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What is Digital Project success?

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Over the past six months, the VOCalis team here at DCG has been locating, interviewing and surveying companies around the world. We have been talking to them about how their digital project is faring or fared, what they have learned, and what does and, more importantly, does not work. As the data grows we will be sharing many insights and analysis with the lofty goal of improving digital project success rates globally. But even at this relatively early stage of our work many themes are emerging (more on these at a later date). One, in particular, has come through strongly and it was not one that we predicted.

When we asked business owners and project leaders post-deployment (the system is up and running) if their project was a success, did it bring measurable business benefits? Many are unable to answer the question with any conviction either way. They simply don’t have a good metric to judge success or failure. There are parallels here to my compatriots in the UK who decisively voted to leave the EU (yes another Brexit reference) and then immediately regretted doing so. They seem to have gotten what they wanted, indeed demanded, but now they have ‘it’ they are unsure what it was exactly that they wanted in the first place.

We now expect a Digital Project to miss on budget and timeline

One of the things we did expect to see, when we started this work back in December 2015, was that success or failure would be tied closely to budgets and timelines. For example, those projects that are way over budget and over time would be, by default, not be seen as a success. However, so far that has not been the case at all. In fact, it seems expectations are that a service provider and technology vendor will not deliver on budget and time, and that cost and time overruns are typically factored into the project from the get-go. As a result, some ‘very successful’ projects we analyzed ran well over budget and were delivered seriously late. Whereas other projects that were deemed to be failures actually finished within budget and on time.  This brings us to the question how should we define digital project success?

Success metrics for a project manager (i.e. everything is on time and budget) may not have much relevance to a technology buyer that sees new software installed and configured yet nobody in their company will use it. Similarly, an ecstatic marketing director over the moon about their new digital marketing technology may see success, but the IT and the Finance Department, who find managing and using the technology frustrating and inefficient, may see quite the opposite.

Define success clearly, early, and often

It’s a conundrum to which there are no easy answers – just like the UK vote. But there is one thing that would certainly help everyone even if it doesn’t totally resolve the question. Decide what success means at the very start of a project and make sure it is one that is a measurable and tangible business metric. It’s also a good idea to communicate the metrics for success early, often, and from a position within the organization with enough influence to ensure this vision of success has the necessary gravity. For example:

  • 50% faster order to fulfilment
  • Reduced travel and expenses time for meetings
  • Improved accuracy of information to customers (measured via CRM/Customer Support/Sales Team)
  • Improved compliance – documents now stored in the intranet and not on local drives and file shares
  • Faster and lower cost on-boarding of new hires
  • Better off boarding – retaining knowledge
  • 25% increase in online sales

The old saying ‘start as you mean to go on’ is worth taking to heart. If you know precisely what you want and how you will measure whether you have it or not, you set a level playing field for all. In an industry that has a 70% rate of digital project disappointment, one has to wonder how much of that disappointment is due to fuzzy goals and a loss of direction along the way.

As we gather more data via the VOCalis initiative we hope to be able to answer that question but even at this stage if you are involved in any kind of IT project you may want to ask yourself ‘Exactly what will success look like and exactly how will I know it when I see it?”



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