failure. Everyone wants to create an app or website in a very fast, secure, non-problematic manner, but not everyone is ready to pay the cost.

High development speed means more developers on the project, high security means additional security specialists and security scanning, and the idea of no problems is simply unrealistic.

The programming language, cloud solutions or even databases that you want to use can affect your budget, so making an executive decision to do a whole project using Clojure or Elixir (quite unpopular programming languages with very few specialists) without budget adjustments will make your budget unrealistic and impossible to follow.

Poor communication between teams

Building a successful app or website is rarely done just by one person or even one team. The work is usually divided between:

    • Managers
    • Frontend team
    • Backend team
    • Mobile developers
    • Quality assurance
    • DevOps and many others.

Smooth development requires all of the teams to communicate with each other, and the information flow should be impeccable.

Even though they are separate, the end product is the same, so nothing is created in isolation. Changes that are made by one team, most probably will affect others – backend changes will require frontend changes, DevOps changes will require further backend changes and so on.

Communication within a team can be a challenge as people have different points of view and personalities, and there is an added layer of difficulty in between-team communication because of technicalities.

A good idea is setting regular planning and retrospective meetings between teams and creating clear communication channels for raising common issues. If you are using tools like Jira, you can connect tasks and create a flow of changes for one functionality, and every team will clearly see what others have already done.

Over-complexity

There are 19 guiding principles for Python’s design, but two of them are relevant not only to writing code but to project development in general: “Simple is better than complex. Complex is better than complicated.” Your application or website should follow the same rules if you want it to succeed. The most grand, elaborate ideas for features can always be simplified, and it is usually a great idea.

Over-complex features require more time to change, are harder to debug and are more prone to security risks, so you should always start simple. From a user perspective, an all-in-one application with huge dashboards and an endless list of features may simply be overwhelming and hard to use, so they may choose other products instead.

You can look at Facebook – it started as a student directory featuring photos and their basic information. After that, new features were added and now it is a collection of different, simple applications like Facebook Marketplace or Messenger.

Not starting with the user's needs

Usually, a web application is a response to the user's need to get something done. Most apps start this way, as a solution to a problem, and with this approach, the user is the starting point for planning and development.

However, after the idea of an app is born, the user-centric approach sometimes goes away and the whole team starts to focus on things that seem more important from the development perspective. This mistake can make even the best project fail. Why?

User research value across product lifecycle

Researching users' needs throughout each development phase helps you to make sure your service continues to meet user needs. You should know the profile of your users, their expectations, and how to solve their problems, even if you are just a backend or frontend developer.

Every person that works in a project is also a user, so their input is invaluable. In practice, it can mean that an impressive, complicated feature will be changed or even not developed because, in the end, it would not improve users’ experience in any way.

Poor task management

If every single task is considered urgent – it means that your team has issues with prioritization and it is a warning sign of bigger problems. A backlog is a buildup of work that needs to be completed and it is a completely normal part of software development. It should be planned, monitored, and tasks shouldn’t go in there with the thought that they never will be taken care of.

Backlog grooming should be an essential part of planning future work, so that developers can focus both on very urgent tasks and on less important, non-urgent backlog tasks. If your team doesn’t take care of the growing backlog, there can be many issues behind it.

Your team may be simply too small and developers may struggle to complete just the most important work – they simply may not have enough time to work on a backlog!

Lack of proper project management or communication issues within the project may also be an issue, as clients may think that hands-on tasks are the most important ones and ignore backlog issues. Nowadays, there are simple tools like Jira that help you manage your backlog and allow you to add a priority rating to every single task.

High team turnover

People join or rotate out of the projects all the time, but in general, you want to keep your project turnover low. Every developer or team member who leaves the project means that another one needs to be trained, and it never happens at a glance. When it comes to software applications, the sheer amount of code can be overwhelming for new joiners and getting to know the main features can take days.

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High team turnover also has an awful effect on team morale and motivation, it is hard to keep spirits high when people leave only after a few months.

Reaching peak productivity on a project can take months and senior team members have to dedicate their time to helping new people. This obviously is expensive, because a person in training still gets a full salary, even though they don’t operate on 100% productivity.

There is no cookie-cutter solution to lowering high turnover, but a good starting point is consulting your team. They know best what makes them want to leave, so you can properly work on improving your situation. Some of the most common issues are poor communication between teams, bad management, micromanagement, and lack of recognition.

Recognizing the signs that your software development project has gone off the rails

If you're working on a software development project, it's important to be aware of the risks that could lead to failure. By being mindful of the warning signs, you can take steps to avoid them and increase your chances of success.

Unrealistic expectations, unreasonable budget, lack of consideration for the users’ needs, and high team turnover are just a few indicators to pay attention to. Have you encountered any of these risks on your current project? How did you mitigate them?

Photo of Weronika Włodarczyk

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Weronika Włodarczyk

Python Developer at Netguru
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