Top 10 software development risks

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

Building and maintaining software can be a risky business. As the acceleration to digital transformation across markets, nations, and the wider world continues, software developers are in high demand, but the process is fraught with potential challenges.

Most enterprises rely on software – and so extra cost, delays, or the inability to realise goals in developing it can have serious consequences. Larger risks that can sabotage long-term projects require immediate attention, and that means putting the emphasis on risk management.

Here, we'll elaborate the top 10 software development risks for developers and businesses alike.

1. Estimation and scheduling

The unique nature of individual software projects creates problems for developers and managers in estimating and scheduling development time. Always monitor existing projects so that you apply lessons learnt in the future.

If you're responsible for IT in your business or enterprise, make sure that you put quality assurance at the core of software development all-round, but in particular focus on it at the start, so that corners aren't cut.

2. Sudden growth in requirements

Man working on Kanban board to signify agile development

As a project progresses, issues that are not identified earlier can create a last-minute hurdle to meeting deadlines. Try to think big early on in the project, and anticipate the worst-case or heaviest-use scenario.

It's worth aligning software development goals with your business strategy at this point, because things might change that have an unintended impact on development, and it's best to be across them sooner rather than later.

3. Employee turnover

Every project has a number of developers working on it. When a developers leaves, they may take critical information with them. This can delay, and sometimes derail, an entire project. Ensure you have resources where team members can collaborate and share knowledge, or utilise the best talent management software to plug those knowledge gaps quickly and comprehensively.

4. Breakdown of specification

close-up of code on computer screen

During the initial phases of integration and coding, requirements might conflict. Moreover, developers may find that even the specification is unclear or incomplete. This refers back to steps one and two, in that you should always ensure that plans are aligned at the onset of software development, to avoid scrapping hard work at a later (and potentially problematic) stage.

5. Productivity issues

On projects involving long timelines, developers tend to take things easy to begin with. As a result, sometimes, they lose significant time to complete the project. Set a realistic schedule, and stick to it: by doing this, you'll ensure that the project finishes on time, and to a higher standard than if you let it slide.

6. Compromising on designs

A UX designer using a laptop and a smartphone while planning new webpage layouts

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In order to get stuck into the next ‘real’ tasks, developers tend to rush the design-process. This is a waste of programming hours, as designing is the most critical part of software development, and having to revisit it later in the process risks dragging everything back a few steps to ensure things like UX remain at a high level.

7. Gold plating

Developers sometimes like to show off their skills by adding unnecessary features. For instance, a developer might add Flash to a basic login module to make it look ‘stylish’. Again, this is a waste of programming hours, which could be better spent on sticking to the timeline for development and getting the software completed.

8. Procedural risks

A web developer using multiple machines and displays to code

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Day-to-day operational activities might hamper the software development plan and procedure, due to improper process implementation, conflicting priorities, or a lack of clarity in responsibilities. This is the nature of business, and in that sense it's worth remembering the timeline and when development must be finished by.

9. Technical risks

Sometimes software development firms reduce the functionality of the software to compensate for overruns pertaining to high budgets and scheduling. There is always a conflict between achieving maximum functionality of the software and peak performance. In order to compensate for excessive budget and schedule overruns, companies sometimes reduce the functionality of the software.

This is a particularly dangerous moment in terms of app security, and ensuring that this is centred within the software development lifecycle will mean less chance of the app's security being compromised when live.

10. Unavoidable risks

man coding on computer with code lighting up his face

These include changes in government policy, the obsolescence of software or other risks that cannot be controlled or estimated. Without knowing about these ahead of time, you have no way to appreciate their impact or when they'll occur, so it's best to remain informed and stay up-to-date on what matters to your development process.

Software development risks: Summary

As the field of software development becomes more and more complex, the risks associated with it have intensified. It is vital that development firms focus on strategic planning to mitigate such risks, and build continuous improvement into software development at every stage, so as to avoid these risks we've outlined above.

Further reading on software development

It's worth looking at our range of software guides for different areas too, including our round-ups of the best antivirus software, the best remote desktop software, and the best data recovery software. We also looked at a series of cloud-related software in our guides to the best cloud orchestration software, the best cloud management software, and the best cloud HCM software.

Will Roszczyk

Will was previously US and Ecommerce Editor at IT Pro, and before that B2B editor for ecommerce with a particular focus on IT Pro Portal, alongside responsibilities on Tom's Guide and TechRadar Pro for certain verticals.

Having been a sub editor, associate editor, and deputy editor at a global B2B publication, and editor of a B2B membership journal, he has over 12 years of editorial experience in the sector, spanning online content and magazine production. In his spare time, he writes film and video game reviews.