Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Software Development Failures

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

Software Development Failures

Anatomy of Abandoned Projects

MIT Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Software development projects fail due to lack of goals, communication and skill, just like other projects, only costlier.

auto-generated audio
auto-generated audio

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Scientific


Here’s a two-ingredient recipe for disaster: take a big organization and mix in ambitious plans for a state-of-the-art software system. The disaster already happened at the IRS and Denver International Airport, both victims of software development missteps. Such failures are common, costly and all-too-avoidable, writes academic Kweku Ewusi-Mensah. While his prose can be dry, the examples he uses prove quite juicy. A little common sense could have saved the IRS billions and the Denver airport millions. Both fell victim to surprisingly basic pitfalls, such as unclear or unrealistic goals and over optimistic expectations that inexperienced people could get the job done. Ewusi-Mensah convincingly argues that organizations need to share such learning experiences, although he acknowledges that would mark a reversal from common practice. recommends this book to managers and engineers involved in developing software. This cautionary tale could save your neck.


A Costly but Little Understood Problem

Public and private organizations waste billions of dollars every year on software development projects that collapse before completion. The financial consequences can be harsh and can draw very negative media attention. For the most part, organizations try to put software development failures behind them as quickly and quietly as possible. So although software debacles are common, few formal studies have been done to determine why projects fall apart so frequently.

Pervasive reluctance to evaluate these breakdowns can be blamed in part on a litigious culture. The players in software development meltdowns often sue to recover their losses, so public discussion of a failure can be touchy and, perhaps, legally costly. The end result is that there’s little in the way of scientific study that might create common wisdom and help software engineers learn from the mistakes of others. This must change for the good of all organizations. Companies should carefully track and record the challenges they encounter during software development and make their findings available to other software developers.

Among the organizations that have...

About the Author

Kweku Ewusi-Mensah is a professor of computer information systems at Loyola Marymount University.

Comment on this summary

More on this topic

Learners who read this summary also read