What are the Signs that Your Software Project is Failing?

Jeffery Thompson
Leading the Charge in Custom Software Solutions as Founder/CEO of BIT Studios
Software DevelopmentStartups
11 min read
Published: Apr 15, 2019
Updated: Apr 14, 2023
Software Project Failure

The problem with software failure is that it sneaks up on you when you least expect it. You may have spent all your time and budget on a software project that has no real value for the customers. Or, maybe you failed to meet quality requirements and made something that is just not good enough. To help you spot these issues early on, we’ve come up with this guide. Find out how to recognize failure and how to complete failing projects on time.

Even if you feel like you have everything under control, there is a chance that your software project is failing. Many software projects fail due to a lack of organizational structure, budget overruns, and simply bad quality. You would be aware of those issues, wouldn’t you?

What happens when everything seems alright, when things are looking up, but your project doesn’t have a specific goal? We’ll tell you what will happen – it will fail.

So what are the most common signs of project failures?

  • When the business goals aren’t met
  • When project requirements aren’t met
  • When your project teams are way over the set budget and deadlines

For software projects, it’s crucial to spot these issues as early as possible:

  • There are no real benefits and if there are any they are not sustainable
  • The required quality of the project has not been met

The tricky thing about these problems is that your project will look like a project success, but deep inside it will be falling apart like a house of cards.

The Most Common Signs of Project Failures

Usually when an IT project is about to fail management isn’t aware of that before it becomes apparent. At this point, the project may hardly be returned on track. Warning signals can be different depending on what causes the software project failure. That’s why we are giving you a list of the most common signs of failure, so you can spot them before it’s too late.

#1 Business Value is Vague

According to Project management institute, delivering business value is the critical aspect of any project. Business value is an informal term that represents tangible or intangible assets earned by the enterprise with the product. The value can be monetary, non-monetary or both, and project progress should always be measured against it. Think of them as benefits.

When the project is not going towards the business goal (or nobody is trying to measure that) that means that the value is either not achievable or not understood by the team. If you start noticing that your team doesn’t believe in values, or they are not that obvious, it’s better to stop and regroup right away.

#2 The Lack of a Specific Goal

It’s not enough to merely establish a business goal. You also need to have a plan on how to get there. The project plan isn’t just a list of features with some details. It should have an execution plan and a specific goal you have to meet, along with deadlines, budget plans, and deliverables.

All participants should work to achieve one specific goal and implement a strategy to meet the goal. If you see that your project lacks a particular goal, recognized by all participants, you’re risking to fail.

#3 Lack of Demos

Without any demos and reviews, it’s impossible to find out about technical issues before a project is completed. Bear in mind that the cost of rework is the highest at the end of the project. So, it’s crucial to have demos to have the projects successfully completed. This way the person who reports about the project will have objective insights about the project development and have a chance to start digging and see what’s wrong.

#4 Heroic Overnight Work

Urgent overnight work is a significant sign of project development failure. Sometimes urgent work is needed when developers need to catch up with deadlines, so then their efforts are required and justified. However, when your project depends on overwork, the odds are that software development projects fail.

#5 Lack of Progress and Interest

When the project is failing, you can sense a certain feeling of apathy and despair in the team. The most common causes that lead to project breakdown are lack of empowerment, trust, and support. Also, your project team might fail due to poor communication. When you start noticing that the team isn’t attending meetings and trying to be as silent as possible you should stop, regroup and create a strategy to fight the lack of communication.

#6 Excessive Team Turnover

Losing a team member is rarely beneficial for the project, but when it is a carousel of people who go in and out, that means that something is very wrong. When people start feeling like they don’t want to work there anymore, the reasons may be psychological, but that feeling can also arise from the lack of a standard business goal.

After you accept that issues exist and that invested money is at least partially the sunk cost you can either drop the project or require additional funding. Now, before you do that make sure that you understand what causes software development failure and learn how to avoid it.

Why are you Experiencing Software Project Failures?

Quite often the difference between successful and failed projects lies in spotting the failure symptoms early on. Warning signs are different, and they can come from the development team or the stakeholders. Sometimes they come from both and create a snowball effect if you don’t catch them on time.

#1 Business Benefits are Only Assumptions

Does your project have the following:

  • The project is based on researched market needs or stakeholders needs (in case of the corporate project).
  • Research is documented, and it has clear objectives on how the product will be used.
  • Business benefits are shared with the development team and everyone understands them.
  • The project is regularly measured against business goals.

Passed? No? Join the club! Immediately stop wasting money and research your business goals. It’s crucial to know that someone’s vision rarely serves as a proof of concept. If a business goal is established authoritatively, that means that someone is going to waste a lot of effort for nothing.

#2 Project Completion is Nowhere in Sight

Check out the statements below:

  • The project was focused on minimal viable functionality and checked for features that satisfy business goals.
  • Short term goals and reviews were established and rarely skipped.

If any of the two is missing from your project – that is a sign of potential failure. It is not as severe as having no business goal, but it may drain funding without any return on investment. If you start noticing that there are any results and that your development team is reluctant to show you their product, then it’s a clear sign that what you requested and what was done are entirely different.

There are additional signs that you must be careful about. Your project should have the following:

  • All changes to initial scope and requirements were adequately processed and estimated, including changes to documentation and architecture (if necessary).
  • The number of changes was limited
  • The project was staffed with all necessary resources without a massive turnover

Some chaotic changes are normal, but major and minor changes should be differentiated:

  • A major change is a new requirement or expansion of an existing business requirement, which requires several days or weeks to implement, and a significant amount of additional funding.
  • A minor change is a clarification of initial requirements which takes only a few hours to implement and a bit of additional investment.

Minor changes rarely cause project breakdown, but major changes, especially those developed without proper change management, in the end, will inevitably require huge refactoring of so-called code standards and architecture. With them, it becomes more expensive to continue the project than start a new one from the beginning.

#3 Development Becomes Slower and Slower

Software development never has a constant speed. The speed depends on the complexity and team velocity. If you see that your team is struggling to deliver new functionality or that it can’t be completed within the time frame, you have a clear sign of project failures.

To increase the success rate, you must meet the following criteria:

  • The development process requirements and expectations were clearly described and accepted by the entire team
  • Peers and supervisors regularly review the code
  • Test automation is deployed

Also, there is one more reason why you might be having issues with deadlines – your team could be discouraged. Unfortunately, this is not easy to spot, so make sure to work on your internal communication and have regular meetings to motivate your team.

#4 Not Following the Process

Following a strict process doesn’t guarantee that a software development project will go smoothly. No matter how well the project is described and planned, there will always be some uncertainty. Therefore, your process has to be flexible enough to allow for things to happen. This way you can adjust the process accordingly.

A project manager or a scrum master will set up the process and expectations at the beginning of the process and control it throughout the software life cycle. Define this at the beginning, because if you wait too long, your team might already start feeling discouraged. Then the project managers will have to achieve the impossible – bring order into chaos.

No matter how much they try, 68% of all IT projects fail. If you wish to end in that other 32%, you need to choose a reliable partner that will help you avoid obstacles and help you overcome challenges.

So, is your software project failing? We hope not! Try to catch the signs of failure early on, and don’t let the software projects drain your money and your energy. If you need more help, contact us for a free consultation, and we will help you stay on the right track.


What makes a project failure?

The reasons why a software project fails, it is usually because of one or more of these: unrealistic expectations, inadequate planning, poor execution, or changing requirements.

Unrealistic expectations are often to blame for a failing project. If the goals are too ambitious, or if the timeline is too tight, the project is likely to lead to troubled projects.

Inadequate planning can also lead to failure. If the project team does not have a clear plan to achieve the project’s goals, the project is likely to run into trouble.

Poor execution is another common reason for a project’s failure. If the team is not able to execute the plan effectively, the project will suffer.

Changing requirements can also be a reason for a project’s failure.

How do you fix a failing project?

When a project starts to fail, it can be difficult to know how to fix the problem. The first step is to identify what is causing the project to fail. Is the process incredibly vague? Do you lack management support? Once you know what the problem is, you can start to look for solutions.

If the process is too vague, try to find ways to make it more specific. This may involve talking to your team manager and other team members. If you lack or have poor management support, try reaching out to them and explain why you need their help. All it takes is a little bit of communication to get things back on track.

What are the causes of poor software quality?

There are many potential causes of poor software quality, but some of the most common include issues with the internal code itself, inadequate planning documents, and insufficient testing before product launch.

If you did not do proper testing, it could cause half a dozen problems or maybe more for your team and may lead to project failures.

Originally published April 15, 2019, updated April 14, 2023

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