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4 Reasons Why Software Development Projects Stall or Fail

Software development teams are managing many moving pieces to meet the needs of rapid development of modern applications. Here are 4 common pitfalls that cause software projects to stall or fail.

March 10, 2022
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Software development teams are managing many moving pieces to meet the needs of rapid development of modern applications. Here are 4 common pitfalls that cause software projects to stall or fail.
Reasons Why Software Development Projects Stall or Fail
Hyper-digitalization and digital transformation agendas are putting pressure on software development teams all around. And, the pressure is also on the project managers, functional consultants and business leaders driving the business initiatives forward.

Businesses expect to be digitally enabled, and fast, to stay competitive. Often, this results in cracks in software development projects that don’t quite deliver on that promise.

In this article, we look at 4 common reasons why software development projects stall or fail:

1. Unclear requirements

It’s a tale as old as time. The business wants to get something built, but are not exactly sure what or how. Or, they know what they need and simply expect development to figure out how to do it. There’s little to no discussion or documentation of the scope, expectations or parameters.

Unclear requirements lead to project delays from inaccurate effort estimation. Even on a good day, effort estimation is an ‘inexact science’. Software project estimation is typically a healthy mix of historical data, experience-based insight and formula-based guesstimates. 

Requirements gathering and analysis was actually the cornerstone of the waterfall methodology of software development. Business analysts, project managers and module leads would undertake a meticulous requirements gathering process. They would document them, review and revise them, and proof them to make sure everything was accurate. Then the requirements would be signed off and frozen, so that developers could proceed to designing and coding as per those exact frozen requirements. 

Of course, software is more fluid than that today. Waterfall has become outdated, and development teams now use more dynamic software development methodologies such as Agile, CI/CD and DevOps. Though these new methodologies result in the much-desired pace and scale of development, many teams end up placing less emphasis on requirements gathering and analysis. Requirements are generated or changed on the fly. Developers and testers have to be more alert and responsive to meet those demands. If done right, great software gets released faster. If not, it results in the all too tedious scope creep.

2. Scope creep

With the countless third-party integrations and touchpoints that today’s applications have, it can be easy to overlook coding and testing hours needed to manage those. These integrations are external dependencies. Developers and testers may not have access to the inner workings of those third parties. They will often have to figure it out as they go. Third party integrations that are not addressed at the beginning of the project are a common cause of scope creep.

A simple approach to factor into the scope to avoid scope creep is to think of the end user. Remember who you are building this application for. If the appropriate modality of user testing, whether user acceptance testing or end-to-end (E2E) testing, is not incorporated into your development lifecycle, it will inevitably lead to additional workload. It will be either your design or coding or testing that will suffer scope creep.

It's important to have an all-member kickoff meeting to align everyone from the get-go to avoid scope creep as much as possible. There is a lot that can’t be controlled in a project. Every team member needs to harness their expertise to raise concerns about scope definition and effort estimates.

Which brings us to communication and collaboration.

3. No culture of collaboration

Great software development requires a culture of collaboration. Every team member needs to be communicative – this can’t be stressed enough. No one member can build and release the software on their own. Naturally, clear communication is integral to the smooth development of software. If something is missed in communication, something is missed in the code. 

What does it mean to be truly collaborative? All team members - be they business analysts, project managers, developers or testers - need to have autonomy in their roles. They bring their own accountability to the project, without the need for someone else to hold them accountable. They need to have a sense of ownership over the project. They need to know how instrumental their role is. And they need to know that their team has their back too. These things are intangibles embedded into work culture. High performing teams see the tangible results of a collaborative culture. 

Management usually bears the brunt of the blame when things go wrong. But truthfully it is every stakeholder’s responsibility to make sure their role is resourced properly. If a developer or tester does not have the tools they need, they need to bring it to their project manager’s notice. If they do not have the freedom to express concerns when they arise, frustration builds on top of the errors that are bound to be overlooked in the wasteful management of those frustrations.

Of course, that’s not to let management off the hook. Top management and business leadership literally have the responsibility of making sure that all the moving pieces under their care are moving together smoothly. If there are gaps in the development process due to team friction, provisioning, resourcing, budgeting, software quality – it is a failure in project leadership.

Speaking of quality – 

4. Skimping on testing

The scale of rapid development of modern applications sometimes makes it hard to say where, when and how often testing should be done. In the waterfall model, testing had a methodical, sequential place in the lifecycle – typically towards the end, after development was completed. Now, we are testing continuously throughout the CI/CD pipeline. We are shifting testing leftward. Quality assurance (QA) has a stronger influence on user experience than ever before.

This rapid pace of development and delivery may tempt one to take educated guesses and look past the occasional round of testing. And when an oversight in testing leads to a broken customer journey and loss of business, who is responsible? Penny wise, pound foolish – skimping on testing is the bane of software project fails.

There is no doubt that testing every piece of software before release is crucial. Test automation helps with managing the scaling and continuous delivery needs of today. However, legacy test automation tools have given rise to an insidious problem that plagues software project timelines: test debt.

Most legacy test automation tools rely on test scripting, and test scripts are notoriously prone to breaking as applications change. The tools use selectors to recognize UI elements for each test step. A simple change in the UI can cause hundreds of automated tests to break. With more and more frequent releases, this problem becomes increasingly more severe.

Test debt graph - ongoing maintenance of automated tests
Figure 1 Test debt exceeds team capacity over time. Image source: Functionize

QA teams end up spending more time on test maintenance and less on creating tests. They lose sight of their core focus: ensuring that the software is bug-free and reliable. Developers need to choose between using their time for test analysis and maintenance or creating more automated tests while ignoring the results of broken tests. 

The vicious cycle of test debt can become a major roadblock steering the software development project off track and causing major delays.

Functionize helps mitigate these problems and more with AI-powered testing. No-code tests created facilitate collaboration by allowing anyone to contribute to building tests. This in turn increases automation coverage. Functionize speeds up test creation with Architect and simplifies test analysis with visual testing. And dynamic machine learning reduces test maintenance so that development teams can focus on building the fantastic products they were brought on to.

Book a demo today to find out more about how Functionize can help you avoid the common pitfalls of software development projects.