RESEARCH shows that most software projects fail because they are either over budget, take much more time than planned, do not deliver expected business value or are cancelled for a variety of reasons.

It is true that software is inherently intangible in nature, so clients struggle to keep track of progress and vendors find it hard to show concrete results, especially since the business value delivered to the client is not visible until the implementation is complete.

Taking these factors into account, it is even more important to understand the dynamics of these projects.

There are several common reasons why such projects fail:


Poor project management

It should be self-evident that projects are run by project managers. This is, in fact, not always the case: Some projects have no project manager and some are run by consultants or others with no formal training in this discipline.

For a project to be successful, it is imperative that it has someone in charge with expertise in planning, tracking, problem-solving and status reporting. In addition, the project manager must be familiar with issue, risk, resource, procurement, quality, time and cost management.

Understanding and monitoring closely the financials of a project are necessary to ensure a healthy profit margin. A tall order indeed. But that underlines the requirement for a professional project manager with adequate training and experience.


Unclear scope, uncontrolled change

Projects are planned based on certain assumptions. The work effort and duration depend primarily on what functionality is to be delivered. Failure to define the deliverables to be produced in sufficient detail leads to disagreements with the client regarding the interpretation of the project scope.

Inevitably, a series of change requests are made by clients which, if accepted without due process, can make a mockery of the original estimates of work effort and render the project plan useless.

A strong project manager can ameliorate this negative impact by ensuring that amendments to the contracted delivery are duly recorded and costed, with suitable adjustments made to the time schedule. Of course, it is better to have created more robust specifications in the first place.


Lack of user involvement

Ultimately, all software implementation projects are meant to deliver business value to users. But often these projects are managed by the information technology (IT) team and suffer from insufficient interaction with the major stakeholders of the system.

It is imperative to involve the users to ensure that the system is set up and configured to facilitate required tasks. If users do not support the new system and “buy in” to the new processes, the project is unlikely to succeed.

In addition, given the complexity of modern software, ongoing involvement over the duration of the implementation is the only way to build an internal centre of excellence to support client operations independently of the vendor.


Lack of management support

A project needs a sponsor to champion its cause and solve issues that cannot be handled at the project manager level. Major decisions are often required to move the project along and delays in action from senior management can cause irreversible overruns of time and budget.

Putting in a new system is often a major disruption and requires concerted steps to handle change throughout the organisation. Clear change processes and overt commitment from senior managers are required to motivate staff to change attitudes and working patterns to ensure project success.


Poor software quality

By its very nature, packaged software is complex, with millions of lines of code. This makes the discovery of “bugs” or malfunctioning functions when the software is used, almost a certainty.

Unfortunately, there are virtually limitless permutations and combinations possible in most large systems, so it is not possible to test every path through the software.

Having said that, software still needs to undergo a rigorous quality assurance process, with a robust set of data used to test common business flows. The poorer the quality of the software, the longer it takes to analyse and resolve issues, negatively impacting project timelines.

Conversely, key success factors in software implementation projects are:

•  Effective project management;

•  Clarity of scope and controlled changes;

•  Active user involvement;

•  Strong support from management; and

•  Robust software quality.


Article by Shabnam Suri, an accredited project manager who has more than two decades of experience in the information technology industry and specialises in operations as well as project management methodologies and practice. For more information, e-mail