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What Are the Best Ways to Turnaround My Failing IT Project?

Failed IT projects are more common than you’d expect. Statistics from Zipdo indicate that project managers cancel up to 31 percent of software projects before completing them. A software project can go awry in many ways—from budget overruns to communication breakdowns. Although it is extremely frustrating when you get in that situation, don’t give up hope too soon. The good news is that you can rescue your failed IT project and achieve your goals. But, you will need more than a rearview perspective to get the project back on track. 

Why Does a Project Fail?

It all comes down to the warning signs. Most of the time, the signs are clear that your IT project will fail. Other times, not so much. That’s why it’s crucial that you keep an eye out for these warning signs should you need to salvage unsuccessful projects:

You Overlooked Requirements Gathering

Requirements gathering is an essential phase in the software lifecycle. During this stage, you identify your project’s requirements, from the specific functionalities and features the software must have to the performance, security, and usability criteria it needs to meet. This involves collaborating with stakeholders, including end-users, clients, and subject matter experts, to gather, document, and prioritize their needs and expectations. Statistics indicate that poor requirements cause 39.03 percent of failed IT projects. Neglecting this stage will lead to misunderstandings, scope creep, and project failure, as the software may not meet the stakeholders’ needs or expectations.

Your Project Lacks a Clear Plan

A plan outlines the steps you will follow, the resources you require, the timeline you should expect, and the project’s desired outcome, or goals. Now imagine starting an IT project without having outlined all these things in a plan—your project will end up anywhere, or worse, nowhere at all. It becomes challenging to allocate resources effectively, monitor progress, or adjust your project course when necessary. 

You Don’t Have the Right Team

Even with a well-defined plan, your IT project will only succeed with the right team to help you execute it. This goes back to efficient requirements gathering. If you didn’t define all the roles for your software project and the skills each person needs, you might face problems such as communication issues, misalignment of goals and objectives, lack of accountability, and insufficient problem-solving capabilities. These issues can hinder progress, lead to misunderstandings, and ultimately contribute to software project failure.

You Aren’t Hitting Project Milestones

Your project’s success is defined by more than just your end goal. Some phases in your project must hit certain milestones so that you can track progress, identify potential issues early, and make necessary adjustments to ensure successful completion. However, if you consistently fail to meet these milestones, it’s a strong indicator that something is amiss. It could be due to poor planning, unrealistic timelines, inadequate resources, or unforeseen challenges. Regardless of the cause, repeated failure to achieve milestones jeopardizes your project’s overall success and can lead to delays, increased costs, and diminished stakeholder confidence. 

You’ve Exceeded Your Budget Projections

Managing finances is a critical aspect of project management, and exceeding budget projections is a significant warning sign of failed IT projects. It indicates that you either inaccurately estimated the initial budget or the project is experiencing cost overruns due to poor financial management, scope creep, or unforeseen expenses. Whatever the case, continuously surpassing budgetary constraints can strain resources, force compromises on quality, and ultimately lead to project abandonment if you deplete funds before completing the projects.

The Best Ways to Turnaround Your Failing IT Project

Consider this a to-the-point checklist to get everyone thinking straight and moving in the right direction.

1. Sound The Alarm

You can only improve an unsuccessful project once the problem is escalated and acknowledged. It is hard to know how hot is too hot when you are in the middle of it.

If the project is not going as it should and the timeline, budget, functionality, or quality are in question, then it is time to sound the alarm loud and clear. Start an open discussion listing your specific concerns. The more facts you can provide, the better.

Be calm, but be firm. Sometimes, project teams would prefer to continue on their established path rather than change course for the better. You have to be able to stop the momentum so everyone can look around and assess the situation.

2. Stop The Blaming

Although software is largely intangible, you are still making something. People also feel a sense of personal connection and self-identity with the things that they make.

The first reaction to sounding the alarm may be defensiveness and blame. This is normal, but it is also destructive. Move your team past hurt feelings and pointing fingers as quickly as possible with facts. Reinforce your shared goals. If needed, smooth the ruffled feathers with kind encouragement and confident reassurance.

3. Determine The Current State Of The Project

Now it’s time to get to work. You need to quickly and objectively assess the project’s current state.

  • What work has been completed?
  • What is the quality of that work?
  • Is the work in line with coding standards
  • Does it meet the project requirements?
  • Is it partially or fully functional?
  • Is there consistency in how the work was written?
  • Is it architecturally sound?
  • Was the technology the best choice for the project?

If you were to draw a circle around the project’s scope, what portion of that scope has been delivered, what are the issues, and what percentage is left?

4. Assess The Root Of The Problems

How did your project wind up here? There are several questions you can ask the team and the stakeholders to figure out what went wrong.

Below are just a few to get you going. Once you have your first answer to each question, ask, “Why?” 3-5 more times to get you to the root cause.

  • Were there poorly defined or misunderstood requirements? If so, why?
  • Is the team communicating well and frequently, both internally and externally? If not, why?
  • Does the team have the right skill set for the tasks? If not, why?
  • Is there a language barrier? If so, why?
  • Are there team dynamics issues? If so, why?
  • Is there a lack of leadership and direction for the project? If so, why?
  • Were there enough resources? If not, why?
  • Did the team have the proper development methodologies and practices (code reviews, code control, modularization of code/separation of concerns)? If not, why?
  • Were there any technology issues? If so, why?
  • Was changing requirements managed? If not, why?
  • Were expectations managed when issues or changes occurred? If not, why?
  • Is there a poorly executed software foundation/architecture? If so, why?
  • Are there issues with the client’s team members, and should they be escalated to the client’s management team?

5. Validate The Remaining Project Tasks

Take a detailed inventory of all the remaining tasks to get the project back on track and across the finish line.

The more detailed you can be, the better. This list will be the basis for your plan going forward. Does anything need to be reworked? Are there missing foundational pieces that need to be added? Now is the time to add these items to a list and address them.

6. Plan Your Attack

Restoring trust and confidence is hard when you’ve initially stumbled. Take the remaining tasks and create a plan that shows traction as quickly as possible. Focus on what is quick and will address the most significant pain points first. Then, have clear steps with timelines and costs to deliver the final product.

You will need to socialize and gain buy-in for your plan. At this stage, it is also crucial to ensure you are being realistic and not trying to create a hero effort to save the day. Question your assumptions. Get critical with your plan. Then get going!

7. Ask For Help Where You Need It

Now is the time to ask for additional help. Maybe you need a third party to assess the project’s current state to gain an objective or technical view. Or perhaps you need some specialized resources to fill a skill-set gap. You may even consider outsourcing the project rescue to another firm that has specialized experience in turning around a troubled IT project.

In any case, now is the time to be honest about your capabilities and get the help you need.

8. Focus Your Team

Project management is especially important in rescuing failed IT projects. You should have a clear project leader who assigns tasks, provides frequent status updates, removes obstacles, and reports to the stakeholders weekly, if not daily.

Project teams who have had issues in the past may need some motivation and structure to regain their ownership and commitment to the project. The more your project leader can focus on prioritizing this project, the more the team will respond.

9. Communicate Clearly And Often

As mentioned before, restoring trust and confidence is hard. One way to turn things around and show focus and priority is to communicate status and progress often. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done.

Keep your project on everyone’s radar so they don’t have to wonder how you are doing. When people wonder, they worry. And when people worry, they can make emotional decisions to make themselves feel better. Those emotional decisions may not always be well-thought-out and may ultimately add more work to your project.

Be proactive until the project is finished.

Famous Software Project Failure Examples

Failed IT projects aren’t just a problem for small firms—even established and reputable companies have had their fair share of setbacks in software project management. Here are some famous software project management failure examples you can learn from:

  • Google Wave: Launched in 2009, this product was a real-time communication and collaboration platform intended to revolutionize online communication. Despite significant hype and anticipation, Google Wave failed to gain widespread adoption due to its complexity, unclear use cases, and competition from existing tools like email and instant messaging. Google eventually discontinued Wave in 2012.
  • Virtual Case File System: The FBI’s attempt to modernize its case management system, known as the Virtual Case File (VCF) project, ended in failure in 2005 after spending over $170 million. According to reports, the project suffered from poor requirements management, changing specifications, and difficulties coordinating with various stakeholders and contractors. Ultimately, the FBI abandoned the VCF project and pursued alternative solutions.

What Can We Learn From These Failures?

These failed IT projects underscore the importance of effective project management practices and highlight common pitfalls to avoid in software project management. First, clearly define project objectives and user needs from the outset. This is evident in the Google Wave project, where unclear use cases contributed to its failure to gain widespread adoption. 

Second, requirements management is essential throughout the project lifecycle to ensure alignment with stakeholder expectations and mitigate scope creep. The Virtual Case File System’s failure highlights the consequences of poor requirements management, leading to project abandonment despite significant investment.

Final Thoughts on Failed IT Projects

It is challenging to turn around a failed IT project, but not impossible. By sounding the alarm and taking a moment to step back and assess the situation objectively, you and your team can devise a plan that addresses the project issues, brings on any additional help the project needs, and ultimately gets the project back on track and across the finish line.

If your software project is going nowhere fast, let SOLTECH help sort it out and get it back on track—something we’ve been doing for over 25 years. Contact us here and let us know about  your software woes, and we’ll let you know how we can help.


What are the keys to successful project management?

While projects may differ in scope and complexity, some fundamental principles apply universally to successful project management. These include setting clear objectives, defining project scope, establishing a realistic timeline and budget, assembling the right team, encouraging effective communication, managing risks proactively, monitoring progress regularly, and adapting to changes as needed. Adhering to these principles and focusing on delivering value to stakeholders can increase the likelihood of project success.

How do you take over a failing project?

Start by conducting a detailed assessment to understand the project’s challenges and root causes of failure. Then, develop a comprehensive turnaround plan that prioritizes critical tasks, reallocates resources as necessary, and emphasizes clear communication with stakeholders. You can also implement Agile or iterative project management methodologies to deliver incremental improvements, monitor progress closely, and adapt strategies based on emerging issues to drive the project towards successful completion.

How do you recover a project that is falling behind schedule?

Recovering a project that is falling behind schedule requires a strategic approach. Start by conducting a thorough assessment to identify the root causes of the delays. Then, prioritize tasks, allocate resources effectively, and streamline processes to accelerate progress. Communicate transparently with stakeholders, adjust timelines and milestones as needed, and leverage agile methodologies to deliver value and bring the project back on track iteratively.

Ann Mooney

Director of Business Development

Ann MooneyAnn Mooney is the Director of Business Development at SOLTECH, and has over 30 years in Sales and Account Management in the Technology, Telecommunications, and Medical Industries. Ann’s key specialties are building long-term business relationships, results-driven sales, and account management.

Ann joined SOLTECH in 2016, she works directly with SOLTECH’s clients to help find them the best technology solutions for their business. Ann utilizes her strategic leadership and proactive problem-solving skills to continually grow SOLTECH’s business and ensure excellent customer service.

With her years of experience in the technology industry, Ann likes to share her expertise to educate her audience on the enhancement of workplace productivity and growth through software solutions in her articles. Her insights offer advice on important considerations for creating custom software, including initial steps, development costs, and timelines, as well as the advantages of collaborating with a skilled software development team.

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