Understanding why tech projects fail (Pt. 5)

The Atom Team

Part 5: Solutions

In this podcast series we’ve explored the main reasons why tech projects fail. In this episode we explore what you can do to mitigate the risks and pitfalls that we have identified.

The Cornerstone of Success: Communication

Efficient communication is paramount in project management. It goes beyond simply exchanging information; it involves a clear articulation of business objectives and the significance of the undertaking. Stakeholders often emphasize the end-product or service they require, enforcing tight deadlines, and specific features without divulging the rationale behind their demands. This lack of clarity can breed misconceptions and set unrealistic expectations.

To combat this issue, it’s essential for project teams and their clients to engage in open and honest dialogue. Clients need to share their business motivations, pivotal events, and expectations thoroughly. Equally, the software development teams or service providers should be forthright regarding the feasibility of the project goals under the constraints of time, cost, and quality. This mutual understanding is crucial in tailoring the development process to meet the client’s objectives while being transparent about the possible trade-offs.

Balancing Speed, Quality, and Price

The oft-cited trilemma in project management and software development is that you cannot have speed, quality, and price all at their optimum levels simultaneously. This conundrum highlights the inevitable compromises that must be faced when delivering a project. A high-quality deliverable achieved swiftly will necessarily demand a higher price, whereas a fast and cost-effective solution may fall short on quality.

The key to navigating this balancing act is setting realistic expectations from the onset. By having a fully informed conversation about why a project needs to be developed within certain constraints, clients can better understand the implications of their requirements. It’s also a software development house’s responsibility to outline what’s achievable, allowing for adjustments in project scope, timelines, and costs that align with the client’s pivotal business needs.

Defining and Measuring Success Through KPIs

One major oversight that can lead to project failure is the absence of a clear definition of success. Delivering a product is not the be-all and end-all of project success. Defining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is a critical step that is often surprisingly neglected. KPIs serve as quantifiable measures that reflect the success or achievement of desired project outcomes and are indispensable in evaluating the project’s return on investment (ROI).

Identifying appropriate KPIs forces businesses to consider what they truly want to accomplish with their project. Is success measured by user adoption rates, revenue increases, market penetration, or operational efficiencies? By establishing well-defined KPIs, project teams can stay focused on the end goals and pivot as needed to ensure these objectives are met. These metrics enable both clients and development teams to track progress and make informed decisions throughout the project lifecycle.

The ROI Debate and Beyond

When crafting a project’s parameters, the discussion often gravitates towards ROI, and for good reason. Ultimately, projects must justify their cost by delivering value to the business. However, it’s important to recognize that ROI goes beyond monetary gain; it also encompasses gains in customer satisfaction, market leadership, and internal process improvements.

Projects must be envisaged with a holistic view of success, integrating both tangible and intangible returns. Clients and project managers who prioritize an open dialogue around success metrics, ROI, and the reality of project trade-offs will be better equipped to ensure that the project’s results align with the strategic direction of the business.

In summary, the path to project success is multifaceted, requiring a synergy of clear communications, realistic expectations regarding the trinity of speed, quality, and price, well-defined success KPIs, and a broader understanding of ROI. Adhering to these principles of the CPOP framework can significantly minimize the risks associated with project failure and propel businesses towards their desired objectives.

Planning for Change: Embracing Flexibility

Embracing change is a central tenet of successful project management. The nature of business environments is that they are dynamic and not static. Organizations, especially startups, can experience rapid shifts in their business models and market demands. Therefore, planning for change is not just advisable; it’s a necessity.

Effective project management acknowledges this fluidity and incorporates contingency plans. These plans allow projects to pivot without losing momentum or focus. It might involve keeping resource allocations flexible, maintaining a buffer in project timelines, and having iterative check-ins to reassess priorities based on market feedback. By doing so, businesses can adapt to evolving market conditions and customer needs without overwhelming the project’s framework or budget.

Mitigating the Impact of Egos on Project Success

Egos can be a significant barrier to project success. Individuals involved in a project, be it on the business or the technology side, may have their own agendas. When personal ambitions or desires for recognition overshadow the project’s goals, it can lead to conflicts, wasted efforts, and ultimately, failure.

To combat this, it is crucial to establish a culture of humility and collaboration from the start. Both business and technology teams must align around shared incentives and understand that the project’s success is a common goal that rises above individual achievements. Communications and role definitions should be structured to reinforce this alignment, encouraging transparency and collective ownership of the project.

No Room for ‘Tech vs. Business’ Mentality

The notion that there’s a divide between tech and business can be detrimental to any project. Success hinges on the symbiotic relationship between technological capabilities and business objectives. These two aspects should not operate in silos; rather, they should inform and support each other to drive the project forward.

It’s imperative to establish a shared vision and mutual understanding between tech teams and business stakeholders. Both sides should regularly communicate and participate in decision-making processes. By working together, they can ensure that technical solutions are designed with business goals in mind and that business strategies are grounded in what is technically feasible.

People: The Heart of Project Success or Failure

Lastly, the human aspect of project management cannot be overstated. Beyond processes and strategies, projects are driven by people. Their skills, commitment, and alignment with project goals are what ultimately determine a project’s trajectory.

Recognizing that people can be a project’s greatest asset also means acknowledging that they can introduce risks. It is vital to foster an environment where team members are encouraged to contribute, where their insights are valued, and potential is optimized. At the same time, effective leadership is needed to manage expectations and ensure that team efforts are coherent and directed toward the agreed-upon project outcomes.

The success of a project lies in the delicate balance between rigorous planning and the flexibility to adapt, the softening of egos to serve the greater project good, bridging the gap between tech and business interests, and valuing people as the key drivers of project success.

The Importance of Open Communication and Inquisitiveness

The vitality of open lines of communication within a project cannot be understated. A culture that promotes a ‘no stupid questions’ approach is crucial for team members from disparate fields, such as tech and business, to coalesce in their understanding of the project’s objectives and challenges. By fostering a workspace where individuals feel comfortable admitting gaps in their knowledge and seeking clarity, teams can work more synergistically and preemptively address potential misunderstandings that otherwise could escalate into real issues.

Encouraging curiosity and receptivity to advice further strengthens the collaborative environment. It is by embracing the diversity of expertise within a team that more comprehensive and innovative solutions can emerge. Being receptive to advice provided by others not only enhances learning but also facilitates the integration of different perspectives into the project’s framework.

Proactive Engagement and Consistent Follow-Up

A reactive stance to project management—waiting for deliverables instead of actively engaging with the development process—can lead to significant project delays and frustration. It is essential for clients to regularly engage with their development teams or vendors, asking probing questions and demanding progress updates. This ensures that any obstacles or lags can be identified promptly and addressed before they snowball into more significant problems.

Regular follow-ups can illuminate aspects of the project that may require additional attention or resources. When clients stay on top of developments, they can adapt their strategies based on real-time information rather than outdated assumptions, thus keeping the project on track.

The Cost-Benefit Analysis of External Oversight

Sometimes, the value of hiring external help to oversee and manage a project can far outweigh the perceived savings of going without. Bringing in external project managers or consultants can provide the essential oversight needed to keep a project flowing smoothly and to ensure that objectives are met. They can bring a level of expertise and objectivity that might be lacking within the existing team, helping to avoid costly delays and missteps.

Hiring professionals to manage technical resources or provide guidance may involve upfront costs, but when weighed against the risks and expenses associated with project delays or failure, the investment is often justified. An external perspective can add a layer of accountability and drive efficiency, ultimately favoring the project’s success.

Backup Plans and Swift Decision Making

As not all projects proceed as expected, having a plan B is not just pragmatic; it’s a strategic imperative. Contingency planning involves recognizing potential failure points within a project and determining viable alternatives or solutions beforehand. This approach allows teams to shift directions quickly and efficiently in case the primary plan falters.

Decisiveness in the face of underperformance or project hurdles is a critical leadership quality. Clinging to sunk costs and allowing fear to delay necessary action can exacerbate project issues. Recognizing when a project is veering off course and making swift decisions to correct the trajectory is key to avoiding ‘throwing good money after bad.’ Just as one wouldn’t continue to pay a vendor that fails to deliver, project managers shouldn’t hesitate to reassess or alter engagement with underperforming teams.


By cultivating a culture of open communication, engaging proactively with project collaborators, considering the worth of external oversight, and preparing for unforeseen challenges with a solid plan B, organizations can enhance their project success rates and navigate the vicissitudes of project management with greater confidence and competence.

We’ll be your virtual Chief Technology Officer
Whether faith in the existing team has been eroded, your current tech team needs a senior mentor, or you need a new tech vision for the company, Atom CTO is here to support you.