What the Software Industry Can Teach Everyone Else About Curbing Failure and Delivering Value 

IndustryNot to be blunt, but this project you’re working on, it is likely to fail. I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s probably not going to turn out. It is beyond debate I’m afraid; business projects are prone to failure – particularly large and complex projects. There is some irony in that, no? The more you hope to achieve, the more likely you are to be unsuccessful. Cost related to failed projects on the national GDP and our collective productivity is massive. This cost doesn’t even include the careers detoured or jobs lost on the fiery embers of failed projects.

Again, excuse my frankness on this matter, but us IT/software/tech folks at this point are pretty well versed in the statistics. We know first-hand how big, expensive projects can fail. You’ve probably seen it; our reliance on technology in every aspect of our lives brings these IT failures to the forefront. But it is inaccurate to believe that failed projects are limited to technology. This dilemma is cross-cutting and affects your business just as much as it affects Uber, Facebook, and Youtube. Just to air everyone’s laundry without prejudice, here is a list of infamous non-software project failures:

  • The French Panama Canal where the French attempted to construct a canal in Panama under the impression it would be easier than it was to complete the Suez Canal. The effort failed, and it cost $287 million. Two hundred and eighty-seven million dollars in the 1800s! Also, sadly more than 20,000 people died during the effort.
  • Marble Hill Nuclear Power Plant in Indiana was abandoned unfinished in 1984 after spending $2.5 billion on the project.
  • The Berlin Brandenburg Airport took 15 years to plan, began construction in 2006 and was initially expected to open on Oct 30, 2011. Now, seven and a half years later, the new scheduled opening is in 2020, and the current cost of the project is close to 50% above the approved budget of 5.4 billion euros.
  • The Rio de Janeiro Olympics which were plagued by inhospitable living conditions, inadequate gaming facilities, political and social unrest, and a threat of a Zika outbreak.

This is just a short list of failed projects. The actual list, of course, is too long to enter here. You don’t want to end up on this list! But, alas, it is true that fewer than a third of all business projects are completed on time and on budget. And the failure rate of projects with budgets over 1 million dollars is 50 percent higher than the failure rate of projects below $350,000.

Have you been part of a project that either was not completed at all, went dramatically over budget, or finished with a product that no one wanted? It’s a terrible and disheartening position to find yourself.  Why does this happen? How do we fix it? Well, the technology industry has been working to address the issue by looking at the processes we use to complete projects.

Your Process Is Failing You

In software, Waterfall has been the dominant product development practice for the past half-centur