Louis Georgiou
Louis Georgiou 6 September 2018
Categories Technology

The Challenges Digital Professionals Are Facing: Why Digital Projects Fail

Woody Allen once famously quoted, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative”. And of course, learning by mistakes can deliver valuable lessons – in life and business.

A new survey has revealed that a massive 97% of companies have had digital projects that have failed, with 22% claiming it’s a frequent occurence.

Around half claim that failure happens occasionally.

Only 3% of all companies surveyed said that their projects never fail.

The findings came from a digital effectiveness survey to better understand the challenges digital professionals are facing.

The research went on to compare responses from businesses that were outperforming their competitors versus those who weren’t. And, while the ‘occasional’ fail figure remained relatively static, there was a bigger difference between top performers and their mainstream counterparts when it came to frequent project failure – with nearly double the number (30% versus 15%) of the mainstream reporting that their digital projects frequently fail.  

Why do projects fail?

The most common reasons given for projects to fail were

Short term priorities taking over (51%)

The initial scope was poorly defined (and the initial strategy / vision was unclear) (51% / 46%)

Trying to do too much work all at once (50%)

Silos between marketing and IT (39.5%)

However, there are some significant differences in the reasons mainstream businesses give for failures compared to those cited by top performing companies.

Mainstream companies are more likely to suffer from poor definition, unclear strategy, poor ongoing measurement and lack of alignment in the team. These are typical problems for organisations taking early steps into digital development.

Whereas top performing companies struggle most with short term priorities taking over and trying to do too much at once. The results suggest they are more focused on outcomes; they know what they want to achieve, have set out to do this but are just trying to stay on track throughout the project.

I can’t get no satisfaction

The survey also looked at business’ satisfaction to deliver digital projects on time and within budget. 

60.5% of all respondents said they are dissatisfied with their business’ ability to deliver digital projects on time and within budget.

But there are significant differences in these levels of satisfaction between businesses that are out performing their competitors and those that aren’t.

Levels of dissatisfaction to deliver on time and budget among businesses that are outperforming their competitors reduced to just 40%, whereas a massive 81% of company respondents within businesses that are just doing OK feel like they’re failing to achieve these basic goals.

So what are these higher performing businesses doing to reduce failure and to deliver their projects on time and on budget? Or, put another way – what aren’t organisations thinking or doing that’s causing them to fail to come in on time.

The survey also looked at working practices. Top-performing companies are between eight and 15 percentage points more likely to strongly support some of the best practices associated with product thinking: user centricity, long-term focus, agility and the ability to measure the ROI of specific projects1.

Tony Foggett, CEO of Code Computerlove said: “We initiated the research to garner a better understanding of how digital businesses were driving digital effectiveness.

“While everyone questioned reported some regularity of project failure, what was key for us was to understand what business that were outperforming their competitors were doing to succeed in today’s digital age.

“And it was when we looked at the comparison of top performers with the mainstream that we were able to see that the more successful companies are adopting a different approach to their digital development to their mainstream counterparts – working practices that we term as a product thinking approach.

“The responses showed that more top performers ‘strongly’ agreed that they apply a continual improvement process (24%), and are less likely to leave all their testing to the end (16%). Among the mainstream these figures went down to 13% for continual improvement and rose to 23% of teams leaving testing until the end.

“82% of top performers and 76% of the mainstream strongly agree that ‘focusing on user needs leads to better business outcomes’. Yet while three-quarters of top performers either strongly or somewhat agree that they put user needs at the heart of their development, only half of the mainstream say the same.”

“As well as some obvious reasons for projects to fail – including lack of strategy, measurement and unsuitable organisational structure for a 21st century digital business - the findings hint at another problem; are current operating conditions so challenging that, although companies know how they need to develop new products and platforms, the difficulty in doing so while keeping the business running is simply too great?"

“Collaboration is also crucial.Companies today must meet – and ideally exceed – the expectations of fickle, highly-empowered consumers at their every point of contact with the business. Customer experience is the key battleground. This requires companies to operate across multiple channels, and to do so coherently and consistently. This can only be done by developing and maintaining a single view of the customer, which in turn requires companies to operate collaboratively, across disciplines and silos.”

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