Ensure your software project succeeds: Project success checklist

By Nick Butler

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Two team members running through the Project success checklist. The checklist helps you ensure your software project succeeds.

Nobody wants to work on a failed project. So to help you ensure your software project succeeds, we’ve developed the Project success checklist.

The checklist gauges how well you follow 11 practices that have been found to predict success in software development projects. Check how well you’re doing, identify any gaps and introduce the remaining practices. This will give your future projects the best chance of success.

In this post you’ll learn what success looks like for a software project and how to use the checklist to ensure that your project succeeds. We’ll also look at how many software projects fail. The numbers aren’t good. But we hope this checklist helps you land your next project on the right side of the ledger.

What is a successful software project?

Fundamentally, a successful software project will deliver quality software offering all and only the features needed to delight your customers and to meet your strategic objectives. And it does so on time and on budget. Simple, really 😉

Want to learn which factors matter most for your project? Try the Success Sliders exercise.

Using the checklist to ensure your software project succeeds

Firstly, download your Project success checklist. Then, for each practice, rate how well you’re doing on a scale of 0–9. That’s 0 meaning not at all and 9 meaning you’ve nailed it.

Finally, add up your total. The maximum is 99 but no project is 100% sure to succeed. Now you know the practices you need to fully implement to ensure your project succeeds.

Get your project success checklist

Make sure your next project delivers the impact you need.

How to fully implement the practices

You can now start to change your work processes to fully implement the practices. Many of these practices are as relevant to changing work processes as they are to developing software. So treat implementing the practices as a project in its own right. This will let you give them a try as you go.

For example, you’re more likely to successfully implement the practices if you:

  • build a shared vision across the team of the benefits these practices bring
  • empower a product owner to set the priorities that will deliver these benefits
  • complete top priority practices first, reprioritising as you learn how they work
  • work in short iterations, implementing useful new practices each iteration
  • break the work into the smallest batches possible
  • track your progress on a prominent physical project board
  • empower the team to make the changes.

Additionally, our Discovery workshop guide shows how to bake these practices into your project from day one.

How we identified the practices

The practices in the Project success checklist are based on the research into real software development projects detailed below. We’ve also combined these studies with 14 years of empirical research into what works best for us at Boost. We’re continually testing new practices. We’ve adopted them from Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean and anything else that offers pragmatic approaches to project success. Those that work, we retain and adapt. As a result, we’ve been able to feed what we learn into the project success predictors.

All the practices in the checklist are Agile practices. Like many people, we’ve found that having an Agile mindset makes all the difference. For example, the Standish Group found that Agile projects enjoy a 60% greater chance of success than non-Agile projects. (Want to learn more? Here’s why traditional project management doesn’t work for software development.)

Research on how to ensure your software project succeeds

You can learn more about software project success factors in the following reports.

Standish Group CHAOS project management report 2018:
Assesses the factors underlying software project performance by analysing the CHAOS database (Comprehensive Human Appraisal for Originating Software).

Top success factors:

  • Decision latency (faster decisions are better)
  • Minimum scope (keep projects small by focussing on top priorities)
  • Project sponsors (the product owner or sponsor must be highly skilled).

Buy the CHAOS Report

Success factors that influence Agile software development project success:
Research paper from the American Scientific Research Journal for Engineering, Technology, and Sciences.

Top success factors:

  • Strong customer involvement
  • Good Agile project management
  • Product owner helps maximise business value delivered by team
  • Good Agile engineering practices
  • Good technologies and tools

View the report

An empirical study into social success factors for Agile software development:
This report tests a success factors model against 40 projects.

Top success factors:

  • Value congruence
  • Degree of adoption of Agile practices
  • Transformational leadership

View the report

How likely are software projects to fail?

The 2018 Standish Group report found that only one third of software projects were successful. In the same vein, management consultants McKinsey found that 66% of large software projects have cost overruns, while 33% have schedule overruns.

Here in New Zealand, KPMG’s Project Management Survey found that about two thirds of projects fail. Moreover, only 21% deliver on benefits.

The flip side of not delivering benefits is wasting time and money on features nobody uses. Here too, the numbers look bad. Product analytics company Pendo found that 80% of features in the average software product are rarely or never used. (You can check out their Feature adoption report — PDF if you want to learn more).

Need more help to ensure your software project succeeds?

These are sobering figures. They represent a lot of wasted time and money, and a lot of unhappy people.

We’ve found that the practices laid out in the checklist consistently help us avoid these kinds of failures and deliver successful software projects. We hope they do the same for you.

If you have any questions about the practices and how to implement them, please feel free to contact us.

Guides to project success

Discovery workshop guide — Start your project right

Agile project risk management — How to manage risk on software development projects

Scrum Product Owner guide — How Product Owners can run successful projects

Why small projects succeed and big ones don’t — How to deliver big impacts with small projects

Make a bigger impact tomorrow

Talk to us today