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7 Top Risks to Software Development

By: Craig Lamb
Published: Wednesday, 06 July 2022

The average custom software development project can take several months to a year to complete. Projects that are larger in scope and complexity can take even longer. Whether your software development project is large or small, it's important to be aware of the most common risks to project success so that you can protect against unplanned delays and overages in budget. I call attention to the 7 top risks here for your proper consideration as you design your software plan and build a timeline.

Code Errors and Bugs

This might seem like an obvious risk, but software that isn't properly tested for quality assurance can turn into a nightmare. Bugs should be found early in the software development lifecycle, so they can be remediated early in the process. The success of bug management falls on the leads and management to design procedures that enable developers to continue coding while alerting them to bugs that must be fixed.

Management should design software development guidelines for everyone to follow, and developers should be encouraged to use programming best practices. Code should be tested often and frequently so that developers can remediate issues quickly and before they move on to other aspects of the application.

Unrealistic Deadlines

Aggressive deadlines are a part of a fast-paced development environment. For developers, it's difficult to give a precise estimated time of completion, but management and the stakeholder need to know when they can expect a product. Deadlines are a constant form of contention between developers and management.

When deadlines are unrealistic, they create a domino effect by frustrating developers and disappointing management when code isn't finished when it's supposed to be. Aggressive deadlines frustrate developers enough for many of them to quit, so they can affect other aspects of development success.

To reduce the risk of unrealistic deadlines, developers and management should factor in a buffer of time to fix bugs and manage unforeseen issues. Deadlines should be realistic and take all factors into account, and delays should be discussed as soon as possible to limit customer frustration.

Poor Specifications and Documentation

During the initial discovery phase, project managers and other stakeholders come together to discuss the software requirements and project features. Project managers put together a list of software requirements and specifications based on stakeholder needs and requests. If this documentation is poorly written, it causes confusion for developers. Poorly written documentation can lead to the wrong features coded into the application and unhappy customers.

The design phase of software development can take several hours and requires input from several stakeholders, but it's the most important step in the software development lifecycle. Every detail should be documented, and customers should sign off to acknowledge that features listed in official documentation are exactly what they are expecting.

Budget Issues

Software development is expensive, so the customer must have the budget to continue the project. Developers must give a good time estimation for their work, which ties directly into an accurate budget. Cost estimations aren't always precise, so customers should have plenty of budget to support any unforeseen changes or requirements.

It's the developer's responsibility to provide a cost estimate, but delays can be costly. If costs get out of control, it can lead to disagreements, extreme cost overhead, and potentially litigation. During the design phase, budgets should be set, and actual costs should be as close to the estimate as possible to avoid any failures.

Scope Creep

It's important during the design phase to nail down every feature and customer requirement. Customers must then sign off on specification documentation so that everyone agrees what must be coded and the final product's layout, functionality, and the software's purpose. After everyone agrees, it's not uncommon for customers to change their minds, and this is where scope creep occurs.

Mismanaged scope creep delays the completion deadline and increases costs. This does not mean that customers cannot change their minds. As long as customers acknowledge that changes in software requirements increase the timeline and cost additional money, the software can still be a success. Most developers use an agile approach to development, which bakes change requests into the process.

Poor Project Management

Managing large software development projects takes the ability to oversee developers and communicate with stakeholders to give them updates. Project managers must also ensure that software is coded correctly and every feature is what the customer asked for. It's a delicate balance for project managers to oversee all aspects of the software development process while maintaining the budget.

Communication and controlling scope creep are the two main functions of a project manager. They must know how to track the status of development and discuss any issues with developers while keeping the customer happy. If this person on the development team is not equipped to deal with the many issues in software development, the project could fail.

Staff Turnover

Building software takes months, so developers become experts in their own areas of the application. They can answer customer questions, fix bugs quickly, and build features that do not conflict with other code in the application. All developers should uniquely contribute to the codebase, but they must also be productive and given enough freedom to complete their code within requirements.

It takes months to get a developer up to speed, so it can delay the project if even just one developer leaves the team. Developers should be productive, but they should be encouraged to see the entire project through to completion. If multiple developers leave the team, it can greatly extend the delivery date.


A software development project takes several phases, and each phase requires the right developers, documentation, project managers, management, and stakeholder cooperation. Most of these pitfalls can be avoided with the right team and documentation, but many issues must be considered as you design your software plan and build a timeline. Delays can be costly for the customer, so all issues should be addressed in the design phase, and all parties involved must be aware of requirements and agreements. For more than two decades, Envative has been delivering custom software solutions. We have found that the most critical step in ensuring software development success is Prototyping. That's why we've built it right into the first phase of the Envative development process. Learn more about the Power of Prototyping here or give us a call.

Tagged as: Custom Software, Prototyping

Craig Lamb

About the Author:

Craig Lamb

Craig Lamb, partner and chief education officer, is responsible for supporting current, and researching new technologies that are leveraged in the company’s custom development efforts.  He has over 25 years of experience in Information Technology leadership in national businesses. He is a respected leader who has demonstrated the ability to build and motivate teams and promote a business culture that delivers exceptional results.