Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Friday, 07 January 2005

Chaos everywhere

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 01:28

There is a common perception that software projects are notable for their rate of failure, but hard data about this fact is difficult to come by. Prominent examples in Germany are the recent toll collect disaster (which delayed a toll for lorries on German motorways for years) and the introduction of the new unemployment insurance (Arbeitslosengeld-II), which caused the bank account data of thousands of people receiving dole to be garbled, resulting in them not getting their money.

Some data is found in the Standish Group’s chaos reports. They report that in 1994, a staggering 16% of all surveyed software projects were completed on time and in budget; 31% of the software projects are never completed at all. The figures for 2000 are slightly better; 28% of the projects succeeded and only 23% failed outright. So, all the advances in software design, object-oriented programming, modeling tools, CASE tools, IDEs etc. managed to decrease the failure rate by 3/4 and increase the success rate by 3/4.

Still, this is a pretty dismal track record. If we build houses the way we develop software in 2000, the first woodpecker would still destroy civilisation. For two thirds of the software projects, it means a very bumpy ride to completion, requiring either massive cost overruns or severe delays, and if you are already on that track, you only have a two-thirds chance of ever completing the project.

The reports also contain a detailed analysis of the cause of failure; I think this should be required reading for any IT project manager. Unfortunately, these reports were not part of any of my software engineering classes.

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