Five indicators of a failing project (and what you can do)

Having custom software built can deliver numerous advantages to organisations trying to solve a specific business problem; making processes more efficient, increasing customer satisfaction and even opening up new revenue streams.

However, if these kinds of projects are not planned and managed correctly they can start to spiral out of control, resulting in increased costs, a slower time to market and more defects all of which can have a serious impact on Return on Investment.

Unfortunately, examples of digital projects failing to deliver against expectations are commonplace. Statistics show it’s not just big businesses who suffer either, with studies revealing that just nine per cent of organisations rate themselves as excellent at successfully executing initiatives to deliver strategic results and only 56 per cent of strategic initiatives meet their original goals and business intent.

According to McKinsey & Company 17 per cent of large IT projects go so badly they can threaten the very existence of the company. It’s vital for organisations to identify if a project is heading for rough waters and spotting these signs early on enables action to be taken before major issues arise. Here are some of the important signs to watch out for and what to do if they are recognised.

1. No-one is communicating

In the early stages and throughout a project, a lack of communication can make it difficult to create a shared vision of aims and objectives. This will lead to stakeholders not fully understanding the value the project will deliver and therefore not buying into it as fully as they might have.

Communication should be a priority. Team members must be provided with regular opportunities to deliver updates and also raise any concerns; if this is not currently happening then it could cause major problems.

2. There’s little infrastructure or process

One of the benefits of a shared understanding of a project’s vision is it facilitates the creation of a unified and optimised technical infrastructure that effectively underpins all development.

Not outlining this infrastructure upfront could lead to disparate and even conflicting technologies, platforms and environments being employed, potentially increasing the complexity of any required integrations and forcing teams to learn multiple tools and skills unnecessarily.

Tools on their own can’t deliver value and can even hinder project progress and quality if used incorrectly, making it vitally important to also have the right people and operational procedures in place.

3. The project keeps expanding...

An expanding project may lead to development going vastly over budget, and can continue to cost, even past the go-live date. A noticeable sign of this issue is ‘scope creep’, where requirements are constantly added to the initial specification without the project’s budget, timescales or functionality being updated accordingly.

Not having KPIs in place that confirm the project meets its objectives can lead to expectations not being set and managed effectively.

As IT Today succinctly concludes: “projects with undefined success criteria by definition cannot succeed”, so be aware if your project lacks this critical information.

4. ...or your project is never-ending

A project expanding in size can also increase timescales, and when unclear requirements and poorly-defined success criteria compound this problem the project may always seem ‘90 per cent complete’.

One cause for this could be inefficiencies in the project process - something that can be alleviated by the appointment of an executive who acts as a project advocate within senior management.

Aside from this, a key reason why a project may be taking longer than anticipated, is that it was too big to start with, illustrated by the fact that large projects are reportedly ten times more likely to fail outright than smaller ones.

5. Finding issues

Another critical measure of a successful project is the quality of any outputs. Finding issues when integrating legacy systems for example, may indicate that they weren’t factored into initial plans and may negatively affect the stability, performance and extensibility of the finished solution.

If the issues are spotted early, organisations can review the specification documents and rectify the project’s direction to ensure it meets the true requirements. With a fragmented process, companies can also find that on-going work causes issues in deliverables that have already been signed off and leads to live software breaking.

Having good levels of communication and working with a third party are great ways to prevent problems occurring in the first place. The team can also increase success by employing an Agile project management approach that enables the team to gather stakeholder and user feedback on the product from the very beginning. This will make it easier to spot when the project might be going off course and as such both reduce the likelihood of it becoming unmanageable as well as minimise the risk of wasting investment on the wrong tasks.

Ensuring each project is focused on the most valuable opportunities is vital, and Agile can help here too. With its iterative approach, it enables a backlog of tasks to be continually reassessed and reprioritised in response to feedback, as well as changing market and business conditions.

Planning and preparation are key to any successful project, particularly a digital project. Combining new and old forms of communication and software means deadlines can be met and a successful project can be achieved.

Digital transformation is taking place in all aspects of business. Ultimately, being aware of how to manage projects digitally, will increase investments and improve overall user experiences.

Andy Franks, business director at Box UK