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What Is a Case Study?

When you’re performing research as part of your job or for a school assignment, you’ll probably come across case studies that help you to learn more about the topic at hand. But what is a case study and why are they helpful? Read on to learn all about case studies.

Deep Dive into a Topic

At face value, a case study is a deep dive into a topic. Case studies can be found in many fields, particularly across the social sciences and medicine. When you conduct a case study, you create a body of research based on an inquiry and related data from analysis of a group, individual or controlled research environment.

As a researcher, you can benefit from the analysis of case studies similar to inquiries you’re currently studying. Researchers often rely on case studies to answer questions that basic information and standard diagnostics cannot address.

Study a Pattern

One of the main objectives of a case study is to find a pattern that answers whatever the initial inquiry seeks to find. This might be a question about why college students are prone to certain eating habits or what mental health problems afflict house fire survivors. The researcher then collects data, either through observation or data research, and starts connecting the dots to find underlying behaviors or impacts of the sample group’s behavior.

Gather Evidence

During the study period, the researcher gathers evidence to back the observed patterns and future claims that’ll be derived from the data. Since case studies are usually presented in the professional environment, it’s not enough to simply have a theory and observational notes to back up a claim. Instead, the researcher must provide evidence to support the body of study and the resulting conclusions.

Present Findings

As the study progresses, the researcher develops a solid case to present to peers or a governing body. Case study presentation is important because it legitimizes the body of research and opens the findings to a broader analysis that may end up drawing a conclusion that’s more true to the data than what one or two researchers might establish. The presentation might be formal or casual, depending on the case study itself.

Draw Conclusions

Once the body of research is established, it’s time to draw conclusions from the case study. As with all social sciences studies, conclusions from one researcher shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel, but they’re helpful for advancing the body of knowledge in a given field. For that purpose, they’re an invaluable way of gathering new material and presenting ideas that others in the field can learn from and expand upon.


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Henrico Dolfing - Interim Management and Project Recovery

Project Failure Case Studies

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10 Failed Projects: Examples and How You Can Avoid Making the Same Mistakes

project failure businesses examples

Looking at these famous failed projects examples through the lens of a  project manager , we can learn how to spot issues before they have a chance to derail our plans — and avoid our own project failures in the future.

From Betamax to Crystal Pepsi, here are some high-profile projects that didn’t turn out as planned.

In this failed projects guide you will discover:

  • Ten famous projects that failed
  • Five ways to spot project failures before they happen
  • Frequently asked questions

10. Sony Betamax

betamax failure

Sony launched its cassette recording device known as Betamax in the mid-1970s. It lost the battle for market share to JVC’s VHS technology, but Sony didn’t stop making Betamax tapes until 2016. In the age of online streaming, very few us realized it was still in production.

Lessons learned:

The story of Betamax has become nearly synonymous with failed marketing because while it was innovative and hit the market before its competition did, other products proved to be cheaper and better.

The lesson learned here is that  project management  doesn’t end when a project is launched, or a campaign has run its course. To stop your idea from hitting the ashpile of failed projects, remember to keep analyzing, and evaluating your products. That way, they can maintain their  velocity  and continue to benefit your bottom line.

9. New Coke

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After testing a new recipe on 200,000 subjects and finding that people preferred it over the traditional version, Coca-Cola unveiled New Coke in 1985. That sounds like a safe move, right? Wrong.

Product loyalty and old-fashioned habit got in the way and people didn’t buy New Coke as expected,  costing the company $4 million in development and a loss of $30 million  in back stocked product it couldn’t sell and becoming one of the most famous failed project case studies in history.

While Coca-Cola certainly did market research, they missed the mark when it comes to assessing customer motivations. Customer input is imperative in development and for your project to be successful, you need to ensure you have a way to gather comprehensive customer insight that gives accurate and realistic information.

8. Polaroid Instant Home Movies

polaroid instant home movie failure

With the Polavision you could record video, develop it in a matter of minutes, and then watch it immediately! It was groundbreaking at the time, but the two-and-a-half-minute time limit, lack of sound, and the fact that you couldn’t watch the videos on your regular TV meant this project  lasted just two years .

The Polavision was revolutionary, but Polaroid dropped the ball when they failed to stay abreast of developing marketing needs. When you keep your finger on the pulse of your market, you’re ready to innovate to meet its needs and avoid project failure.

7. Crystal Pepsi

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Crystal Pepsi was a hit at first, and people were excited about the new version of an old favorite. But people soon lost interest and the novelty wore off, making it impossible for Crystal Pepsi to gain a strong market share.

David Novak was the COO of PepsiCo during the project and didn’t listen when bottlers told him the Crystal Pepsi flavor wasn’t quite right. “I learned there that you have to recognize that when people are bringing up issues, they might be right,”  he later said .

6. McDonald's Arch Deluxe Burger

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In 1996, McDonald’s put  more than $150 million into advertising — more than it had ever spent on an ad campaign — for its new Arch Deluxe Burger, only to find out its customers weren’t interested in the more grown-up, sophisticated menu option.

This is another case that highlights the importance of letting customer data drive product strategy. If McDonald’s had a more accurate picture of what its customers wanted, it could have saved millions in advertising and resources.

A great way to stay on top of data is to choose a  handful of key metrics to track , make sure your tools can accurately track them in as close to real-time as possible, and then always strategize based on the numbers.

5. Apple Lisa

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Lisa, the first desktop with a mouse, cost $10,000 (almost $24,000 today) and had just 1 MB of RAM. Consumers weren’t as interested as Apple anticipated, and it was a  case of overpromising and under-delivering , as the 1983 ads — featuring Kevin Costner — depicted the Lisa as much more than it really was.

Transparency matters. It may feel like a buzzword you hear all the time, but there’s no better way to describe the lesson learned here other than to say that Apple was not transparent enough about the Lisa.

We no longer live in an age where you can falsify the capabilities of a product because social media makes it easier for the truth to come out and word of mouth will eventually catch up to — and destroy — projects that lack transparency

4. Levi Type 1 Jeans

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While we don’t know what Levi’s  project management processes  are like, one way to avoid confusion is to improve internal communications so the final product has a clear message and is easily understood by end-users.

To stop your project becoming a failure case study, avoid email and spreadsheets and instead, try an  operational system of record  to communicate, get status updates, and track document versions.

3. IBM PCjr

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IBM  released its PCjr in 1983  in an attempt to attract home computer users, but the PCjr offered fewer features than its competitors and was twice as expensive as an Atari or Commodore. After customers complained about the low-quality keyboard, IBM offered an alternative, which had its own issues, and couldn’t revive interest in the PCjr

IBM had the right approach when it listened to users and provided what they were asking for: a new keyboard. Unfortunately, its response wasn’t quite enough because the product was low quality and didn’t help improve users’ experience with the PCjr.

When you listen to your market, especially in times of crisis, it’s imperative that you hit it out of the park with your response in a way that not only saves your project but inspires even more brand loyalty with extremely satisfied customers.

2. The DeLorean DMC-12

project failure

Even the futuristic shape, gull-wing doors, and gold-plated models weren’t enough to save the DeLorean DMC-12, which experienced problems throughout production, giving it a rough start.

Then, John DeLorean, the company’s founder,  was arrested in 1982  on drug trafficking charges he incurred while trying to raise money to save the business. Even though he was found not guilty, it was too late for the Marty McFly-famous car.

This one is still playing out but is a great example of leveraging nostalgia and coming back bigger and better. Or in this case, faster and more powerful.

In 2016, a new DeLorean was announced and then delayed due to some legal issues. However, things are back on track for  an early 2019 release  with an updated interior, more powerful engine, and faster speeds. In some cases, a do-over can tap into a niche market and bring a project back from the brink of failure for a successful refresh.

1. The Ford Edsel

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The Ford Edsel is the perfect example of the importance of speed to market and how even a major brand and product can fail if a project loses velocity. Things like poor communication, inaccurate deadlines, and out-of-touch project managers can majorly slow a project down, to the point that it’s no longer relevant or valuable.

Robert Kelly , services solution executive, global accounts at Lenovo and  project management  expert explained the importance of maintaining an accurate project schedule: “Even with the best planning and collaboration, things happen. Make sure your project schedule reflects the actual and current reality of the project.”

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Five ways to spot project failures before they happen.

When you read about project management failure case studies like these, it’s hard to see how the creatives and strategists who hatched the plans dropped the ball.

While the market is unpredictable and hindsight is always 20/20, there are a few common factors in failed projects that we can all learn from.

1. Low interest

People stop showing up for meetings.  Stakeholders  stop participating or giving timely feedback. Tasks stop getting completed on time. All of these are signs that interest in a project is flagging.

How to stop it:  Keep communications as up to date as possible. Track all assignments. Hold all assignees accountable . If stakeholders stop caring about a project, hold a sit-down to determine the current perceived value of your project to the organization.

2. Poor communication

The team doesn't know when things are getting done, what's not getting done, or why it's not getting done. The project lead isn't communicating changes to the rest of the team. When communications do go out, they are either late or inaccurate.

How to stop it:  While email and spreadsheets are okay for getting basic information out, they tend to be slower and more cumbersome than the typical fast-moving team needs. Consider purchasing tools like Adobe Workfront that automate communications as much as possible.

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3. Lack of velocity

Assignments are long past due, stalled on the approval of an elusive stakeholder. Maybe team members are spending more and more time on other projects. At any rate, contrary to your best projected completion dates, your project has come to a full stop.

How to stop it:  See the solution to lack of interest. Accountability is especially key here. Ensure that everyone is aware of their assignments and their due dates and then press them to meet them. If stakeholders are holding a project up, call them, if possible, to find out if there are any issues.

4. A “no bad news” environment

Individual reports in meetings are especially rosy and don't match the chaos that seems to be engulfing a project. Staff members avoid questions asking for progress updates and project leaders seem to be in the dark about why tasks are being done late, or not at all.

How to stop it:  Let numbers rule. Your team should be guided by a handful of key metrics that you can track, such as on-time delivery rate. And then make sure your tools can accurately track those metrics in as close to real time as possible.

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5. Scope creep

The project starts to barely resemble the requirements as they were given at its outset.  Timelines have stretched beyond the original projections. The phrase, "You know what would be really cool would be if we added ________," is uttered during the review and approval phase. This is scope creep — and you need to avoid it.

How to stop it:  Use an airtight  requirements gathering process before the project starts. In fact, don't even allow the project to start until you, your team, your stakeholders, and your requestor are all on the same page. And then treat that requirements doc like a binding contract.

In the end, the best way to avoid project failure (and embarrassing flops) is to stay one step ahead of your project and keep safeguards like these in place, so you can quickly pivot, producing a successful outcome regardless of what obstacles may arise.

Frequently asked questions about project failures.

What is a failed project?

A project can be seen as a failure when it doesn’t achieve its objectives. This doesn’t just mean overall goals – a failed project could be something that went overbudget, over deadline or lost the support of its staff and stakeholders. By thoroughly planning your project and monitoring from start to finish, you can help ensure your project is a success.

What can we learn from a failed project?

Plenty! The main thing to take away is that these projects fell mainly because of poor communication along the way. Setting up your projects to automate as much of your communication as possible is key, and having everyone aware of certain key metrics will ensure positivity and morale is always high.

How do I recover from a failed project?

Having one failed project does not mean your company or idea is a failure. Learn from the mistakes made in the project that failed and start from the beginning, making those all-important changes along the way.


5 famous IT project failures – and how you can avoid their pitfalls

Ever had an IT project go over time or over budget?

Feature creep, insufficient training and overlooking stakeholders – the major culprits for why IT projects fail routinely crop up. The following five prominent examples are no exception. They have all failed publicly – some spectacularly – but serve as useful lessons to learn for anyone embarking on their own project, whatever the scale.

1. Sainsbury's warehouse automation

The UK supermarket giant embarked on a mammoth project to install an automated fulfilment system in their Waltham Point distribution centre. Serving most of London and the south east, the barcode-based system was supposed to streamline operations and improve efficiency.

From the initial installation in 2003, there were what were described as ‘horrendous’ errors in reading barcodes. Nevertheless, Sainsbury’s claimed that the system was working as intended in 2005. Two years later, they decided to scrap the entire project, writing off more than £150 million in IT costs.

What’s the lesson? Don’t ignore the initial phases. Problems left unaddressed at roll-out will only get worse over time – not better.

2. Apple's Copland operating system

Apple hasn’t always been phenomenally successful. When MS Windows 95 was released, the existing Mac System 7 simply couldn’t compete with its dynamic memory allocation and multitasking. Apple set out to develop a new OS in-house, with the aim of releasing a better System 8 by 1996.

It’s become known as a classic example of feature creep. As Apple refocused its resources on the new OS, project managers began to push for their products to be incorporated into System 8, derailing the project’s original scope.

Apple did eventually release System 8 to developers, but it was so unstable it did little to compete with MS Windows or boost Apple’s reputation. Before launching another developer release, Apple decided to bin System 8 and look elsewhere for their next OS – which led to the purchase of NeXT and the technology that became Mac OS X.

What’s the lesson? Project creep can take the whole thing down. Stay focused on your project’s original goals.

3. FozMeyer's ERP project

In the early 90’s, FoxMeyer was a major player in pharmaceuticals distribution in the US, worth around $5 billion. Aiming to improve efficiency, FoxMeyer bought an SAP system, together with warehouse automation technology, and brought in consultants to integrate the two. What was supposed to be a $35 million major IT project eventually became the business’ downfall. By 1996, the company was declared bankrupt.

There was a litany of reasons for failure. FoxMeyer set an unrealistic time frame: a total of 18 months to transform all their distribution systems. Warehouse employees whose jobs were under threat from the rise in automation were, unsurprisingly, unsupportive. After a series of redundancies, the first warehouse to be fully automated experienced widespread sabotage, with stock damaged and orders left incomplete. The new system also turned out to be less useful than the one it replaced. The SAP system was processing around 10,000 orders a night, compared to 420,000 under the old mainframe. FoxMeyer also accused their consultants and SAP of using the project as a training ground for new employees, rather than providing their best expertise.

What’s the lesson? No one plans failure. But you should plan for it – would your business be resilient enough to survive if the project was unsuccessful?

4. Nest's software refresh

In 2016, Nest (the Google-powered smart thermostat) released a catastrophic software update that literally left customers in the cold. A fault in the update forced the device’s batteries to run out, leaving it unable to control temperature and customers without heating or hot water in the middle of winter.

It was quick to roll out another update, solving the issue for most users. Understandably, though, the failure left some customers feeling frosty towards Nest.

What’s the lesson? Test, test and test again. Before releasing an update or implementing any kind of new system, never scrimp on the testing process.

5. US Census Bureau's remote devices 

In a $600 million contract, the US Census Bureau bought half a million handheld devices to automate the 2010 census. Since then, project costs have more than doubled and a testing session found that the devices frequently froze or failed to retrieve mapping coordinates. Some devices even had the same ID number, overwriting one another’s data. A report found that ‘the final cost is unpredictable, and immediate, significant changes are required to rescue the programme’.

It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong, but the US Census Bureau’s dogged persistence in seeing the project through even after initial testing showed major flaws meant that remedial costs spiralled.

What’s the lesson? Have a plan B. Be prepared for failure by creating a contingency strategy, and know when to use it.

Of course, we’re writing about these examples because they had sufficient scale and notoriety to be reported publicly. For most businesses, the size of transformation may be smaller, but the potential pitfalls are just as significant.

From network upgrades and new servers, to finding and implementing the right software and systems, it pays to bring in the experts. At Ratcliff IT , we have more than 15 years’ experience of delivering projects for London’s small businesses.

Get in touch to find out how we can help your business.

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12 Notorious Failed Projects & What We Can Learn from Them


Failure is an unavoidable part of any project process: it’s the degree of failure that makes the difference. If a task fails, there are ways to reallocate resources and get back on track. But a systemic collapse will derail the whole project.

Why Is It Important to Analyze Failed Projects?

What good can come from failure? A lot, actually. Sometimes a project reaches too far beyond its means and fails, which is unfortunate but can also serve as a teaching moment. If project managers don’t learn from their mistakes, then they’re not growing professionally and will revisit the same problem in future projects.

Project managers can learn as much, if not more, from failed projects as they can from successful ones. A post-mortem analysis should be part of any project plan, and especially so when a project crashes and burns. There are valuable lessons in those ashes.

One lesson is that project management software decreases the chance of a failed project. ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that allows you to monitor your work in real time to make more insightful decisions that can keep failure at bay. Use our real-time dashboards to track the health of your project, including such important key performance indicators (KPIs) as time, cost and more. There’s no time-consuming setup required as with lightweight software. Our dashboard is ready when you are. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's real-time dashboard helps you avoid project failure

12 Top Failed Projects from History

Let’s look at the most notorious failed projects, not to gloat, but to see what they can tell us about project management .

1. Sony Betamax

The word Betamax has become almost synonymous with failure. But when it was first released, Betamax was supposed to become the leader in the cassette recording industry. Developed by Sony, Betamax was introduced in the mid-1970s but was unable to get traction in the market, where JVC’s VHS technology was king.

Surprisingly, Sony continued to produce Betamax all the way into 2016. Long before it discontinued the technology, Betamax was already irrelevant.

Betamax was an innovative product, and it even got to market before VHS. But soon the market had options that were cheaper and better than Betamax, making it a failed project. Sony’s mistake was thinking that the project was complete once the product went to market . Project managers need to always follow up on their work, analyze the data and make an evaluation about what needs to be done to keep the project relevant.

2. New Coke

Coca-Cola is one of the most iconic brands in the world. It’d take a lot to tarnish that reputation. But that’s just what happened when New Coke was introduced in 1985. People didn’t know why the Coke they loved and drank regularly was being replaced.

The company knew why. They were looking to improve quality and make a splash in the marketplace. The fact is, New Coke sunk like a stone. It wasn’t like New Coke was just released without doing market research , though it might seem that way. In fact, the new recipe was tested on 200,000 people, who preferred it to the older version.

But after spending $4 million in development and losing another $30 million in backstocked products, the taste for New Coke evaporated. Consumers can be very loyal to a product, and once they get into a habit, it can be very difficult to break them off it in favor of something different.

It’s not that Coca-Cola neglected market research to see if there was a need to develop a new product, but they were blind to their own customers’ motivations. New Coke was a failed project because the researchers needed to do more than a mere taste test.

They needed to understand how people would react when the familiar Coke they loved would be discontinued and replaced by a shiny new upstart. Market research must be handled like a science and an art—and worked into the project plan accordingly.

3. Pepsi Crystal

In 1992, Pepsi launched Pepsi Crystal. It was a unique soft drink in that there was no color. It was as clear as water. Pepsi hoped to take advantage of the growing trend for purity and health. Pepsi marketed the new drink as pure, caffeine-free and an alternative to the unhealthy traditional colas.

At first, sales looked good. The first year saw about $470 million in sales. Consumers were curious to find out if the taste was the same as Pepsi, which it was. Other colorless soft drinks started to introduce themselves to the market, such as 7Up and Sprite. But what Pepsi and the copycats didn’t take into account was how much sight influences flavor. Consumers found the product bland and sales tanked.

Pepsi Crystal was mocked on Saturday Night Live and Time Magazine listed it in its top-10 marketing failures of the 20th century.

Pepsi made the mistake of ignoring all the senses that are involved in the consummation of their product. They should have done more testing. If so, they would have realized the importance of the look of the product. Pepsi Crystal thought that a clear-looking liquid would indicate a healthy one, but what was registered by the majority of users was a bland one.

4. Ford Edsel

Ford released its Edsel model in 1957. Since then, the name has become synonymous with project planning failure. That’s an accomplishment, but not the type that Ford was hoping for. This was supposed to be the car for the middle class and Ford invested $250 million into the Edsel.

Ford ended up losing $350 million on the gas-guzzler that the public found an unattractive alternative to other cars on the market. Part of the problem was that the first Edsels had oil leaks, hoods that stuck, trunks that wouldn’t open and more issues that soured consumer confidence in the product.

The Ford was a lesson in egos at the company ignoring what the research was telling them. Ford conducted many polls to find out what Americans wanted in a car, including a name. But executives went with Edsel. The design of the car didn’t even consult the polls.

If you’re going to do polling on what the public wants, it is a poor decision to ignore that data . So much time and effort went into coming up with the name, even hiring modernist poet Marianne Moore (who came up with nothing marketable), that Ford neglected to determine if there was even a market for this new car.

5. Airbus A380

Boeing’s Airbus A380 was viewed as a way for the company to outdo the 747. It spent more than $30 billion on product development in the belief that the industry would embrace a bigger plane that could hold more passengers and increase revenue.

In fact, the Airbus A380 has sold well short of its predicted 1200 units. The plane was headed for the scrap heap as it faced obstacles such as airports having to build special infrastructure and gates to accommodate that massive plane. Those project costs would be handed back to the airlines. That’s going to sour the deal and it did.

Then there were the technical issues. Qantas had to ground its entire A380 fleet after an engine blew up. You’d think that engineers would have thought beyond having more passengers seated on a bigger plane. But they didn’t.

The biggest lesson is that just because you build it doesn’t mean that anyone is going to want it. There wasn’t the demand Boeing believed there to be. Industries and markets are fickle. Just because airlines say they want something today doesn’t mean they’ll want it tomorrow. Boeing should have hedged its bets.

6. World Athletics Championships 2019

Doha is the capital of Qatar and the site of the World Athletics Championships in 2019. The world’s best athletes went there to compete against one another, but the big event turned out to be an even bigger dud.

The problem was that the host nation was unable to sell most of the tickets to the event. Some of the greatest athletes in the world were forced to compete in stadiums that were nearly empty. It was a failure and an embarrassment.

Money is needed to plan for an event , but that investment is no guarantee that people will show up. The mistake was thinking there was a large enough fanbase to sell all the tickets. We keep coming back to this, but it deserves to be mentioned again: research is critical. It wouldn’t have taken much to determine if there were enough interested people to bring a return on the investment.

7. Garden Bridge

Vanity projects tend not to care about success or failure. They’re driven by ego and such was the case with the Garden Bridge. It was the brainchild of Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London.

This construction project cost 53 million pounds, which is a lot of money, especially when considering it was never even built. The idea of a bridge made of gardens for city dwellers to enjoy is fine, but the over-optimistic fundraising targets and the ballooning costs led to its spectacular failure.

Projects must be realistic. It’s good to remember SMART goals , which is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. If the project followed those constraints it might have been built or passed on before all that money was spent.

8. Apple Lisa

Before Apple became synonymous with the personal computer (and long before popular products such as the iPhone), it released Lisa. It costs $10,000 with a processor of 5 MHz and 1 MB of RAM. The first model sold only 10,000 units.

Lisa was fated to fail because it was really a prototype. It was marketed as a game-changer in 1983 from its popular, but command-line-based Apple II. The price is certainly one reason why this was not a realistic personal computer, but there were technical issues. It had an operating system that could run multiple programs but was too powerful for its processor. Lisa ran sluggishly.

The truth is Lisa was less a failure than an expensive lesson. Lisa led to the Macintosh, which was basically a less expensive and more effective version of Lisa. The lesson here is that one can learn from failure if it doesn’t bankrupt the company, that is.

9. Dyson Electric Car

After four years and millions of dollars, James Dyson canceled his electric car project. It took that long to realize it wasn’t commercially viable. There is certainly a growing market for electric cars as the industry is motivated by consumers and government regulations to move from fossil fuels to more energy-efficient and sustainable alternatives.

There’s a boom in the production of electric cars, from major manufacturers such as Chrysler and Ford to startups such as Tesla. But sometimes the time isn’t right and no matter how good the idea is, it’s just not meant to be.

Timing is everything. But it’s also important to note how difficult it is to penetrate a market with established players. It takes a lot of capital and manufacturing expertise to start a car company and be competitive.

Related: 10 Free Manufacturing Excel Templates

10. Stretch Project

The Stretch project was initiated in 1956 by a group of computer scientists at IBM who wanted to build the world’s fastest supercomputer. The result of this five-year project was the IBM 7030, also known as Stretch. It was the company’s first transistorized supercomputer.

Though Stretch could handle a half-million instructions per second and was the fastest computer in the world up to 1964, the project was deemed a failure. Why? The project’s goal was to create a computer 100 times faster than what it was built to replace. Stretch was only about 30-40 times faster.

The planned budget was $13.5 million, but the price dropped to $7.8 million; so the computer was at least completed below cost. Only nine supercomputers were built.

While the project was a failure in that it never achieved the goal it set, there was much IBM could salvage from the project. Stretch introduced pipelining, memory protection, memory interleaving and other technologies that helped with the development of future computers.

Creative work is rooted in failure specifically because of the serendipitous discovery that occurs. This was a creative project, which might not have met its paper objective, but created a slew of useful technologies. So, aim for your goal, and who knows what good things you’ll discover along the way.

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11. Challenger Space Shuttle

The worst failure is one that results in the loss of life. When you’re dealing with highly complex and dangerous projects like NASA, there’s always a tremendous risk that needs to be tracked . On January 28, 1986, that risk became a horrible reality as the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch.

The cause was a leak in one of the two solid rocket boosters that set off the main liquid fuel tank. The NASA investigation that followed said the failure was due to a faulty designed O-ring seal and the cold weather at launch, which allowed for the leak.

But it was not only a technical error that NASA discovered but human error. NASA officials went ahead with the launch even though engineers were concerned about the safety of the project. The engineers noted the risk of the O-ring, but their communications never traveled up to managers who could have delayed the launch to ensure the safety of the mission and its astronauts.

Managers are only as well-informed as their team. If they’re not opening lines of communication to access the data on the frontlines of a project, mistakes will be made, and in this case, fatal ones.

12. Computerized DMV

No one loves the DMV. If they were a brand, their reputation would be more than tarnished, it’d be buried. But everyone who drives a vehicle is going to have some interaction with this government agency. Unfortunately, they didn’t help their case in the 1990s when the states of California and Washington attempted to computerize their Departments of Motor Vehicles.

In California, the project began in 1987 as a five-year, $27 million plan to track its 31 million drivers’ licenses and 38 million vehicle registrations. Problems started at the beginning when the state solicited only one bid for the contract, Tandem Computers, locking the state into buying their hardware.

Then, to make things worse, tests showed that the new computers were even slower than the ones they were to replace. But the state moved forward with the project until 1994 when it had to admit failure and end the project. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the project cost the state $49 million, and a state audit found that the DMV violated contracting laws and regulations.

The problem here is a project that isn’t following regulations. All projects must go through a process of due diligence, and legal and regulatory constraints must be part of that process. If the state had done that and the contract bidding process invited more than one firm to the table, then a costly mess could have been avoided, and our wait at the DMV might actually have become shorter.

How ProjectManager Prevents Failed Projects

ProjectManager keeps your projects from failing with a suite of project management tools that shepherd your project from initiation to a successful close. Plan, schedule and track work, while managing teams, with our online software.

Plan Every Last Detail

Successful projects begin with a strong plan. But it can be hard to keep all those tasks and due dates working together on a realistic schedule. What if some tasks are dependent? It gets complicated. But ProjectManager has an online Gantt chart that plots your tasks across a project timeline, linking dependencies and breaking projects into digestible milestones.

it projects that failed case studies

Track Progress as It Happens

ProjectManager keeps you on track with high-level monitoring via its real-time dashboard and more detailed data with one-click reporting . Now when projects start to veer off-track, you can get them back on course quickly.

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How to Turnaround a Failing Software Project


Aran Davies

Do you want to explore learnings from failed software projects’ case studies to prevent your software from facing the same failures?

There are huge sums of money to gain by launching a successful software project. Naturally, all product owners and developers hope to succeed with their software development project, however, as the data on actual success rates show, often, things go wrong.

A PMI report found a 14% failure rate for software development projects. Even disregarding the entirely failed projects, 31% don’t meet their objectives, while 43% of projects see a budget overrun.

When this happens, you need to take decisive action to turn around your project. When DevTeam.Space recently successfully turnaround one such stalled project, the software development project to develop DentaMatch , we noticed that this requires distinct competencies that some might overlook.

As an entrepreneur or an enterprise software development project leader, are you trying to turn around a failing project? If so, then you need to know about these competencies. This guide will show you how to prevent software failures .

How to Prevent a Project Failure as Assessed From the Failed Software Projects’ Case Studies?

Failed software projects’ case studies show that you need to perform the following on time to turn around a project and prevent its failure:

1. Assess what went wrong with the project

You need to assess what went wrong with the software project, and this requires you to take a deep dive. The project might already be in the news in your organization due to scope creep, budget overruns, or the quality management reports showing too many reds.

The common reasons that might cause a project to fail are as follows:

  • Inaccurate requirements;
  • Insufficient involvement of the project sponsors;
  • Frequently changing project objectives;
  • Poor development lifecycle planning. i.e wrong estimates resulting in lack of time, etc;
  • Risks that no one could foresee;
  • Delays caused by dependencies;
  • Poor use of any new technology that might help streamline the process, improve functionalities, etc.;
  • Under-staffed project teams;
  • Poor project manager;
  • Delays caused by the project team members.

why software projects fail

However, these are manifestations of deeper issues as learned from failed software projects’ case studies.

Your deep dive must focus on what went wrong structurally or systematically, which caused the above-mentioned slippages or overruns. You ought to study several documents, e.g.:

Hire expert developers for your next project

  • The project requirements;
  • The architectural decisions;
  • The technical solution and the lower-level design documents;
  • Test plans, test cases, and test results;
  • Review records;
  • Risks and issues logs.

You need to have several face-to-face meetings with multiple project stakeholders, e.g., sponsors, developers, testers, etc.

2. Analyze the root causes of the project challenges

Having assessed the extent of damage to your project, you should now analyze the root causes. You need to focus on empirical evidence and data over hypotheses and guesses.

A “Root Cause Analysis” (RCA) exercise involves going deep into the causes of failure, unearthing deeper reasons as you analyze.

The root causes typically belong to any of the following categories:

  • The lack of project management competencies;
  • Using an unsuitable SDLC model;
  • The development team lacks the required capabilities;
  • Choosing the wrong IT architecture pattern;
  • Ineffective use of cloud services;
  • Using unsuitable technology stack, development tools, and testing tools;
  • The lack of collaboration impedes the productivity of the team;
  • Measuring the wrong metrics.

We, at DevTeam.Space, are well-equipped for analyzing why software projects fail, and you can judge our capabilities in “ The 10 biggest challenges when developing an app ”.

3. Determine whether you have a capable team

You have just assessed what went wrong with the project. In some circumstances, the existing team might be able to resolve these issues, however, there are exceptions.

You need to meet the existing team and communicate the project’s challenges. Honestly communicate with them about where you hold them responsible for the issues, and why.

You will need to change the existing team if you see any of the following:

  • The existing team doesn’t take accountability for the project issues.
  • It communicates reasons why it shouldn’t be held accountable, however, the reasons don’t quite add up.
  • The team understands their drawbacks, however, they’re at a loss about how to turn things around.

If you had hired a software development company for this project and it performed sub-optimally, then you ought to change the development partner.

Read our guide “ How to change your software development company mid-project ” for more insights.

4. Check whether you need to replace any developer

You could also have a situation where the larger development team is capable, but, one or more developers aren’t. In such a circumstance, you need to have an honest discussion with the underperforming developers.

You might find that the said developers might have performed below par due to specific reasons, and their performance would improve if you address the underlying reasons. At other times, you could find they aren’t capable of improving their performance.

In such a situation, you would need to replace the ineffective developers. Our guide “ Getting rid of bad developers during a project ” can help you to find a replacement developer.

5. Ascertain whether the project team has enough developers

At times, projects fail due to wrongly estimating the development manpower. While the team is perfectly capable, it might be understaffed.

In such cases, you should hire competent developers to address the lack of manpower. As I have explained in “ How to Find a Good Software Developer ”, consider the following when hiring developers:

  • You need programmers with strong professional ethics.
  • Developers you hire need to have decision-making capabilities.
  • You need developers with sufficient knowledge of computer science fundamentals.
  • Programmers you hire should have the skills that are hot in the market, e.g., Node.js for web development, Kotlin for native Android development, Swift for native iOS development, Python for AI/ML programming, etc.
  • You need to hire developers with good knowledge of SDLC.
  • Developers need to know enough about proactively mitigating software glitches and application security risks.
  • They should be able to code in a way that aligns with your choice of architecture pattern.
  • You need developers that know how to code scalable apps and have familiarity with managed cloud services.
  • They need to know the market-leading development tools, moreover, they should have industry knowledge.
  • You also need developers that can collaborate on rectifying a software error.

DevTeam.Space’s blog recently featured an article to help you hire such developers. For more on this read “ 7 essential tips for hiring the best developers for your project ”.

6. Plan to turn around the project

You have assessed by now what went wrong and ascertained the root causes. You have also dealt with underperforming teams/developers and/or bandwidth issues in the team. It’s now time to plan the recovery of the troubled software project.

The recovery plan might include several tracks of actions and the “Root Cause Analysis” (RCA) determines them. We, at DevTeam.Space, have the right expertise for such recovery planning, as I had explained in “ What is the best development approach to guarantee the success of your app? ”.

You might need to address one or more of the following aspects:

6a. SDLC model

Ensure that you are using the right SDLC model for the kind of project you have. E.g., if you are developing a “System of Engagement” (SoE) like a mobile app, then Agile is better than Waterfall, as I have explained in “ Waterfall vs. Agile: which methodology is right for your project ”.

You should also use the right approach that works with your chosen SDLC model, e.g., develop your “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) in the right way in an Agile project. Our guide “ 5 Tips to Create a Sleek MVP ” can help you with this.

6b. IT architecture

Choose an architecture pattern that suits your functional and non-functional requirements and delivers the best user experience without a software glitch. There are several popular architecture patterns, e.g.:

  • Layered (n-tier);
  • Event-driven;
  • Microkernel;
  • Microservices;
  • Space-based.

You can use our guide “ Large Enterprise Java Projects Architecture ” to make the right choice.

6c. Mitigating the application security risks

You ought to proactively mitigate the application security risks since this is crucial for the long-term success of your project. The key application security risks are as follows:

  • Broken authentication;
  • Sensitive data breach and exposure;
  • XML external entities (XXE);
  • Broken access control;
  • Security misconfiguration;
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS);
  • Insecure deserialization;
  • Using components with known vulnerabilities;
  • Insufficient logging/monitoring.

Read the “ Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Top 10 Application Security Risks ” report for insights on mitigating these risks.

6d. “Managed Cloud Services” (MCS)

Plan to utilize managed cloud services (MCS) smartly so that you can focus on development instead of infrastructure management.

If you are developing a web app, then you should use a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) platform since it offers many benefits, e.g.:

  • PaaS platforms like AWS Elastic Beanstalk manage the cloud infrastructure, networking, operating system (OS), middleware, and runtime environment. You can concentrate on coding.
  • You can easily integrate databases and APIs when using a PaaS platform.
  • Reputed PaaS platforms offer robust DevOps tools and auto-scaling solutions.

Read our guide “ 10 Top PaaS Providers ” for more insights.

On the other hand, if you are developing a mobile app, then use a Mobile-Backend-as-a-Service (MBaaS) platform like AWS Amplify . The following advantages make it a smart move:

  • MBaaS providers manage the cloud infrastructure and persistent storage, therefore, you don’t need to develop and manage the mobile backend.
  • You will be able to scale your mobile app easily, moreover, you will find it easy to implement features like user management and push notifications.
  • MBaaS platforms enable you to integrate APIs easily.

I have explained their advantages in “ How to choose the best Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS)? ”.

6e. Designing APIs

You will likely design APIs as part of your project, and you should keep the long-term success of your app in mind while doing so. While you might consider RESTful APIs, I recommend that you use GraphQL instead of REST (Representational State Transfer).

With RESTful APIs, you call an API endpoint to receive all data in it. On the other hand, GraphQL is a query language, therefore, you can specify the exact data elements you need. This has several advantages, e.g.:

  • With REST, if you need more data than what the API endpoint contains, then you need to make more API calls. This is called “under-fetching”. You can avoid this with GraphQL since you can query the exact data elements you need.
  • On the other hand, if you need less data than what the RESTful API endpoint can send, then you receive unnecessary data. This is called “over-fetching” and you can avoid it with the query capabilities of GraphQL.
  • When using REST, you would design the API endpoint in line with the front-end view. If you change the view, then you would also need to modify the API. This slows down the front-end iterations, however, you can avoid this with the query capabilities of GraphQL.

Read “ REST vs. GraphQL ” for more insights.

6f. Choosing the right technology stack

Choosing the right technology stack improves your chances of turning around a project troubled by a software bug. The choice of technology stack will depend on the kind of project, e.g.:

  • JavaScript will be a better bet for a web development project.
  • If you are developing mobile apps, then you might want to create native apps since they deliver the best user experience. You should then use Kotlin for native Android development and Swift for native iOS development.
  • PostgreSQL is a robust “Relational Database Management System” (RDBMS), whereas MongoDB is a popular option for NoSQL databases.

We, at DevTeam.Space, have the right expertise for choosing the appropriate technology stack, as I have explained in “ How to create a minimum viable product for your enterprise company? ”.

7. Execute the turnaround plan and track its progress

Now that you have come up with a pragmatic plan to turn the troubled project around, it’s time for execution. Use the appropriate PM techniques and tools to manage the execution.

We, at DevTeam., have AI-powered Agile processes , which are highly suited to turn troubled projects around. Our data-driven real-time dashboard helps clients track the progress of the project, as I have explained in “ How a real-time dashboard can revolutionize your eSports development process? ”.

How About Preventing Your Project From Failing?

This article focused on helping you turn around troubled projects. However, it is always better to prevent projects from failing in the first place by avoiding software bugs in the development and software testing phases.

The key to this is choosing a trustworthy and competent software development company for your projects. Our guide “ How to find the best software development company ?” can help you with this.

If you want to ensure project success, then get in touch with DevTeam.Space . Our community of top developers has years of experience turning around failing projects.

They are trained in our unique software project management process. Moreover, we match developers for your project according to experience in your required industry so that they perfectly understand your business needs.

Once you have brought us up to speed and allowed us to analyze your software project, we outline a reliable timeframe to undo the unrealistic expectations given to you by your past development team.

Within no time, we have helped you turn things around and have you back on course to completing a successful project.

Frequently Asked Questions on Learnings From Failed Software Projects’ Case Studies

Missed deadlines, broken promises, poor communication, and software errors are all examples of poor developers. If you have just fired your bad developer and need an experienced software development company to turn your project around, then contact DevTeam.Space.

The top software failures, such as of Bangladesh bank system show that poor management and bad developers are two main reasons for software development failures. Other reasons assessed from failed software projects’ case studies include unsuitable infrastructure, poor code quality where hackers take advantage of a software flaw, subpar marketing, and a badly chosen software development methodology.

DevTeam.Space is a company with lots of experience in saving failing projects. By first establishing the cause of the problem (often bad developers), DevTeam.Space will quickly implement the necessary changes to turn the project around in no time.

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IT's biggest project failures -- and what we can learn from them

Think your project's off track and over budget learn a lesson or two from the tech sector's most infamous project flameouts..

Jake Widman

Computerworld |

Every year, the Improbable Research organization hands out Ig Nobel prizes to research projects that "first make people laugh, and then make them think."

For example, this year's Ig Nobel winners , announced last week, include a prize in nutrition to researchers who electronically modified the sound of a potato chip to make it appear crisper and fresher than it really is and a biology prize to researchers who determined that fleas that live on a dog jump higher than fleas that live on a cat. Last year, a team won for studying how sheets become wrinkled.

That got us thinking: Though the Ig Nobels haven't given many awards to information technology (see No Prize for IT for reasons why), the history of information technology is littered with projects that have made people laugh -- if you're the type to find humor in other people's expensive failures. But have they made us think? Maybe not so much. "IT projects have terrible track records. I just don't get why people don't learn," says Mark Kozak-Holland, author of Titanic Lessons for IT Projects (that's Titanic as in the ship, by the way).

When you look at the reasons for project failure, "it's like a top 10 list that just repeats itself over and over again," says Holland, who is also a senior business architect and consultant with HP Services . Feature creep? Insufficient training? Overlooking essential stakeholders? They're all on the list -- time and time again.

A popular management concept these days is "failing forward" -- the idea that it's OK to fail so long as you learn from your failures. In the spirit of that motto and of the Ig Nobel awards, Computerworld presents 11 IT projects that may have "failed" -- in some cases, failed spectacularly -- but from which the people involved were able to draw useful lessons.

You'll notice that many of them are government projects. That's not necessarily because government fails more often than the private sector, but because regulations and oversight make it harder for governments to cover up their mistakes. Private enterprise, on the other hand, is a bit better at making sure fewer people know of its failures.

So here, in chronological order, are Computerworld 's favorite IT boondoggles, our own Ig Nobels. Feel free to laugh at them -- but try and learn something too.

IBM's Stretch project

In 1956, a group of computer scientists at IBM set out to build the world's fastest supercomputer. Five years later, they produced the IBM 7030 -- a.k.a. Stretch -- the company's first transistorized supercomputer, and delivered the first unit to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1961. Capable of handling a half-million instructions per second, Stretch was the fastest computer in the world and would remain so through 1964.

Nevertheless, the 7030 was considered a failure. IBM's original bid to Los Alamos was to develop a computer 100 times faster than the system it was meant to replace, and the Stretch came in only 30 to 40 times faster. Because it failed to meet its goal, IBM had to drop Stretch's price to $7.8 million from the planned $13.5 million, which meant the system was priced below cost. The company stopped offering the 7030 for sale, and only nine were ever built.

That wasn't the end of the story, however. "A lot of what went into that effort was later helpful to the rest of the industry," said Turing Award winner and Stretch team member Fran Allen at a recent event marking the project's 50th anniversary. Stretch introduced pipelining, memory protection, memory interleaving and other technologies that have shaped the development of computers as we know them.

Lesson learned

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Even if you don't meet your project's main goals, you may be able to salvage something of lasting value from the wreckage.

Knight-Ridder's Viewtron service

The Knight-Ridder media giant was right to think that the future of home information delivery would be via computer. Unfortunately, this insight came in the early 1980s, and the computer they had in mind was an expensive dedicated terminal.

Knight-Ridder launched its Viewtron version of videotex -- the in-home information-retrieval service -- in Florida in 1983 and extended it to other U.S. cities by 1985. The service offered banking, shopping, news and ads delivered over a custom terminal with color graphics capabilities beyond those of the typical PC of the time. But Viewtron never took off: It was meant to be the the "McDonald's of videotex" and at the same time cater to upmarket consumers, according to a Knight-Ridder representative at the time who apparently didn't notice the contradictions in that goal.

A Viewtron terminal cost $900 initially (the price was later dropped to $600 in an attempt to stimulate demand); by the time the company made the service available to anyone with a standard PC, videotex's moment had passed.

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