What Is a Software Crisis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A software crisis is a mismatch between what software can deliver and the capacities of computer systems, as well as expectations of their users. This became a growing problem in the 20th century as computing grew by leaps and bounds and software was unable to keep pace. As the complexity of systems grows, so do the needs of users, who expect increasingly more performance from their software. Programmers may struggle to keep pace, creating a software crisis.

Pressure to produce complex, advanced code can be a significant contributor to a software crisis.
Pressure to produce complex, advanced code can be a significant contributor to a software crisis.

Consumer software typically moves through a slow series of development phases, but makes up a small portion of the volume of business in the industry. The bulk of software development is sunk into systems for specific applications, ranging from the programs that handle missile guidance aboard naval cruisers to internal record-keeping for health insurance companies. This software generally requires a substantial investment from the customer, as well as extensive programming from personnel charged with developing, testing, and maintaining it.

Trying to keep up with competitors can cause a software crisis.
Trying to keep up with competitors can cause a software crisis.

Such projects can run into a software crisis where they start to go over budget and take much longer than expected to develop. The programmers working on the software may have to deal with ongoing bug fixes while learning new aspects of a system, making adjustments for the client, and addressing other issues that arise. Low quality can be a concern, as the programmers may experience increasing pressure to meet budgets at all costs, even if it means the software won’t be of good quality. Less documentation tends to be produced as well.

This is not just an issue for the development of new software products. Another concern can be the need to maintain older software which may have problems related to poor development or the failure to anticipate growing needs. Programmers could be spending large amounts of time on keeping legacy software functional so a company can continue to operate. With high investment in the older software, the company may be reluctant to order a new program, even if it would better meet their needs, because this could involve more expense and problems during the changeover.

Pressure to produce complex, advanced code can be a significant contributor to a software crisis. It can be difficult to control the pressure while keeping costs under control and staying on a time table. Some measures for dealing with a software crisis can include substantial advanced planning, selection of highly qualified personnel, and ongoing updates to make sure the project stays on task and on focus.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@bythewell - I think it's that blockbuster mentality that causes software crises. Companies think if they don't manage to get to the number one spot they will quickly be replaced by something else. They don't want to maintain old software, because there's no profit in it.

This is why I think that freeware and open source software is the way of the future. It's done for the love of it and maintained for the love of it, rather than for profit.

Which is not to say that they can't suffer from a software crisis as well, but at least they aren't using up lots of money when they do so.


@browncoat - The thing that gets to me is that there are plenty of extraordinarily popular games out there that aren't dependent on the latest technology. I think it's sad that software and games seem to be so dependent on the tech upgrades, rather than on the imagination of the people putting them together.

I know that the technology can do some wonderful things now, but there are so many apps out there which only use basic technology and are very successful, because someone bothered to put together an original and useful program.


So many potentially decent games have had software crises it's not even funny. The most famous is probably that sequel to Duke Nukem that was supposed to come out years ago and kept being delayed. They put off the release date over and over, because they kept promising it would be the best game ever, and they kept taking so long that new technology would come out and they'd have to start over in order to incorporate it.

Plus, they just weren't really well organized. And it's a real shame, because there was so much hype, they probably could have released anything in the early years and people would have loved it. But they basically just wasted a whole bunch of money instead.

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