Why Software Projects Fail: Lack of Empathy

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
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There is one fundamental reason many software projects fail - because we're all human. In this month’s series of blog posts, we’re taking a deeper look at three human factors to consider in your software projects. Read the series introduction here.

Many software projects fail almost right out of the gate. Why? Because they don’t emphasize the one human factor that rises above the rest: empathy.

To be successful, products must focus on what people actually need.

That seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many software projects start without adequate research.

That’s because empathy is not always easy when it's competing with other priorities. It takes constant effort to keep the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of your users top of mind.

Here are some ways to build in empathy while you're wrestling with code, making design decisions, and balancing budgets.

Recognize that Empathy Comes in Many Forms

Empathy in software projects begins with user research, but it can’t end there. It needs to be at the center of as many decisions as possible related to the product.

How? By keeping your users top of mind throughout the product development lifecycle.

We kick off every one of our projects by drawing backwards with research. These insights then help us aim our arrow at the right target when we bring stakeholders together in a Design Thinking workshop. As we co-create personas, journey maps, and other artifacts, we grow our understanding of how people feel and think about the problem.

This shared vision serves as a guide when designing pages, building features, or writing microcopy. More importantly, it sets the tone early that we’re dedicated to keeping user needs front and center.

Empathy can take many forms. For successful software projects, it often takes the form of a thousand small decisions that lead to delightful moments for the end user.

Remember that Empathy is for Everybody

Empathy is not only the responsibility of researchers. True software project success relies on empathetic team members who take the needs of end users to heart in everything they do.

Everybody on the team - from marketing, to design, to development, to executive leadership - needs to cultivate and maintain empathy not only for users, but for each other.

Teams that have empathy for each other work better together and have better work environments. Collaboration is key to any successful project. Empathy helps team members understand the needs behind the requests they get from each other.

There are all kinds of ways to cultivate empathy among your project team, but one of the most powerful is to lead by example. When leaders are empathetic to the needs of their teams, they build teams of individuals who have each other's backs.

Cultivate Empathy as a Process

Empathy is not a destination. There is no arrival at some magical land where you can feel and think like everybody else.

Empathy requires constant effort and attention. It demands that teammates hold each other accountable and remind each other of the people within their products.

Like other skills, empathy builds over time through practice and experience. Like other skills, it can also erode through neglect. You need to build and rebuild empathy with every project.

The great thing is, once you’ve practiced using empathy in your software projects, it makes it that much easier to continue to use it in future projects.

Looking For a Little More Empathy in Your Software Projects?

We work with clients every day in building their empathy to deliver success.

If you’re looking for ways to build more empathy in your projects, start with some of our empathy exercises and learn why we put empathy and research #3 in our 12 competencies of UX design.

If you need more hands-on assistance, we’re just a click away. Let’s talk about how empathy can make sure your next software project is a meaningful and delightful success.