MT Expert: IT - Steer clear of software pitfalls

Software projects that go wrong can be costly and time-consuming. Here's how to stay on track.

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Last Updated: 21 Jan 2011
Recent coverage of the build up to the Commonwealth Games is a reminder of the impact that a badly managed project can have on its participants and stakeholders. Issues such as poor planning, miscommunication and dissatisfied customers combined with the costs of putting things right can brand the project a failure.   

Software projects are no different. They are resource intensive, complex and they often go wrong. And their reputation for being expensive and risky is enough to strike fear into any boardroom. The reasons for these ‘failures’ are both perceived and tangible, yet often avoidable.  

MSM’s own research shows that the most common management issue during software projects is the unrealistic expectation for the finished system . Far too often organisations fail to construct a brief which effectively communicates what they want or need.  And this is not unexpected. Whether it is the result of a client’s naivety, or a lack of investigation during the analysis phase by the supplier; a project is considered a failure if it does not meet expectations; the situation which the Commonwealth Games now finds itself in.

In today’s harsh economic climate it can often be tempting to let price be the guiding factor. However the primary issues faced in a software project can often be the result of choosing price over value, which can lead to greater costs in the long run.

A software project does not end after implementation and most will require at least an element of ongoing support. So the decision to work with a supplier without checking its financial credentials is a risky one. If the supplier goes out of business, or no longer has the resources to provide support, the client is faced with a tough choice: find a specialist supplier who can support the application, or replace the software altogether. Both are inconvenient and potentially costly.

Outsourcing the project can bring significant benefits. But for these to become tangible, businesses need to work with the software providers to set realistic expectations for what will inevitably be a long-term relationship.  

So, while very few software projects are completed without a hitch, there are measures that businesses can take to minimise the risks.


Avoiding the pitfalls – a check list

•    When selecting an external supplier, try and meet them face to face.  They will be working as an extension of your team. Consider whether they are the right ‘fit’ for you and ask about continuity - if your main contact leaves the company, what’s their back up plan?

•    Prepare for every eventuality.  There are likely to be technical issues during the project; knock-on effects with other systems, difficulty extracting data from legacy applications etc. Agree how these will be handled at the outset and whether costs are fixed or time will be charged as extra.

•    Even if the project is thought to be a one-off, consideration still needs to be given to the longer term relationship with the developer; their support for the software they are building may still be required further down the line. Check out their financial credentials to check they’re a stable company.

•    Let value be the guiding factor. Do not assume that the only differential on a quote is price; look at what value the supplier can provide to you. The lowest price option may turn out to be the most costly.

•    Agree at the outset who will own the code of the developed software; failure to establish issues such as this from the beginning could lead to big headaches in the future.


Thomas Coles, managing director, MSM Software

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