Why the Software Development Industry is Different - Part 1 of 3

by John Bridges - Apr 26, 2013

An industry where failed and challenged projects are the norm?


Software development is a hit or miss project. Ever wonder why?

© Neuron Global

According to a 2009 Standish Group Report, 68% of software projects were either not completed on time and budget, or failed all together. If that statistic wasn’t surprising enough on its own, what is even more shocking is that with all the improved processes, increased knowledge and new technologies produced over the last 20 years, the industry’s success rate hasn’t improved all that much. In fact, in some ways it has gotten worse over the last 10 years. Let’s look at the numbers:

Standish Findings By Year Updated for  2009

 

1994

1996

1998

2000

2002

2004

2009

 

Succeeded

16%

27%

26%

28%

34%

29%

32%

 

Failed

31%

40%

28%

23%

15%

18%

24%

 

Challenged

53%

33%

46%

49%

51%

53%

44%

 


What in the world could be the reason for these disappointing numbers? According to the same report, IT managers surveyed attributed the following reasons for challenge/failure:

 

Project Challenge Factors % of Responses
Lack of User Input 12.8%
Incomplete Requirements & Specifications 12.3%
Changing Requirements & Specifications 11.8%
Lack of Executive Support 7.5%
Technology Incompetence 7.0%
Lack of Resources 6.4%
Unrealistic Expectations 5.9%
Unclear Objectives  5.3%
Unrealistic Time Frames 4.3%
New Technology 3.7%
Other 23.0%

Source: Standish Group Report 2009


A separate source, the IEEE article Why Software Fails, cites many of the same reasons why software projectsface significant obstacles. The most frequently identified reasons are: 

  • Unrealistic or unarticulated project goals
     
  • Inaccurate estimates of needed resources
     
  • Badly defined system requirements
     
  • Poor reporting of the project's status
     
  • Unmanaged risks
     
  • Poor communication among customers, developers, and users
     
  • Use of immature technology
     
  • Inability to handle the project's complexity
     
  • Sloppy development practices
     
  • Poor project management
     
  • Stakeholder politics
     
  • Commercial pressures
     

Software Development Projects on target


Both lists compiled by these two respected organizations make sense. They seem logical. And if you asked an IT Manager, “What went wrong?” after a blundered project, we’re confident that they’d agree. But there IS something larger at work here. These micro details don’t answer the macro question –“Why do these poor success rates persist over decades? Why hasn’t anyone been able to figure out how to fix this?

It’s perplexing at first glance, but it will be strikingly obvious by the time you finish reading. Something else is going on here…something that evolves and changes faster than our ability to understand it.

Read part 2  here: "The Software Industry – Where Chaos Meets Technological Evolution"