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December 12, 2006

Why projects fail.

Category: Daniel Hinderink Daniel Hinderink

By: Daniel Hinderink

Failure is normal. So far for theory. In reality projects fail, because of reasons so stupid, it has made managers with half a brain left turn to cartoonists (and getting far richer in the process). Here are my top five reasons why online projects fail. Failure does not mean they never live to see the launch date, failure means they produce bad information quality in hard-to-use interfaces with no content management processes defined (and some other things that stink).

Around Chamonix it was known
as the day gravity turned left

Reason #1: Not enough Karma

Websites are a visual representation of an organization, probably the most important one too today. Additionally, since content is the lifeblood of an organization, re-designing processes so they fuel the communication channel almost always means changing how people work. Both issues need decision making power on a very high, if not the highest level (in small and medium enterprises).

However, often if not in most cases, projects that require the employment of content management technologies and processes are delegated to lower ranks that inevitably bump into limits that hamper the project. Consequently the effort falls short of a possible return on investment, often far from the the maximum.

Worse still, many projects turn into an all-too obvious display of all the compromises that had to be made along the powerlines dividing branches and departments.

Others run well on their tracks, only to be turned into pulp by a CEO who wants to add his mark very late in the game and without regard for the many considerations and decisions that lead to the situation at hand.

The solution is simple and sometimes very hard to enforce: involve top ranks from the beginning and make them aware of the potential of a content management project, be it on the intranet or internet. These projects almost always lend themselves to changing structures, something a manager worth her salt is sure to look for.


Reason #2: Too little logic insight

If you take your car to the garage, you can rest assured they will not pester you with details. They just fix the brakes.

Sadly, that doesn't work with online projects. Especially when it comes to building new functionality that mirrors a business process, limitations of fundamental logic and also some technical basics must be understood by the client.

Otherwise there will always be expectations towards the software that cannot be fulfilled.

The solution: Take every step necessary to make your client understand the logic of his own requirements. And then add two more diagrammes.


Reason #3: A nonchalant disregard for content

Projects seldomly get delayed, because the software isn't produced on time. Most projects don't make the deadline, because content was not the first thing to produce in the project management plan. This is a short paragraph, but it's the #1 advice if you are after finishing on time.

The solution: The second the information structure, goals and target groups are defined, make sure writing, filming, illustrating etc. starts. It's the last thing to get finished - and be very serious about project management! Those bars help people understand the project far better than any number of protocols.


Reason #4: No strategy

It sounds inconceivable, but there are clients out there with a very vague idea why they want to start a certain project and what exactly it should improve within their organisation's communication. This leads to the project behaving like a drunk driver in later stages adding gimicks here and substracting useful (but expensive) basics elsewhere. I believe it is essential to not join in such projects, regardless of the possible profit to be made, or you will become mad in the process and waste your time on requirements changing on a daily basis.

The solution: Insist on a concept phase that defines stakeholders, real-world problems that the project will solve and a rock-solid specification document.


Reason #5: No love for the medium

Somehow the fizzy digital stuff is all nice and dandy, but it just doesn't have the same show-off value on the golf course as the next annual report for a certain age group often in decision making positions.

However, the people who buy the product want quick, relevant information. Even more so, the intranet has even less show-off value, but should still be up there with the top information infrastructure investments. In reality it is often hard to explain what works and what doesn't to people that ask how to flip to the next page on the website presented.

There is no solution to this, but continuously trying to spread the word about the power and relevance of online media, even if you think everybody already has had enough of that new economy noise. Keep rooting for the medium, too many still haven't understood it's potential.


Many projects survive these obstacles and some don't even have them. Many of those obstacles go away with growing budgets, because they tend to attract more attention. However, it pays to look after those proposed solutions in your projects, because they tend to be on time, on budget and are much more fun. At last this is what yours-truly has been taught in the University of hard knocks.


comment #1
Gravatar: -julle -julle December 13, 2006 09:55
Daniel, that is the most useful information on buzz yet. Great work, I am sure I will be returning to this often when we start up new projects.


comment #2
Gravatar: Janno Schouwenburg Janno Schouwenburg January 12, 2007 09:24
Daniel, this is a realy great article! I recognise all of the things you mention but have never seen them so clearly defined. I will also use this like Julie in project startup to recognise possible failure before it happens.

Thnx, Janno

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