Requirements engineering issues causing software development outsourcing failure

Requirements engineering issues causing software development outsourcing failure

Table of Contents


Software development outsourcing is becoming more and more famous because of the advantages like cost abatement, process enhancement, and coping with the scarcity of needed resources. Studies confirm that unfortunately, a large proportion of the software development outsourcing projects fails to realize anticipated benefits. Investigations into the failures of such projects divulge that in several cases software development outsourcing projects are failing because of the issues that are associated with the requirements engineering process. The objective of this study is the identification and the ranking of the commonly occurring issues of the requirements engineering process in the case of software development outsourcing.

For this purpose, contemporary literature has been assessed rigorously, issues faced by practitioners have been identified and three questionnaire surveys have been organized by involving experienced software development outsourcing practitioners. The Delphi technique, cut-off value method, and 50% rule have also been employed. The study explores 150 issues (129 issues from literature and 21 from industry) of requirements engineering process for software development outsourcing, groups the 150 issues into 7 identified categories, and then extricates 43 customarily or commonly arising issues from the 150 issues. Founded on ‘frequency of occurrence’ the 43 customarily arising issues have been ranked with respect to respective categories (category-wise ranking) and with respect to all the categories (overall ranking). Categories of the customarily arising issues have also been ranked. The issues’ identification and ranking contribute to design proactive software project management plans for dealing with software development outsourcing failures and attaining conjectured benefits of software development outsourcing.


During information technology outsourcing some or all the IT-related functions are transferred to the extrinsic supplier(s) according to a contract [1]. A category of information technology outsourcing is Software Development Outsourcing (SDO) that involves contracting out some or all the software development-related tasks to the vendor(s) [2–3]. The concept of SDO is gaining popularity swiftly [4] as it proclaims the benefits of both parties [5]. European firms contract out software development to countries like India, Vietnam, and China.

There are two main classes of the reasons for outsourcing [7–9]: I. Advantages of outsourcing for example cost savings, exploiting superior technologies and capabilities, and utilizing inner resources optimally. Organizations’ restrictions, for example, poor management and scarceness of the apposite resources. The vendor is profited by the enrichment of expertise and by learning how clients’ requirements can be satisfied [10]. Thus, the vendor is capable of adding significant value to clients’ supply chains [11]. SDO has several types [12–13] like onshoring [14–15], nearshoring [14], offshoring [14], distributed software development [16–17] and Global Software Development (GSD) [16–18].

The projects are outsourced for software development to attain predicted advantages, but several jeopardies are associated with SDO [10]. Rate of failure is high in the case of such projects, for example, 40% of the offshored projects did not achieve foreseen advantages [19]. The rate of failure in the case of GSD is 50% [6, 13]. Surveys prove that the success rate in the case of SDO is only 50% [20]. The issues that are originated from the Requirements Engineering (RE) process, are one of the main reasons for SDO failure [6, 8, 21–22].

RE is the most crucial activity during the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) which also affects other SDLC activities substantially [23–24]. A study shows that RE related errors occur frequently during SDLC [25]. According to an industrial survey of the RE problems confronted by 12 software development companies, RE related errors are 48% of the total number of SDLC errors [24]. These problems are augmented manifold in the case of SDO because of the physical dispersion of stakeholders [18, 26–27]. Thus, many issues are created for RE process in the case of SDO [18, 28]. Therefore, customarily occurring or arising issues of the RE process for SDO must be identified and ranked to design a proactive strategy for addressing SDO failure and hence attaining the benefits of SDO. While finding common issues of the RE process for SDO, the categories of such issues should also be known so that the issues could be grouped into the corresponding categories.

In this context, this study frames the following Research Questions (RQs):

RQ1: Which are the categories of the issues of the RE process for SDO?

RQ2: Which are customarily or frequently arising issues of the RE Process for SDO?

Along with the identification of the common SDO RE process issues, the issues need to be ranked to plan a proactive and workable strategy for addressing the issues. This leads to the third RQ:

RQ3: What is the ranking of each: 3.1. Customarily arising issue of the RE process for SDO with regards to the respective category of the issue (Category-wise ranking)? 3.2. Customarily arising issue of the RE process for SDO with regards to issues belonging to all the categories (Overall ranking)? 3.3. Category of the issues of the RE process for SDO?

This paper is organized as follows: section 2 highlights the related work, section 3 expresses the research methodology adopted for this research work whereas section 4 describes results. Section 5 presents discussions and section 6 is regarding limitations of the study. Finally, section 7 concludes the paper and specifies future directions.

Conclusion and future

directions Taking into account the anticipated benefits of Software Development Outsourcing (SDO) and reasons for the SDO failure, this study explores and highlights the commonly arising issues of the Requirements Engineering (RE) process in the case of SDO. Many a time RE process issues jeopardize SDO projects and eventually, such projects are failed. To evade the ‘fire fighting’ approach for tackling the SDO RE process issues and for successfully addressing such issues to attain the SDO benefits, the issue must be contemplated beforehand based on ‘frequency of occurrence’.

This study explores the issues of the RE process for SDO. The issues belong to various categories. Thus, firstly this study identifies seven categories of the RE process issues for SDO that are:

i. Communication, ii. Knowledge management and awareness, iii. Cultural diversities, iv. Management and coordination, v. Processes and tools, vi. The relationship among stakeholders, and vii. Requirements centric (RQ1).

To devise a pragmatic proactive strategy for addressing the SDO RE process issues, the commonly occurring SDO RE process issues must be identified. Therefore, 43 customarily arising SDO RE process issues have been excavated from the list of total 150 issues (129 issues from literature and 21 from SDO industry). Out of the 43 issues, six issues belong to the ‘communication’ category and seven issues belong to the ‘knowledge management and awareness’ category. Similarly, the ‘cultural diversities’ category causes five issues. Furthermore, five issues belong to ‘management and coordination’. The ‘processes and tools’ category has five issues, six issues are related to ‘relationship among stakeholders’ whereas nine issues are from the ‘requirements centric’ category (RQ2). Ranking of the issues is also essential for dealing with the issues.

Therefore, the ranks of the issues have been ascertained hinging on the ‘frequency of occurrence’ of the issues by incorporating a five-point Likert scale: i. Almost always i.e. 90 to 100% time (5), ii. Frequently i.e. 60 to 89% time (4), iii. About half of the time i.e. 40 to 59% time (3), iv. Occasionally i.e. 10 to 39% time (2), and v. Rarely i.e. seldom or never (1). The two ranks have been associated with each issue: i. Category-wise rank, and ii. Overall rank. The Category-wise rank provides the rank of an issue with respect to all the other issues within the respective category of the issue (RQ3.1) whereas the Overall rank provides the rank of an issue with respect to all the other issues belonging to all the seven categories (RQ3.2). The seven categories of the frequently arising issues have also been ranked. The seven categories along with the respective ranks are:

i. Communication (1), ii. Management and coordination (2), iii. Knowledge management and awareness (3), iv. Requirements centric (4), v. Cultural diversities (5), vi. Processes and tools (6), vii. The relationship

The study also presents the top 10 issues of the SDO RE process. The identification of the commonly occurring SDO RE process issues and the ranking of the issues helps executives and managers in planning a proactive strategy for dealing with the SDO RE process issues and hence to achieve prophesied benefits of SDO.

As the future work, the plan is to i. Identify the root-causes for the commonly occurring issues of the RE process in the case of SDO, for this purpose Root Cause Analysis would be performed. ii. Purpose a model for addressing the issues of the SDO RE process. among stakeholders (7) (RQ3.3).

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FULL Paper PDF file:

Requirements engineering issues causing software development outsourcing failure


Author Contributions

Data curation: Javed Iqbal, Fazal-e-Amin, Adnan Akhunzada, Muhammad Shoaib.

Department of Computer Science, COMSATS University, Islamabad, Pakistan, 2 Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 3 Department of Engineering, National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, Pakistan, 4 College of Computer and Information Sciences, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Formal analysis: Javed Iqbal, Rodina B. Ahmad, Muzafar Khan, Fazal-e-Amin, Sultan Alyahya, Adnan Akhunzada, Muhammad Shoaib.

Funding acquisition: Fazal-e-Amin, Sultan Alyahya, Muhammad Shoaib.

Investigation: Javed Iqbal, Muzafar Khan, Sultan Alyahya.

Methodology: Javed Iqbal, Mohd Hairul Nizam Nasir.

Project administration: Rodina B. Ahmad, Mohd Hairul Nizam Nasir.

Resources: Rodina B. Ahmad, Mohd Hairul Nizam Nasir.

Supervision: Rodina B. Ahmad.

Validation: Javed Iqbal.

Writing – original draft: Javed Iqbal, Muzafar Khan.

Published: April 9, 2020

Requirements engineering issues causing software development outsourcing failure. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0229785. pone.0229785

Editor: Baogui Xin, Shandong University of Science and Technology, CHINA

Received: November 24, 2019

Accepted: February 13, 2020

Published: April 9, 2020, Peer

Review History: PLOS recognizes the benefits of transparency in the peer review process; therefore, we enable the publication of all of the content of peer review and author responses alongside final, published articles. The editorial history of this article is available here:

Copyright: © 2020 Iqbal et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.

PDF reference and original file: Click here

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Nasim Gazerani was born in 1983 in Arak. She holds a Master's degree in Software Engineering from UM University of Malaysia.

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Professor Siavosh Kaviani was born in 1961 in Tehran. He had a professorship. He holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering from the QL University of Software Development Methodology and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chelsea.

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Maryam kakaei was born in 1984 in Arak. She holds a Master's degree in Software Engineering from Azad University of Arak.