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Why you don’t want to be the industry average

by Business Analysis,

As a CIO, or if you are in discussion with your CIO, have you ever asked/or been asked the question – “how successful are we with software initiatives? “ Many would see themselves as above or even on par with the industry average, but when you look at what that average is, being the industry average isn’t exactly a shining light on success.

According to The Project Management Institute (PMI) and also the 2020 Standish Chaos Report (new one due out soon) roughly 70% – 75% of software initiatives are not deemed successful. That is, they were either a complete failure or challenged. Now there is a distinct difference between ‘failure’ and ‘not successful’, so let’s break down category views to see what they mean.

  • Failed (31.1%) – Abandoned or cancelled.
  • Challenged (52.7%) – Over cost, over time, and/or lacking promised functionality
  • Successful (31.1%) – On time, on budget, with all promised functionalities. Worse still is the fact that only roughly half of these (15% of all initiatives) return high value – which is what is promised to the executives from the outset!

Software development began in the 1940’s (1948 to be exact). So, in spite of developing software for over 70 years, we are either no better at it, or potentially even worse (depending on how many attempts were made to achieve the first successful outcome). To be blunt, this is woeful! This is expensive! How on earth are we still accepting this as the industry average?

Moving away from standish specifically, as there are a number of variations to these statistics (though none of the other ones paint a great picture) let’s look at the broader view of why projects are failing and what can be done.

At BAPL, we are seeing are a number of consistent issues:

  • Still focusing on projects as opposed to product/service streams: A project is often seen as a stand-alone initiative to deliver a defined outcome. Many feel that this is the best way to ‘get something done’ and so in every pocket of the business, Managers and Leaders are coming up with projects to address problems or opportunities specific to their area. It’s not until the analysis is done more broadly that the commonalities of this problem or opportunity are seen across the business and sadly this perspective is often only uncovered well into design or even delivery – so it is deemed scope creep or out of scope and the success of the project is in question from the outset.
  • A lack of definition for why an initiative is in place in the first instance and what value it is going to provide: Coming back to the Why and having clearly stated business requirements. Many often state that business requirements are ‘antiquated’ and only relevant in waterfall initiatives. This shows both a lack of understanding of requirements and agile. Clearly defined statements of desired outcomes both enables agile teams to learn and adjust, but also provides leadership teams the necessary information to approve investments in the first place.
  • How far reaching the initiative is and the impact to internal resources and stakeholders: We thought it was going to be this, but now it is that – and now everyone is involved. Much like the first point – an initiative is kicked off thinking that the problem or opportunity is X. Upon closer inspection it is X10. This has a profound impact on key internal resources needed to provide the information necessary for solutions to be relevant. When this is happening across the board, those internal resources can only do so much. One or more projects will have their input delayed, delivered to poor quality, or missed out entirely.

Others include:

  • No defined way to deliver an initiative (or a defined way that is not understood or followed).
  • The wrong people suggesting the ‘right’ way forward. The focus should only ever be on what is the value to the organisation and their customers. And collectively we should celebrate achieving this. Recommendations for organisational investment should never be made with personal gain (i.e., “I can take on a brand-new role”) in mind.
  • A lack of business ownership in the change (too often driven by IT, particularly larger strategic change initiatives of late such as product/service realignments, and domain driven change).

All of these factors are addressable and ultimately avoidable, and there is no need to simply roll the dice hoping for the best. In the following blogs we will explore the benchmarks in the industry as examples of success, as well as ways organisations can identify, and address/avoid these perils to push the industry average even just 1% (let’s aim for more) higher. BAPL is a consultancy practice that specialises in delivering exceptional business analysis outcomes. We save organisations time, money and improve the products/services they deliver to their customers, through exceptional business analysis. Everything we do and strive for is to challenge traditional ways of thinking and enable Delivery Success!


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