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I'm not a programmer; I'm a freelance writer and researcher. I have a client who is looking for stats on certain "threats" to the apps market in general (not any specific app store).

One of them is cowboy coding: specifically, he wants to see numbers regarding how many apps have failed to function as intended/crashed/removed because of errors made by, in essence, sloppy coding. Note that I'm not here to debate the merits of cowboy coding, and whether or not it is sloppy.

Is there any data about this type of development?

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closed as not a real question by Yannis Rizos, Tom Squires, Jarrod Roberson, GrandmasterB, Karl Bielefeldt Nov 28 '11 at 22:20

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I don't think you are going to find any hard numbers. Not many people like talking about why their project failed. Trying to restrict an already small group to a specific subset is going to lead you to anecdotal evidence, as you have already found. –  unholysampler Nov 27 '11 at 16:53
As a professional researcher, I was making myself crazy wondering why I haven't been able to find hard numbers, but that makes sense. Thanks. –  Christine Nov 27 '11 at 16:57
For an app 'marketplace' such as the Apple appstore you might not receive any metrics on sloppy workmanship because all apps on the appstore have to pass a rigorous test before they are even available for public access. So non would of met your criteria of failure because they just wouldn't get listed if they were 'sloppy'. As far as i'm aware other app marketplaces don't have the tests like Apple's. –  Gary Willoughby Nov 27 '11 at 18:01
Based on @Gary comments, maybe if you write to apple they will give you some information on things like the average number of times an application is rejected before it is listed. –  Loki Astari Nov 27 '11 at 18:12
Developer post-mortems are the best you are going to get for why certain things about the product worked and why other things didn't. However it's still anecdotal. At least they usually go into detail with as to why some features were made sloppily or didn't turn out as planned. –  Chris C Nov 27 '11 at 20:27

4 Answers 4

It'll be hard to get scientifically obtained numbers. However, the book "Software Project Runaways" is an excellent collection of case studies in software project mismanagement. That might be helpful.

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This is a topic I have done some 'light research' into over the years, due to my own experiances. In my case, what could only be called "cowboy" software made my boss tens of millions of dollars in a couple of years, while "best practice" drove another to the brink of bankrupcy.

I doubt you will find any hard numbers - as other commenters above have pointed out, people don't like to admit failure. Perhaps a better search would be for research into reasons for software project failure. I am certain you will find "cowboy" coding to be so low in the list, it's not even a single line item - it will be bundled with "Others".

Software projects do not tend to fail due to bad programming. The Microsoft detractors were always reminding us of how bad their software products were, but they still became of the richest companies in the world.

I beleive the reason for your reseach not finding the answers you seek is that the premise of your question is incorrect - i.e. Software projects do not fail due to bad programming.

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Modern Microsoft products are pretty good. –  user1249 Nov 28 '11 at 8:47
I think there's a lot of software projects that fail due to bad programming, only they fail silently, because they never take off, so they can't go down with a bang. –  back2dos Nov 28 '11 at 17:32
The CHAOS Report is a classic place to start when looking for reasons software projects fail. The link provided is to the 1995 version of the report, but the reasons cited for failure remain the same each year the report is compiled. –  Trav Nov 28 '11 at 18:24
@Trav - I think thats the answer the OP is looking for. Thanks. –  mattnz Nov 28 '11 at 19:19

You're going to have a hard time finding numbers, and even if you do, you'll need to define your terms better before you can understand the numbers. One man's cowboy is another man's agile developer.

Also, "fail" is ambiguous. To me, a failed project is one that never makes it to market in the first place, so by definition there are zero failed projects in the marketplace.

Finally, cowboy coding is never the reason that a project fail, in the sense of being cancelled or abandoned. It's one factor that can lead to the reasons that projects are cancelled, along with poor management, lousy process, lack of skill, lack of funds, legal issues, and so on. Nobody ever says: "I'm canceling the project because Sixgun Slim over here can't be bothered to use our development process," but they do say: "I'm canceling the project because the schedule has slipped four times already, we're creating bugs faster than we're fixing them, and my judgement is that it'll be cheaper to stop now than to stop three months from now."

So, if you want to know how often cowboy coding leads to project failure, you'll need to first look at the real reasons that projects fail, and then try to determine how often those problems are caused by individuals who ignore process. Don't forget to also look for cases where projects that are failing due to over-restrictive processes are saved by a visionary maverick who gets things done by flouting the process. It's been known to happen.

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I can recommend the book, "Making Software: What Really Works and Why We Believe It." It is full of case studies into a variety of topics. I don't recall a chapter specifically on cowboy coding, but there is chapters on, for example, "Evidence based failure predication", and "Where do most software flaws come from?". One of my very favorite books on creating software.

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