31 January 2019
Top 15 Risks in Software Development and How to Mitigate Them – Agente
According to LinkedIn, 70% of software development projects fail. The leading cause is that initially, software project risks were not estimated, or they were underestimated. Most commonly, businesses do control project budgets and schedules, but possible delays, extra costs, or communication issues are often overlooked. How do you mitigate risks in a project? Risk estimation and scoring will help you to avoid project breaches and will eliminate problematic situations.
In this article, you will learn more about risk management in software development and mitigation, risk types, and the ways to respond to crises
Why Risk Management Is Important for IT Projects
Software risk mitigation allows you to identify your project’s threats, strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. Here are the common reasons why risk management is worth spending time on.
Maximizing Results and Meeting Deadlines
You minimize and eliminate risks of software development so that projects can be finished on time within budget. By foreseeing technical risks in software engineering, you maximize profits and minimize expenses on activities that don’t produce an ROI. Through detailed analysis, you will prioritize ongoing work based on the results produced, despite the odds.
Effectively Communicating With Stakeholders
When you demonstrate your software development risk management plan to the project sponsors and stakeholders, it assures them that the project will run smoothly; one step proceeds to the next without disruption. By dealing with potential risks in advance, you make sure that your employees can respond effectively when challenges emerge and require action.
Allocate Funds for Eliminating High Risks
When you make a software development risks plan, you prioritize risks, and calculate the probability of occurrence, as well as their potential impact. For example, low-risk events usually have little or no impact on performance, cost, and schedule. High-risk events are likely to disrupt the schedule or cause performance problems and a significant increase in the budget. Knowing that you can deal with high risks at the earliest opportunity.
How to Identify and Manage Software Development Risks
For successful systematic risk management, you must consider measures for both risk assessment and risk control. There are usually seven steps to this:
- Identify risk factors. Any risk is a potential problem that can be properly mitigated by relevant and planned corrective actions.
- Assess risk probabilities and effects on the project. For instance, a failure to meet one or more of these criteria within the constraints of schedule and budget can be indicative of a crisis.
- Develop strategies to mitigate risks. A risk typically becomes a problem when the value of a quantitative metric crosses a predetermined threshold. That’s why it is essential not only to set these thresholds but also to plan the corrective action(s) that address any risks immediately. Contingency planning should handle risks that require monitoring for some future response should the need arise.
- Risk factor monitoring. The values of your risk metrics should be monitored to ensure that the data is objective, timely, and accurate.
- Have a contingency plan. It’s a threshold plan that is invoked when a quantitative risk indicator crosses a predetermined threshold.
- Manage the crisis. If your contingency plan fails, there must be an additional plan for seeing a project through as it enters crisis mode.
Further, we will talk about the risk types in software project management and give you the most frequently occurring software project risks examples.
Organizational Risks in Software Development
We open the software development risk list with mistakes in estimation. This will affect the company’s income and will lead to the project's failure.
1. Incorrect Deadlines Set by a Client
Often, a business analyst from the client’s side has already defined deadlines which are much stricter than the technical team from the vendor’s side estimated. As a result, the vendor’s team has to work overtime or add more people who were not in the initial agreement.
SOLUTION: Before starting a project, the development team should inform the client about the high probability of a risk event. If the deadlines cannot be moved back, it makes sense to focus on the most important features instead of spreading efforts to each and every task.
For example, if the deadline is associated with some public event where the client is supposed to show a demo of the minimum viable product, you can focus on the product’s UI and hardcoded data.
2. Generic Specification
If the project’s specification is too brief or the project scope is vague, the chances are that a couple of features will fall out of scope. As a result, more project requirements will be added during the development process; deadlines will be blown, and overtime hours will accrue—all of which will ruin the team spirit.
SOLUTION: Don’t sign the contract until you’re sure everything in the scope has been specified. It’s better to start with business analysis and convert the client’s business requirements into the functional specification in which all the features are described in detail and prioritized by their importance.
3. The Client Is Not Available to the Dev Team
As a project progresses, the client needs to make sure that his expectations materialize and the dev team gets the requirements right. If communication between the two parties is insufficient, there can be delays in informing about impediments and in delivering the result.
SOLUTION: If the client cannot be available for continuous synchronization, it’s worth considering delegating the product owner responsibilities to other competent stakeholders either from the client’s or vendor’s site.
4. The Client Requires Too Much Communication
There’s a flip side of active communication: when there is too much of it. It may lead to unnecessary discussions, detailed explanations of tech issues to non-tech people, and getting stuck into nowhere.
SOLUTION: If the client insists on frequent meetings, you need to add some extra hours to the estimate. It also makes sense to filter the tech info regarding very small decisions that don’t affect the project’s schedule and performance.
Schedule Risks in Software Development
Incorrect time estimation, frequent project scope expansion, and improper resource allocation are the typical schedule risks associated with software development.
Having found out that our development team is based in Belarus, many of our potential clients from the US become worried about how to mitigate outsourcing risks and manage a time gap of eight to 11 hours between the countries. However, with proper risk management in project management, distributed teams may not be so intimidating.
5. Working in Offshore Teams Within the Same Time Zone
This is a low-impact business risk. If both teams have strong technical leaders, they may have differing visions of the product's implementation.
SOLUTION: The teams need more time on synchronization and communication, so that they can discuss any emerging hurdles and come up with a consistent strategy
6. Working in Separate Time Zones
Here’s where the risk substantially increases. Teams are supposed to collaborate within the limited time when their working hours intersect. For example, 9 AM in New York equals 5 PM in Belarus, so the teams have two-to-four hours of time overlap. This often triggers overtime.
SOLUTION: Time should be added to the estimate for synchronization. If there’s a chance to send an offshore dedicated project team on site to the client for a couple of weeks in order to dive into the project, it will lower the risks of the personal conflicts and misunderstandings which often arise at the early stages of a project.
Operational Risks in Software Development
Operational problems may have adverse effects on project outcomes. Project management must plan for efficient execution of the project, and find a balance between the needs of the development team and the expectations of the customers.
7. Compromising on Design
Often, teams tend to skip the important steps of the design phase and rush into doing “real” development tasks. However, without proper planning, prototyping, and information architecture building, the whole process is a waste of dev hours.
8. Lack of Developers
In some cases, developers have to work on several projects in parallel if there's a lack of resources. If a support period of a previous project is also ongoing, developers may be distracted due to bug-fixing activities.
SOLUTION: If both part-time projects are long-term, it makes sense to allocate a back-up specialist. However, this will increase the cost of the project and lower the productivity of both specialists because they can lose track in switching between contexts.
9. Unstable Workload
If we have a workload of fewer than four hours per day per person, it's difficult to switch between the context of the two projects. This risk increases when critical issues emerge on two projects at the same time.
SOLUTION: Such cases require additional coordination. It makes sense to put a project on hold and accumulate a reasonable number of tasks if the workload is less than 80 hours.
10. No Testing
Some clients hope that developers will be able to test the project by themselves and save on QA.
SOLUTION: The one-and-only solution is to hire a QA specialist. They are more skilled in detecting hidden bugs and will dedicate their time to testing only.
11. No Post-Go-Live Support
Once the project goes live, the vendor’s team often doesn’t provide any support, or focuses on the critical issues while smaller issues may not be in scope.
SOLUTION: Early in the project, state how, and for how long, post-go-live support will be handled. Include hours for knowledge transfer and handoff activities.
Technical Risks in Software Development
Technical risks generally lead to failure of functionality and performance. Let’s examine the most common technical risk examples and project risk mitigation strategies:
12. Not Choosing the Right Technology
Choosing the technology stack and implementation team is probably the most critical decision that you make during the discovery phase of the project. Each team has core knowledge or experience in specific domains, technologies or solutions. Placing too much emphasis on some popular technology is among the most popular custom software risks.
SOLUTION: There is no need to focus too much on popular technology. Instead, you need to specify the problem you’re trying to solve—for example, better security, real-time communication, or mobile responsiveness—and choose a technology stack that is suited to dealing with that problem.
13. Integration of Popular Technologies
Most risks involve integrations with third party systems, plugins, or content management systems. If these technologies and tools are popular and well-known to your team, the risk is quite low. Popular libraries are often supported by a robust community, so solutions to new issues can be found quickly.
SOLUTION: Just make sure all the tools have proper and updated specifications. Add a decent buffer to the estimate in case there are updates that developers haven’t worked with yet.
14. Integration of New, Unproven Technologies
If the technology is new, the risk may increase manyfold. It’s unreasonable to think that the team will deal with software integration risks as quickly as they would with known ones.
SOLUTION: You’ll need at least a basic specification of new technology. Check to see if any payment for support is required and include the price in an estimate. Double the time on project learning, and document all the issues that surface.
15. Working on Existing Source Code
Taking over an ongoing project with the existing source code is a very risky deal. The team needs to investigate the source code, assess its quality and identify elements which should be refactored to increase efficiency. The team should also learn the project from a user perspective in order to understand the flow in general.
SOLUTION: Request all the existing documentation; try to investigate issues that complicated the work at some point. Take every chance to speak with the previous team and discuss the details. It may make sense to perform source code analysis before you deliver an estimate, as you’ll never know what challenges you’ll meet afterward.
It’s natural that risks are present in every project, that’s why we’ve worked out effective ways to manage common risks in software development:
- Identify and classify the risks from low impact to high impact.
- Devise a risk management plan that outlines the response that will be taken for each risk—if it materializes.
- Monitor and take the corresponding mitigation response from the risk management plan.
Here are some risk mitigation examples in software projects from our own experience that will help you to identify and respond to software development risks:
- Use checklists, and compare with similar previous projects to see if you’ve already dealt with such risk types.
- Prioritize risks, ranking each according to the severity of exposure.
- Split larger risks into smaller, easily recognizable, and readily manageable risks.
- Develop a top-10 risk list for your project.
- Encourage stakeholders to think proactively, and communicate about risks throughout the entire project.
- What steps do software project risk monitoring include?
Risk monitoring includes publishing project status reports and software development risk management issues, revising risk plans according to changes in the project schedule, reviewing risks and eliminating those with the lowest probability, and brainstorming on potentially new risks.
- What are the software development risk mitigation options?
There are four options:
- Accept the risk without any changes to the project.
- Avoid by adjusting project scope, schedule, or constraints to minimize the effects of the risk.
- Minimize the impact or reduce the intensification of the risk.
- Transfer responsibility or authority to other stakeholders who will accept the risk.
- Continue monitoring if the risk is low-impact.
- What are the most common risks in IT projects?
There are five big software development risks:
- inaccurate estimations
- scope change
- end-user engagement
- poor quality code
- poor productivity
- What are the risks in software testing?
There are project risks and product risks.
- Project risks: Late delivery of the test items to the test team, or availability issues with the test environment; excessive delays in repairing defects found in testing; problems securing professional system administration support.
- Product risks: The software skips some key function that the customers specified; it is unreliable and frequently fails to work; it fails in ways that cause financial or other damage to a user or the company.
- What causes technical risks in software engineering?
Technical risks stem from the following issues:
- Endless changes of requirements for the software.
- The project is too complex to implement
- Existing technology is in its initial stage with no advanced technology being available
- It’s challenging to integrate modules.
In general, to be effective, software project risks and mitigation have to be integral to most processes. Essentially, this means risk planning in project management, frequent checking during project meetings and critical events, thorough learning of documentation, and sufficient communication between the product owners and the technical team.
With over 10 years of experience under our belts, we’ve learned how to recognize and prevent risks at early stages of the software development process. This is one of the key reasons why we deliver robust products. Reach out if you have an idea for a future project.
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