How to Rescue a Software Project

5 January 2021 by Robert Louw

Almost half software projects fail by either not being on time (49%) or on budget (43%), according to the 9th Global Project Management Survey.

The problem is not technical. If it were a technical problem it would have been solved by now with new knowledge taught in technical courses. Detailed analysis and intricate planning would then prevent delays and cost overruns, but it does not.

The problem is in applying management principles to technology. Managerial principles are much older than technical knowledge, but they are applied in a different way. Applying such principles well does not depend on detailed planning: rather, success requires testing people, trying things and anticipating patterns.

In other words, if there is a detailed technological roadmap, management should anticipate when a project is going off course and should take corrective action.

Foundational principles of keeping a project on track

There are three foundational principles that can be applied tactically to make sure software projects succeed:

  1. Forecasting: as with burn-down charts, planning poker, technology readiness levels, s-curves of performance improvement, adoption curves, etc.
  2. Prioritisation: as in minimum viable products, the Eisenhower matrix, burn-down lists, the Hedgehog Concept, etc.
  3. Communication: as through customer interviews, the Team Alignment App (see below), one-on-one staff meetings, etc

The team alignment map

Recently, academics distilled the challenge onto one page. The new research by Strategyzer brings together many of above principles in a new framework called the team alignment map. Essentially, it is a single page that covers prioritising objectives and resource allocation, communicating explicit commitments, and forecasting what are the risks for whom.

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Innovation capabilities and disabilities

A more advanced principle is that what a company can do constrains what cannot do. Professor Clayton Christensen taught that a firm's resources, processes and profit formula (RPPs) creates forces in the organisation that gives it momentum in a specific direction. Understanding the forces of RPPs are key to anticipating a project's outcome.


How to rescue a software project?

Ironically, the information shared here is of little value if it is written into the project plan. The project managers have to consolidate the information into how they work, such that they can apply the new principles without neglecting others. Successful projects require practise at spotting patterns and applying principles.

Contact the racVert team if you have a project that may be going off course and need some help to make sure it succeeds.