“Gold! Gold from the American River!” This was the call that started the San Francisco gold rush of 1848. By 1950, the population of this relatively small frontier town had risen from 14,000 to nearly 200,000. Only a handful of these fortune seekers would ever make any real money from the mining of gold. By all accounts, it was actually the merchants selling the shovels, pans, wagons and supplies needed for mining that took the most handsome rewards.
San Francisco’s population explosion is but a fraction of the growth rate of today’s Silicon Valley. In our startup gold rush, the chances of your meagre platform transforming into a full-fledged unicorn may be just as unlikely as you striking gold. Especially since, as the latest figures suggest, most of us are digging with broken shovels.
Today’s global technology market is valued at around $4 trillion. According to the senior vice-president of Genpact – Gianni Giacomelli – up to 67% of these software and hardware projects will eventually fail to meet expectations or even reach completion at all.
In 2013, the NHS wasted £10 billion on an abandoned patient record system – the biggest IT failure the institute had ever seen.
It’s clear that both in-house teams and third-party technology providers aren’t able to meet the ever-growing needs of their project briefs. We are living through a pandemic of wasted code – of broken shovels.
What’s going wrong?
Software projects are innately collaborative; the causes of failure can be difficult to diagnose. With so many people relying on each other to get the work done, small problems can have a butterfly effect on the project as a whole. Failure is often the result of a series of small missteps.
A report by the Project Management Institute suggests that the responsibility for failure ultimately rests with the project manager. Failure to meet proven practice guidelines is responsible for $122 million of every $1 billion spent on technology projects. Difficulties with accurate time and budget forecasting, risk planning, scope creep, communication and team management are terminal difficulties.
This is a good explanation for why projects fail to complete, but less useful for explaining their inability to meet business expectations. It’s clear that, in many cases, our understanding of what can be achieved with technology is out of line with the reality of software development processes and market forces. Is it simple optimism that’s leading companies to believe they can achieve more than is realistic or is there something more insidious at work?
It’s certainly true that high expectations for ROI on software investment are a boon to providers of platforms or delivery services – your belief that there’s gold out there is, after all, in the interest of the shovel merchant. In today’s startup society, success stories are endemic to the culture of technology that permeates our business lives.
What can we do?
Project management really is the backbone of success when it comes to getting your projects to the finish line. Procedural quality assurance during your development periods can help to ensure that mistakes don’t have a knock-on effect. A provider should be spending at least 30% of their time on quality assurance throughout the project, not just when your prototype is up and running.
And of course, it’s never a bad thing to hire the best talent you can possibly afford. Although there are more skilled workers entering the job market every year, firms unilaterally report a skills gap in their recruitment efforts. You’ll need to work hard (and pay well) to find developers that take a holistic approach to your project.
But what about underperformance? Well, that all starts with your mindset. It’s easy to buy into the dreams that software developers and providers are selling. Increased efficiency, less hassle, streamlined processes – these are all things that we want to believe in and it would be difficult to argue that any of them are impossible to achieve. However, when you follow this path, the means can quickly replace the ends as the focus of your attention.
Your priority should always be the ultimate health of your business – not on striking gold. That means you’ll need to adopt a ‘minimum viable’ approach to your projects and processes. Thinking in terms of only what you need to get by can help to draw your expectations back into a realistic frame.
Do you really need that new CRM platform? Will a new website actually increase your conversions? Or are you succumbing to the ‘new is better’ fallacy of the tech optimist?
An MVP mindset limits your costs, neutralises scope creep and helps you to focus on what really matters for your business. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take on new projects. It simply means that strict requirements engineering should be your biggest priority when considering a new system.
Don’t forget, the merchants got rich, not by stumbling across a mountain of gold, but by selling one shovel at a time.
When it comes to working with providers, you’ve got to find a partner that understands your need for focus. If they’re constantly trying to upsell or find reasons to extend the project scope, they could be leading you down a rabbit hole that will lead to ultimate project failure.
The best providers show a deep concern for what you’re trying to achieve with your project – sometimes even more so than the details of the project itself.
Always work with a trustworthy provider with a proven track record, even if it costs you a little more. You’ll never regret investing that little bit more in a project that, in the end, does its job. On the flip side, if you pay peanuts, know that you will get monkeys – a whole team of them that will drag you ever closer to the edge of that abyss filled with broken shovels.
Article Credit: Ritam Gandhi, Studio Graphene