today I will discuss the biggest reason I see Digital projects fail. This topic becomes even more important with the Customer Data Platform (CDP) projects raising everwhere.
It is such an investment in resources and can be such a game changer for your organization that failing it would probably have serious consequences for your organization.
So this time, I will tell you before you invest, the reasons I see that your project may not be successful.
1. No skills investment
The reason number one I see digital projects fail, and that would be even more relevant with a CDP, is the lack of skills or talent to work with such a tool in your organization. You need to have the maturity and talent for this project.
The reason for this may be partly because of the tool providers that sold the previous solutions. They made the life too easy.
An every day person can use Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics. A good business analyst doesn’t need specific skills to work with Adobe Analytics, but no one can argue that to take your game on the next level you need to understand the technical detail of the solution.
With a CDP the technical skills requirement is higher as you need to have data hosting knowledge and data structure / modeling mindset. The Data Analyst will need to become Data Architect and that doesn’t come overnight. Unfortunately the ease of usage of the tools has not prepared your organization for that change. You could use Adobe Experience Platform to do Data Science, but have you started exploring that path before that ? You can still learn it with the new tool but it is an expensive learning phase.
To be fair, I feel like Google may have prepared you better on that, saying that as I am a consultant on Adobe solutions, it may sound weird.
However, their “rough” solution requires you to learn SQL or some sort of code to take advantage of tools like Google Data Studio or BigQuery. Adobe may be the victime of their advanced UI possibility (Anaylsis Workspace is incredibly powerful) and solution here (Products & Merchandising are gems that hide the complexity of their data model).
The second (and bigger) blame goes to the organizations themselves. The lack of investment on people is the most important reason for this lack of skills.
And you cannot buy your way out of this situation. At least, not without changing company culture on skill development.
I see so many companies that recognize a lack of talent in their org and then look for (a) new person(s) to fill that gap.
That requires lots of onboarding efforts and it is a bet that the person will be matching the companies culture and the expectation you have set on that position. It is a high risk and high reward situation…
Because this person has a tracked record of learning, he will probably not accept to stop learning if the culture doesn’t change on your end, so high probability to be temporary if you do not start to nurture the talents.
The longuest and more secure way to deal with that is to invest on the skills of your employees. Allowing them to develop skills that they want is beneficial for your organization (and for them). Their may be skills that you don’t need today but as they are the practice experts they probably know what they will require to go to the next level.
I see so many times a training being refused because “you don’t need that skill”. 2 years down the line, the employee is either somewhere else (and you need that skill) or still here and needs that skills urgently. Let the employee choose the important topic, he probably knows better than management what is required for his task. Of course, there may be a company direction that changes the request to a certain extend but at least consider it thoughtfully.
Now usually comes the explanation that if you train people they will leave for another company to get a better salary.
That can be true, but the problem when you don’t upgrade your employee skills is that you become less and less efficient and start to rely too much on external partners or be completely out of touch with the reality of the fields.
That is fine if your plan is to move the practicioners of your tool as Project Managers. But relying on external agencies or partners has its own challenges. One of which is the knowledge gain on project, see the documentation issue below.
2. Lack of documentation
Another big problem that comes with Digital Projects and that will participate on the failure of the project is the lack of documentation or knowledge transfer between the persons working on the project.
Oveerall, that could come from different reason and this is not easy to fix. It has to be a cultural thing or coming from above. However, that comes even more obvious as you have external partners in the project.
The old-world thinking is that knowledge is power, and you should keep power to yourself. I have seen that so many times in organization.
You want to know something and you are redirected to a single person that knows how that works. No Wiki page, no JIRA ticket, Confluence, nothing…
That is a toxic behavior !
It may not come from the persons themselves, they may not have any time to document that but this issue has to be fixed.
If this is coming from the person, this is harder to fix and hard to make people understand that everyone wins with sharing information and knowledge.
This is usually a protective behavior so it would come down to previous experiences of stolen work or ideas. Time to play your role of manager…
As explained before, the other biggest reason is that you have hired an agency to realize the work / implementation / analysis and the problem that comes with it is that when they leave, the knowledge of that solution will go with them.
Again, I see that happening so many times.
It can come from both sides: The company (your company) didn’t want to pay for extra hours of documentation. You always want the cheapest price and the documentation time is often seen (wrongly) as the least value time – “the solution works right? We are done here”.
But sometimes I see that the agency is doing it on purpose in order to ensure a new contract. If they are the only one with the knowledge, the chances are higher that they are contracted again. No comment on that practice that I see every few months….(not at Adobe)
Clients (and employers) are always surprised when I say to them that my job is to make myself useless. If the company that contract me doesn’t need me anymore, it means that I have realized my tasks and pass down knowledge so they are independent.
When I told my previous boss that I was done with my job and was looking somewhere else it was surprising. My current work was now done by 3 brilliants person, with no room for improvement, the move was logical. Knowledge transfer and documentation done properly.
What about ranking up in the management ? what about developing new skills in the organization ? That would be the normal path.
You harvest the fruits of your labor.
However, my ambition on learning was not fulfilled yet and I didn’t want to play the role of the eye opener in the realm of the blind. Some people can do that better than I.
3. Organization Commitment
Sometimes, you have the skills and the great documentation to make everything works but it is not taking off. This may be because of the organization commitment to the new project.
This was my least likable part of the project, sell it internally. You could be convinced of your new solution and your boss can be convinced but you are not the only ones running the organization.
I have been a witness to many very great projects that failed to convince the audience. It may have been the failure of the person responsible of the project but, in my opinion, it is not really his job. It can be but I would see this as an evangelist role.
This role is often overlooked but it is crucial to realize the completion of the project. Making the project work is often 50% of the work, documenting it is 75%, insert in the existing company process and roadmap is the last 25%.
It is a difficult task as you are not dealing with your own requirements but with requirements of other teams. You probably have thought of different use-cases but there will probably be new ones that will require clever work around.
In the case of the Customer Data Platform:
Could you use your CDP for your IT department monitoring ? Could your Logistic department takes advantage of it ? These use-cases are, most of the times, out of scope discussions for a CDP implementation. You are right, you need to make sure that it works 100% on your use-cases (driven by Business Intelligence / Digital Services usually).
Nevertheless, it is in your interest to think how you can help other departments with this solution. “How can you make your investment worthwile?” not only for your department but for your company.
The thing is, if you are not doing it, another department is probably going to do it. With nice intentions to help you out, or with an agenda behind it. So many times I see Marketing departments pitching Google solutions for Analytics because it integrates better with Adwords. Fortunately, for me, I have never seen Google Analytics having the features to replace Adobe Analytics capabilities (as of 2020).
As most of my readers are Adobe Analytics users, it may look crazy intention but it has a good background. They try to simplify their process.
If you are proactive and try to simplify their process, this kind of discussion may never arise and you won’t have to spend your time defending your investment.
I believe that the Evangelist Role suits best with Business Analyst / Technical Translator or Technical Lead, that has business view. It is not an easy role and you better be ready for lots of investment in it. If you are half-doing it, you will start raising questions without providing solutions, that could backfire eventually.
This is my personal review for the principal obstacles for a digital transformation.