Digital projects: 6 common fails
Here are some widespread pitfalls you should avoid on your organization's digital projects.
Written by Vegard Ottervig on
If you have ever started on a digital project with high hopes, great ambitions, and an aura of optimism—only to see these positives crushed by the horrors of failures, delays, and red tape, you have come to the right place.
In order to never encounter these letdowns again, you should learn from the experiences of both yourself and other digital professionals. So, here they are—some of the most common fails of digital projects.
This is the number one sin of most digital projects—especially those concerning the implementation of a new CMS or composable content platform. There are indeed tons of tasks to do with the introduction of a new CMS, like planning the general architecture, site hierarchy, and templates, as well as the amount of sheer coding. But neither the vendor nor the implementation consultants are actually creating the content for you.
When you’re “building a new website,” it’s fairly common to focus solely on the tech, glitter, and glam, and totally forget about the content. Sure, the new design looks good, but what about the substance? What about conveying our values? What about describing what we actually do?
Don’t forget the content! It is what will actually populate that fancy tech and design of yours.
Inadequate stakeholder engagement can turn your digital project into a high-speed train to disaster town. After all, the input, support, and buy-in from those VIPs are as crucial as coffee on a Monday morning. Miscommunication or leaving them out in the cold could lead to misunderstandings, misaligned goals, and an epic project fail.
Now, poor engagement usually comes from not enough communication or getting stakeholder expectations wrong. It's like trying to put a square peg in a round hole—it just won't work. You end up with misaligned expectations, insufficient support, and stakeholders ready to put up roadblocks.
Fear not, though! Just follow these trusty best practices: Identify your key players, chat with them regularly, and don't hide the good, the bad, and the ugly. Keep an ear out for feedback, make changes if needed, and don't forget to throw a party (or at least a high-five) for your milestones. With these moves, your digital project will be a smoother sailing and your stakeholders will be singing your praises.
A project isn’t a project, so to speak. It isn’t like a game of chess where the board is firmly set and the rules are what they are. Instead, a project can be like an unpredictable, multi-headed beast you need a tight leash on—at least in some respects.
One common fail in this regard is the inability to prioritize tasks. Every feature and wish will not be finished by launch. This has been the inevitable nature of every large digital project in the history of humankind. Deal with it.
Classic waterfall processes are most likely doomed to fail. In digital projects, several departments must collaborate, and it simply isn’t possible to dictate centrally that any given task shall be done then and then. A lot of factors play in, like the general workload of each department, when the next phase of the task is handed over from the previous stakeholder, etc.
Also, missing a definition of scope is a common mistake. This is why students are taught to limit their project assignments. It’s better to write a specific essay about the fall of the Knights Templar in France, than writing a futile essay about the entire Middle Ages in general.
In other words: Don’t bite off more than you can chew. This is why you need to run an agile project—with modern organizational, collaboration, and working principles.
As an executive or a project leader, it is a recipe for disaster if you just put your stamp of approval on a project delivered by external consultants without further ado. This is what happened in the infamous Hertz and Accenture case, where the former sued the latter for not delivering on a $32 million job to revamp the car rental firm’s online presence.
In any digital project, you need an internal dictator—a stakeholder that cares about the product. You need a Steve Jobs type, a passionate driver balancing technical savvy with project management know-how.
Imagine a film without a director. Photographers, make-up artists, electricians, actors, VFX wizards, editors, and so on are great at performing their respective tasks, but they need direction and an overall guidance to make the end product work. Similarly you need an internal project owner to avoid projects missing scope, purpose, realistic deadlines, realistic budgets, and other terrible consequences.
As mentioned above, avoid the thoughtless “glitter and glam.” Your digital project has a purpose, whether it is implementing a CMS, integrating a new marketing automation system, optimizing existing team processes, or whatever.
Design is not an end in itself—at least not in the world of business. Design should always support what you and your organization are trying to achieve. Are you selling food online? Let your design enable the ease of transactions as well as making the foodstuffs more attractive. Are you delivering professional services? Let the design maintain your brand and tone of voice as a serious actor. And so on.
Function and purpose should always come first—design is secondary.
Especially for you: How Enonic can help your digital project step by step »
Let’s say you now have your digital project under control. Content, stakeholder involvement, an agile project, a passionate project owner, and a purposeful design are all in place. Are there still pitfalls to watch out for? Of course there is!
Here, at the end of the road, we have saved a severely important failure of digital projects: security. Forgetting the security aspect among all the other features is sadly a common mistake, and in order to prevent failures to happen in the first place you need to implement automated tests.
Setting up automated tests must be done in collaboration with your IT and quality assurance departments. Remember to focus on testing the most important parts of your digital project, e.g. a secure order form for a business, or a functional user account on a social network.
While there certainly are more fails and pitfalls to digital projects than these, the included list is the most crucial failures to avoid. Take action and you will deliver excellence.
First published 30 October 2019, updated 13 April 2023.
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