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6 Common Reasons Software Projects Take Longer Than Expected

It is true that one of the major problems with building web or mobile apps is software projects taking longer than planned.

What slows down a software project? In this article, we take an honest look at the common reasons why projects run over their initial time estimates. For each item, we offer suggestions on how, as a software product owner, you can help manage these issues and keep your project on track.

1. Software Planning: Insufficient Effort & Optimistic Estimates

It truly takes time and experience to make an accurate software plan. With software, you have hundreds of tasks and several resources to coordinate with overlapping dependencies. And unlike building a house, these tasks are largely intangible.

The truth is, not all clients want to spend 1-2 weeks planning at the very beginning of a project. They want to focus their dollars on pure development. This is completely fine, as long as everyone recognizes that the plan driving the project is a loose roadmap and nothing more.

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When you do take the time to make a solid plan, your team should have the experience to include all the non-development tasks, like environment set-up and test plan creation, that go into building great software. When your plan ignores a lot of small, necessary tasks, it is only reasonable that your project will take longer than planned.

Another common phenomenon in planning and estimating software project length is that software developers provide optimistic estimates. By this, I mean they think they can complete tasks in a smaller amount of time than is realistic. A good project manager will add a buffer to estimates, helping to account for unknowns along the way.

When reviewing a software project plan, ask your team about non-development tasks and if they are included. You can also ask them how accurately their developers estimate their work, and if collaboration, testing, and re-work are included in the estimates. This can help you develop a more accurate picture of the overall speed of software development.

2. Software Requirements: Changing, Missing, or Unclear

A project plan is based on requirements. It goes without saying that if you change your requirements or identify missing requirements during the project, the project scope will be impacted.

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One place that a project can lose momentum, however, is with unclear requirements. When there is ambiguity, a software developer will do one of two things: guess, possibly causing rework later, or ask for clarification.

In both cases, the project timeline could be impacted. By guessing, progress can continue, but there may be rework later in the project. If the developer stops to ask, the time spent to ask, clarify, and then wait for the answer also adds time. If there are enough unclear requirements, then you will start to see the project slip.

As you may notice after you review all of the reasons we’ve shared here, a proactive approach to planning can save significant time later on. During the requirements phase of your project, take the time to make sure your requirements are clear, detailed, and don’t leave room for ambiguity.

Consider a similar context: building a house. It is not sufficient to only say you want a door to the back porch. You need to define how big the door is, if it’s a single door or double door, if it will have windows and a cat flap, if it is made out of wood or metal, if it swings in or out.

3. Development Team: Losing Key Players

Software is a very transient industry, with developers often staying only 1-2 years at each company before moving on. It is not uncommon for a project that lasts 4-6 months to have one or more of its team members leave for another job at a different software development company.

Because a project team builds momentum over the course of a project, this loss can slow key software development processes. If you lose a key team member during the time, it may cause a project delay.

A new resource will need to be found. Otherwise, the same scope of work has to be split between the remaining resources. In either case, it may disrupt the energy of the team and their ability to produce at the same rate as before.

As a product owner, you can ask your software partner what their contingency plans are for staff changes during your project and how that affects estimating the time needed for completion. A software firm with a sizable team will be able to absorb the change fairly quickly. A smaller company may have partners they work with or may have known contractors in their network who can step in if necessary.

4. Business: Making Decisions and Providing Information

Wondering how to develop software faster when you’re not the one writing lines of code or managing the team?

One thing that is squarely in your control is getting the necessary information and decisions for your software delivery team, and doing so quickly.

At certain points in the project, your software team will need your input. They may require high-resolution graphics from your marketing team, API documentation from your internal IT team, or approval on a design. Sometimes, the developers on your team can work on other things while they are waiting for your response, and sometimes not.

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To keep your project on track, educate your internal stakeholders on the importance of being responsive and turning around requests quickly. This will speed up project delivery and save on project costs in the long run.

5. Technology: 3rd Party Integrations/Technology Challenges

We have all experienced a time when our technology didn’t act as we expected. The truth is, sometimes technology will cause unforeseen issues and will simply not work the way you want it to.

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In the case of custom software, you could run into issues if you are integrating with a 3rd party tool that is brand new or very old, or if you are using the technology in a way that it wasn’t originally intended. The tools or components you are using might be sensitive to your hardware or operating system versions. Or, it could be the weather… (probably not, but it can certainly feel that way at times!)

If a roadblock caused by technology happens on your project, there are a number of things your team will do to determine the issue and fix it. It’s frustrating, but all you can do is get through it.

With regards to the project, it is safe to say the issue investigation and experimenting with possible solutions will impact and likely extend your project timeline.

During the project planning phase, a good project manager will highlight uncertainty around any unknown technologies and apply a risk factor and buffer to the tasks. Even so, tried and tested technologies can unexpectedly cause issues.

This is a key reason why software projects can take longer than expected. In some situations, and especially without strong advance planning, there are no options beyond investing the additional time needed to resolve technology and integration challenges.

Ask your software team upfront if there are any risks with the technologies you are using or how you are using them. You should also inquire about what steps are being taken in the plan to address these known risks and avoid causing a schedule delay.

6. Software Reviews: Catching Issues Too Late

Frequent reviews and demos are a great way to stay on top of your project.

A good rule of thumb is to review the actual software being built every 2-3 weeks. This is enough time for your software team to make enough progress that you can see. That makes it worthwhile to review the project and see its current state.

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This window also limits the time between check-ins. If you review every 2-3 weeks, the project won’t get so far off track that lots of time may be lost re-working a bad assumption.

During the review, it is a good idea to keep your requirements handy so you can confirm the development is staying on target. If it’s not, now is the time to discuss and get it addressed.

Want More Information? 6 Items That Are Non-Negotiable When Building Software

Before you get started in developing your software app, discover what is non-negotiable in building a successful software application. In this guide, we share how to build your application on a solid foundation from nearly twenty years of our own personal experience.

You can grab a copy of the guide below and share it with your team!

software checklist

Thayer Tate

Chief Technology Officer

Thayer TateThayer is the Chief Technology Officer at SOLTECH, bringing over 20 years of experience in technology and consulting to his role. Throughout his career, Thayer has focused on successfully implementing and delivering projects of all sizes. He began his journey in the technology industry with renowned consulting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM, where he gained valuable insights into handling complex challenges faced by large enterprises and developed detailed implementation methodologies.

Thayer’s expertise expanded as he obtained his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and joined SOLTECH, an Atlanta-based technology firm specializing in custom software development, Technology Consulting and IT staffing. During his tenure at SOLTECH, Thayer honed his skills by managing the design and development of numerous projects, eventually assuming executive responsibility for leading the technical direction of SOLTECH’s software solutions.

As a thought leader and industry expert, Thayer writes articles on technology strategy and planning, software development, project implementation, and technology integration. Thayer’s aim is to empower readers with practical insights and actionable advice based on his extensive experience.

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