Failure Before Launch: Why Software Planning Phases Fail to Transition into Development Phases

Failure Before Launch: Why Software Planning Phases Fail to Transition into Development Phases

The Increments Inc. team has extensively discussed the keys to project and product success, as well as the measures taken to achieve desired success criteria that reflect iterative progress for our clients and our development team.

For instance, Ross recently shared how our pre-project consulting process aids in avoiding failures through critical steps taken with clients even before project kickoff, while Brad discussed how unaddressed technical debt can jeopardize projects and products, setting them on a course for failure. Additionally, Tim highlighted the importance of involving end-users early on to significantly reduce the risk of product failure.

This post aims to delve further into project pitfalls following the planning phase of software development.

What is software planning?

Software planning involves defining objectives, requirements, scope, feasibility, and other crucial aspects of a software project or product.

At Increments Inc., the software planning phase is referred to as Validation, Design, & Planning (VDP), which is a pivotal stage in the product development lifecycle. Our consulting team brings the product idea to fruition by thoroughly exploring the challenges faced by the client. The primary aim of the VDP is to generate a set of essential artifacts necessary for success in the subsequent build phase. These artifacts encompass clear definitions of business value, requirements, technical design and architecture, end-to-end UI mockups, roadmaps, and time/cost estimates for building the product.

Common Reasons Software Projects Fail Before Development

The VDP phase of a project is integral to our risk mitigation strategy aimed at preventing failures later in the development process. These phases are often intense and exhilarating; however, transitioning to the next phase – development and delivery – presents one of the most challenging aspects of the VDP. Bearing this in mind, below are some of the most common reasons projects fail to advance beyond the planning phase.

Scope Creep (and, by extension, sticker shock)

Deciding to embark on building a new product should never be underestimated, yet there are numerous advantages to developing custom software. The drive to embrace innovation trends (such as ChatGPT), impress users with remarkable features, or distinguish oneself from existing products can sometimes lead to scope bloat, resulting in increased time and cost needed to develop the initial version of a new product. Navigating this terrain can be challenging. To sustain momentum, Increments Inc. strives to ensure that business goals, objectives, and success criteria are clearly defined well in advance of reaching any stage where complex product decisions are made.

Misaligned Expectations

Expectations are rooted in the belief that the actions of an individual or team will yield desired outcomes. While top-notch products are crafted with outcomes in sight, they are also orchestrated and engineered by highly interdisciplinary teams of artisans and stakeholders. Diverse perspectives inherently lead to different – and at times conflicting – expectations, where personal needs and/or experiences may hinder progress toward success.

One scenario that may lead to misaligned expectations is when developing a product to support multiple interconnected business units that share many requirements but hold differing priorities and expectations regarding what should be prioritized first to showcase growth and/or efficiency. Another scenario involves personal experiences with smaller-scale software development projects, which may set unrealistic expectations concerning the time, effort, and cost required to develop a contemporary and secure application.

Changes in Priorities

Businesses are continually evolving, primarily driven by external factors such as competitors or partners/suppliers. Project teams working toward outcomes over a period of six months or longer, and sometimes even five years, inevitably encounter shifts in priorities within an organization. Even seemingly minor changes made several levels above a project can have a significant impact. This often proves to be a perplexing experience for all parties involved, and it remains an ongoing challenge for business sponsors and project/product managers or owners to navigate these changes or shield the team from their effects as much as possible.

One of the most prevalent changes affecting custom software projects occurs when a shift in priorities leads to a change in leadership, particularly in the sponsor or product owner role. This may necessitate a leader to assume responsibility over a broader range of products or services and necessitate a re-evaluation of project priorities.


Too little. Too much. Too little time spent with end users. Too much time between phases. Too little time dedicated to the project. Too much emphasis on time and not on value or outcomes. There are various ways time can pose a challenge to the process of advancing beyond the validation, design, and planning stage of custom software product development.

In some instances, time can serve as a distraction from crucial discussions surrounding product vision, prioritization, and expectations, as there’s a preference for rapid planning. Conversely, some adhere to Parkinson’s law, which suggests that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” prompting us to judiciously streamline the timeline to prevent any surplus time from leading to inefficiencies.

Ultimately, the success of a project or product is frequently gauged in terms of the time taken to achieve measurable business value. The longer it takes to realize tangible outcomes, the greater the risk of failure.

Looking Ahead to Project Success

While there are various factors that could impede progress from the planning phase to the development phase, scope creep, misaligned expectations, changes in priorities, and time are among the most prevalent contributing factors. At Increments Inc., our team has devised effective risk mitigation strategies to tackle these challenges and others as they emerge. Based on our experience, taking proactive steps to manage risk can greatly enhance the prospects of project success.

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