7 big reasons why tech projects still fail

According to a report published last year by the Project Management Institute, 14% of software projects fail outright, 31% never meet their goals, 43% go beyond their budget, and 49% fail to meet deadlines.

In today’s competitive digital landscape, traditional metrics of time, cost, and scope aren’t sufficient to predict or evaluate a project’s success.

Modern development processes like Agile, Kanban, Scrum, and Lean look to shorten development cycles and get working software in front of users as quickly and frequently as possible. Doing so promises to reduce project delivery risk, and ensure success.

With that said, adopting one of these methodologies isn’t a sure way to achieve your project’s goals. When a project fails, it’s not only bad for business KPIs, but also bad for employee morale and retention.

The 7 big reasons for failure

Let’s take a look at 7 reasons why tech projects continue to fail, as well as some prevention strategies.

  1. Requirements are decided in silos. In large organizations, the team doing the business case or scoping usually isn’t the same team doing the delivery. That, or business stakeholders move forward with requirements without getting input from their peers in product, design, engineering, or marketing/sales. Without early input from all areas, it’s likely that scoping will be inaccurate or incomplete, setting your project up for failure before it even gets off the ground. Additionally, project scoping often doesn’t factor in buffer time, changes in prioritization, or firefighting… About the latter, even the best scoped projects end up with fires in need of putting out.

  2. Not solving a real user need. Not solving a real user need. Imagine your team spends 12 months evaluating a new product idea, crafting a business case, and then building the product. Everyone is excited for the product launch, but when you finally go live and—crickets—no one is using what you built. What’s more, you don’t understand why or where to even begin looking for answers. Even the best ideas need to be validated by real users, and the earlier the better. Excluding your potential users from the delivery process is likely to result in project failure.

  3. Failure to revisit estimates. It’s important to remember that estimates are just that: a best guess of the time it takes to complete a task. Initial project estimates are typically inaccurate, because there are too many unknowns or open decisions. Inevitably, some tasks will take more time than anticipated, others will take less, and some may even be dropped or added. Project teams that don’t continuously refine their estimates as the project progresses are likely to fail.

  4. Shifting focus. One of the benefits of the Agile approach is that teams deliver working code in short iterations. This means that if you get off track or if new information comes available, you can course correct quickly and without too much waste. However, shifting focus too frequently or too severely can also be a project team’s downfall. It’s the job of the product manager or team lead to push back on new requests and assess them against the overall project goals and timelines.

  5. Scope creep. Scope creep is one of the most common causes for project failure. As a project progresses, especially if the topic gains popularity internally, stakeholders will start appearing with new requests. These requests are often positioned as ‘just a small addition’ or ‘just this one thing’, but these can add up and derail your project timelines. Scope creep is a slippery slope, and once a project lead says ‘yes’ to one small request, it then becomes harder to say ‘no’ when more come through. Suddenly, the project team may have 10 extra requests, and no chance of hitting the deadline.

  6. Unexpected twists. Projects usually kick off with some portion of information that is clearly known and understood, and some portion that is unknown. Inevitably, new unknowns or unforeseen challenges crop up as delivery progresses. The most successful projects plan for unknowns and unforeseen challenges upfront by adding a risk or contingency buffer to the project timeline. Projects that do not plan to accommodate unexpected twists and turns will be forced off track—sometimes permanently. Examples of unexpected twists include: a competitor launching just ahead of your go-live date, unexpected legal challenges or compliance violations, or sudden technology constraints or complexities.

  7. Missing expertise. Some projects require very specific expertise, but not all companies or teams have every specialization in-house. Bringing on new team members is costly and often not possible with pre-planned time frames. Sometimes organizations try to cover skill gaps by cross-training or helping existing staff pivot into new roles. This approach can be effective, but can also introduce project risk. Complementing in-house team members with highly specialized remote freelancers is one way to prevent your project from failing due to missing expertise.

How to avoid failure

With so many challenges, how can organizations de-risk project delivery and end up with a ‘win’ instead? We recommend two strategies: agile delivery and supplementing internal resources with remote freelancers.

Agile Delivery

In recent years, agile has gotten a lot of attention—and a lot of backlash. Companies often see agile as a ‘silver bullet’ and a surefire way to get more for less. Unfortunately, many of these companies aren’t seeing the success that agile brings because they haven’t implemented it correctly or fully within their organizations.

Agile coaches and digital transformation experts can help support your team as you transition from traditional ways of working to agile. Continue reading to learn more about how agile, when done ‘right’, can prevent project failure.

At its core, Agile requires three things to be successful:

  1. Collaboration between technical and non-technical business areas
  2. Delivery of working code to customers quickly and frequently
  3. Ability to respond to change

Let’s take a closer look at how agile mitigates delivery risks and solves some of the problems outlined above.

1.Requirements are decided in silos collaboratively. Agile requires collaboration within the delivery team, as well as across the organization. This means that for agile to ‘work’, diverse stakeholders need to be included from the first ideation sessions through to go-live and growth. Practically, this means that your project kickoff should include representatives from sales, marketing, product, engineering, and design, and these stakeholders should continue to be engaged throughout delivery. Keeping these different disciplines close to your project will definitely pay off, ensuring that your solution was properly considered from all points of view. Plus, this approach is more likely to result in the development of a product or feature that can be marketed and sold to real users.

2.Not solving Solve a real user need. Agile delivery means that your product gets constructed and released in little building blocks. When you have a critical mass of blocks, you can bring your first version live, then your second version, third, and so on. This means that you are able to collect user feedback early in your project’s timeline, and continue to collect feedback as your project progresses. Rather than getting to the end of a 9 month project and discovering that no one wants your product, your product isn’t usable, or your product isn’t at the right price point, frequent releases to real users ensures that you can pivot and get back on track easily.

4.Shifting focus, 5. Scope creep, and 6. Unexpected twists can be managed. This one sounds too good to be true, right? One of the benefits (and challenges) of agile, is that the project lead needs to be in the habit of continuously prioritizing. The combination of continuous prioritization and frequent iteration cycles allows the project team to pivot, take on new feature requests, and respond to new issues as they arise. For example, as a new request comes through, the project lead can evaluate it against the other priorities in the backlog and decide if and when to fit it in with the delivery timeline. The same can be done for new learnings from user testing, additional market research, new feature ideas, and implementation challenges not foreseen at kickoff.

Embrace the Future of Work: Work with remote freelancers

The Future of Work is here to support your team when you’re lacking specific expertise or when your internal specialists are already over capacity. Hiring remote workers to execute your projects or supplement your in-house team can help you achieve your goals and keep your competitive edge in the market.

Remote work is a growing trend in the software and other digital industries, and here’s why:

  • Remote workers have been proven to outperform in-house workers.
  • Diverse teams promote innovative and out-of-the-box thinking, which leads to more successful products.
  • You can hire the best and the brightest, without being constrained by your geography.
  • Depending on where your freelancers are located, you can maximize efficiency by covering a broader range of working hours.
  • Hiring remote freelancers means you can onboard them for the project and offboard them when the work has been completed.
  • Remote freelancers are used to hustling and continuously improving their craft. This means that they bring the most current knowledge, ways of working, tools, and frameworks to the table, and your internal team is sure to benefit.

Interested in exploring your options with remote freelancers? CodeControl is here to help. We work with Europe’s top developers, designers and product managers to expertly execute projects for our clients. Whether you want to hire Ruby developers for backend development of functional web applications or are planning to hire Swift developers to develop iOS applications, we will match you with the best candidates highly experienced in the role you need to fill. Our model is tailored to your needs: we’re equally equipped to manage your project start-to-finish or to match you with the perfect dedicated resource for your existing team.

Ready to embrace the future of work? Send a note to hello@codecontrol.io — we can’t wait to hear from you!

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About the author

CodeControl works with top-notch freelancers, provides them with services to make their professional life easier, and matches them with compelling projects for companies who need their services.