Large-scale projects and their possibility of failure


Since IT specialists started working on projects they had to face the possibility of failure. According to their scales they could be separated in three categories: small, medium and large scaled.Even if in all of them failure was always extremely possible to happen, in large-scale projects it was much more possible than in the other two types of projects.

Below, there are the reasons of this phenomenon analysed and, finally, there is a discussion about how developers could avoid it.

1 out of 9 succeed

Frederick Brooks does a very vivid comparison in his book called “The Mythical Man-Month”[2]. He compares the large-scale projects with pre-historical beasts that are inside a tar pit and struggle and fight back in order not to sink. However, it is well-known that as someone fights to avoid sinking the more he sinks.

It is a matter of fact that, nowadays, the structure of the large-scale projects has changed a lot as far as concerns simplicity. The needs from a project have become more and the developers must create constructions that are more complex and produce results that have nothing to do with past project efforts [1]. According to a UK study only 1 out of 9 large-scale projects finally succeed  and because of large-scale system failure the cost is more than one trillion dollars worldwide [3].

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons that can occur failure. Firstly, the most important is complexity. In company systems today, there are millions of computers used by people all over the world who are using the same network in order to write code and work on the same project. It is normal that one wrong life of code can cause serious problems [1]. Furthermore, as bigger as a project it is more difficult to separate it into tasks, because of the fact that it is not so easy the tasks to be divided and be equal in difficulty.

Secondly, over-optimism is capable to lead to failure. Large groups with many good programmers make the inexperienced feel confident and the experienced ones are under pressure and have to accomplish a plan that is not so realistic as it is described by the customers[1].

Furthermore, the final part of a project is the testing. Because of delays, testing is usually a mis-scheduled part and the product is not really tested in order to be ready to be delivered to the customer. Finally, another reason of failure is that in large and complex projects customers do not really know how to say what they want. They are not programmers and I believe it is really acceptable. However, they should be open-minded and try to understand and the programmer and try to think in the way he does [1].

How to avoid? – Discussion 

The first think that should be done is to simplify as more as possible the project in order to  avoid complexity. Research and estimation of complexity are probably the best ways even  if it is understood that it is difficult to measure complexity  from the beginning of the project. It is known that companies do not pay so much attention to testing. However, this is an important way to avoid failure because of the fact that in testing it is the first time that the program really runs and bugs that before were priceless after the testing might look really big [1].

Although, in my opinion, it is also important to build a team that is able to focus on the real targets, understand the capabilities and not overestimate them. The team leader must, also, inspire the team and make them do anything that it takes to follow the schedule. IT industry should also work more on finding new methods that could be used in order to be able to follow the new needs and expectations.


As the information technology is being evolved day by day the amount of demands is getting larger and larger. Projects are now much bigger than they used to be and companies are trying to produce the best possible result. However, most large-scale projects fail. There are may reason why this happens. Although, it is significant for the managers to understand that the creation of software has become very complex and failure is not that amazing. I believe, that, the keys to avoid failure are the stuffing of a very good team, which does not include only experience, but also responsibility and good communication and the understanding of the importance of testing.


[1] Denker, Ahmet. “The Challenge of Large-Scale IT Projects.” World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology 9 (2005).

[2] Frederick P. Brooks Jr. – The Mythical Man-month: Essays on Software Engineering – Chapter 3- 1975

[3] Dalcher, Darren, and Audley Genus. “Introduction: Avoiding IS/IT implementation failure.” Technology analysis & strategic management 15.4 (2003): 403-407.