5 Reasons Digital Projects Fail: The Forgotten Role of Business Process

By Jason Foster, BPM Delivery Director on Mar. 31, 2015 View Comments

digitalprojectfailureDespite the best intentions and ever-evolving methodologies, at the end of the day many digital/IT projects still are not successful.  Several different studies over the past five years put the industry success rate below 60%. 

Dr. Dobbs did a survey on digital project execution a few years ago and found:
- Traditional projects: 47% are successful, 36% are challenged, and 17% are failures
- Ad-hoc projects: 49% are successful, 37% are challenged, and 14% are failures
- Agile projects: 60% are successful, 28% are challenged, and 12% are failures.

Recently, one of my clients created a new digital app with a great user experience that efficiently automated and increased customer purchasing. However, the app inadvertently removed the back-end information flow required by Invoicing, so the profits and ROI were never realized. The app was a success from a front-facing external customer experience standpoint, but a failure from an internal process experience standpoint.

As digital initiatives jump to the top of many C-suite executives’ priority lists, many are failing for common reasons:

  1. Misalignment with business processes: Marketing may build a beautiful new website with a great user experience, but if they overlook the resulting impacts on the company’s business processes, the initiative is very likely to fail. This often happens when teams put technology ahead of strategy, falling for the hype of new innovative tools before considering the business process implications of the new technology. Aligning digital and business goals and integrating new products seamlessly with business operations is critical to project success.

  2. Lack of cross-functional expertise: Similar to number 1, there’s a common misconception that digital projects only need “digital people.” But every digital project should have someone with business process management skills to help scope and plan the alignment between the customer journey and back-end operational processes.

  3. Limited digital strategy. Many digital projects are focused solely on the objective of one department or initiative, rather than contributing to the overall company’s digital strategy and business goals. Define specifically what success looks like for the project and how it contributes to the company’s business strategy before moving forward.

  4. Fixed plans that don’t account for change: The notion of a “5-year-plan” is dead. Using Agile, iterative processes that allow for frequent tweaks and improvement is the only way to ensure that success is lasting. Your digital project plans should be flexible enough to reflect business changes within the company and the market at any given moment.

  5. Overambition: Expecting perfection instead of embracing the “done is better than perfect” mantra tends to result in projects that drag on way past their scope. Explore the idea of releasing “Minimum Viable Products,” or early versions of software that gauge how the market will respond and determine if the concept is worth pursuing. Saying "Let’s launch a perfect site within the next 3 months” without a real business plan is a sure path to failure.


Most of these factors share one common root cause: the inadequate understanding of business processes. The lack of Business Process Transformation insight when it comes to large digital and IT projects creates inefficiencies, unintended consequences, and can often inhibit the adoption of new digital products.

In my next post, I’ll outline how to define a process experience to support your digital products, ensuring that they don’t fail for the reasons above.

 Digital Maturity Framework

Posted in: Business Process Management