Biggest Software Project Failures of all Time

Software developers can learn a lot from successful software projects, however even more can be learnt by looking at the world’s biggest software disasters.

In this guide we look at some of the biggest software project failures in history.

Windows Blue Screen of Death

The Universal Credit system – The UK’s biggest agile software project

The Universal Credit system is currently a matter of hot debate within both the software industry, as well as in mainstream news.

Whilst the government continue to contest how problematic this project has been, industry experts have drawn the conclusion that the agile approach has not only failed, but failed on epic proportions.

Just how much this project has cost thus far is another topic for debate; however it is undoubtedly in the millions. As of 2012, this project has reverted back to waterfall development.

J Sainsbury’s $526 million black hole

In October of 2005, one of Britain’s biggest food retailer lost $526 million through a system that was meant to automate the supply chain of the organisation.

The huge monetary loss resulted from vast amounts of food items not getting through to stores in time; as well as this, Sainsbury’s had to take on and pay for over 3000 additional staff members in order to stock and record their shelves and items through a manual process

Something that seems ludicrous to us at as it should to any project management company.

The $1 billion loss of the US Air Force

If there’s any organisation that you’d think would have a robust contracting process, it’s the US Air Force. However, in 2012 they were forced to give up entirely on an enterprise resource planning system that had cost them $1 billion.

This software project, called “the Expeditionary Combat Support System”, was supposed to be the new system that would make efficiencies beyond all expectations, and was expected to replace over 200 legacy systems.

This project began as far back as 2005, and was marred with issues from the beginning; in 2012, some 7 years down the road, the US Air Force finally admitted defeat and announced that the system had failed in establishing “any significant military capability.”

The California courts give up on modernising their systems

This software project is an important one to learn from; whilst the development team had in fact been on track as to their aims, the budget wasn’t.

The powers that be pulled the project and have continued to use their outmoded system for their case management.

In such an instance, it’s of course important to ask exactly how much money they continue to waste through an inefficient system on a daily basis.

The $25 million fine and the software project that shouldn’t have completed

One software project that did complete, but perhaps shouldn’t have, was that of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); this system led to such a catastrophic error, that they got fined $25 million when investors lost a staggering $217 million!

Whilst the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) did initially proclaim that this lost was due to market volatility, they eventually accepted that it had indeed, been a software error.


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