How to Save a Failing Software Project

How to Save a Failing Software Project

Everyone wants their software project to succeed and make a lot of money.

But research shows that many software dev projects go south. If that happens, decisive action must be taken to salvage things.

If you are an entrepreneur, project manager, or software professional, are you involved in a failing software project?

Then we can help you with the tips here.

How Many Software Projects Fail?

Projects Deemed Failures

A recent report from PMI found there is a 14% failure rate for all software dev projects.

Even if we don’t count all the failed projects, about 30% don’t reach the project’s objectives, and 43% of software projects have significant cost overruns.

What are some common reasons for software project failures?

  • Insufficient software requirements
  • Changing objectives for project
  • Dependency issues
  • Improper use of technology that could have improved project dev process
  • Unknown risks
  • Too little staff
  • Unprofessional project manager

If you want to save your failing project, there’s hope yet! The best proven ways to save a failing project are:

Call It What It Is

It is what it is.

It’s important from the moment there is a major problem to recognize the project is failing. First, you need to confront this face and accept it. Next, your team should diagnose what’s happening and why. Psychology experts call this problem framing.

It’s not enough to admit and diagnose there is a problem leading to project failure. Now you need to define what the problem is so the problem is well structured, which eases the process to solve it.

Many software project problems lack structure, which makes them harder to solve.

If you don’t know exactly what the problem is, how will you ever fix it?

You may not have enough information about the issue. But you also may think that a piece of data matters more than it does to fix the issue. Rather than jumping to conclusions, you should assess the matter as accurately as you can.

Once you know there is a problem, you should spend enough resources to define it.

Saving a software project can feel impossible if you are obsessed with the end result. That is how it is if you focus too much on losing 100 pounds – it’s much easier if you just count a pound at a time.

Find Out Why Project Is Behind Schedule

Let’s face it, many software projects fall behind schedule; that’s easy to see. But why does it happen?

Some reasons that projects fall behind are as follows. Once you understand what made this happen, you can work to prevent it:

  • Tasks may not have been correctly prioritized
  • Project schedule may have been too ambitious
  • The wrong people made vital project decisions
  • Risks were reported and addressed incorrectly
  • The project manager didn’t report often enough about project progress
  • There wasn’t an audit trail for change requests and decisions
  • The budget wasn’t large enough

You should sit down with your entire project executive team to determine how the project is behind and then you can fix it.

Rebuild The Project Team

Rebuild The Project Team

It’s possible that some team members’ skills don’t work well on the project. That may be the case even if some members may have fulfilled their goals on other projects. Perhaps the project methodology isn’t generating the desired results. Or perhaps their programming skills need improving. Or they don’t have the leadership chops to bring the project to a successful end.

Sometimes, restructuring the project team may be needed. But it’s a big undertaking so take your time.

You don’t always have to fire employees, but it does mean it’s time to alter the project team’s cast.

Rebuilding the team can mean a lot of things, such as bringing in new members, changing up the task assignments, or changing the project manager.

Improve Project Scope

Improve Project Scope

Having a clear, defined scope is a big part of a successful project. If the project is failing, you should better understand every part of the contract or SOW and stick to it. You should not try to gussy up the project deliverables to make it look better than it is.

If the project gets out of scope and won’t contribute to long-term success, this needs to be communicated to the executive team or the client.

You can expect scope challenges during every part of your project. The key to saving a failing project is to detail scope changes as clearly and early as you can with project members.

Keep building trust from the beginning of the software project to reduce anxiety and increase the chances of success. You shouldn’t delay any bad news even if it looks like the project is at risk, because it will only get worse.


There are projects where you must know when it’s time to pull the plug and bring in a third party. Outsourcing has turned around many failing projects.

It’s fine to accept that a project team doesn’t have the skills or experience to complete the job. Even the best software dev team can run into a project they cannot handle. Then, you should get a contractor to finish the job.

One way is to have your in-house and contractor team working side by side. Or, you can send the whole project to the third party.

If you decide to outsource, be sure the new people have a lot of time to interview everyone and understand what was completed. This is the transitional period, and whether the project succeeds or fails may come down to this.

You cannot guarantee that every project will succeed. And you also can’t ensure you will save a failing project. But these are common sense ways to improve your odds of success during the whole lifecyle.

If you define what success means as early as you can, hire the right people, and build trust and stick to the scope, you can make the project succeed.

Ryan is the VP of Operations for He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations--delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.
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Ryan Nead