3 min readApr 6, 2024


Why Data Projects Fail to Deliver Real-Life Impact - Part I: First Thoughts

Data Analytics
Data Analytics Series

A data project has a set of assumptions and requirements that must be met, otherwise the project has a high chance of failing. It starts with a clear idea of the goals and objectives, and they need to be achievable and feasible, with the involvement of key stakeholders and the executive without which it’s impossible to change the organization’s data culture. Ideally, there should also be a business strategy, respectively a data strategy available to understand the driving forces and the broader requirements.

An organization’s readiness is important not only in what concerns the data but also the things revolving around the data — processes, systems, decision-making, requirements management, project management, etc. One of the challenges is that the systems and processes available can’t be used as they are for answering important business questions, and many of such questions are quite basic, though unavailability or poor quality of data makes this challenging if not impossible.

Thus, when starting a data project an organization must be ready to change some of its processes to address a project’s needs, and thus the project can become more expensive as changes need to be made to the systems. For many organizations the best time to have done this was when they implemented the system, respectively the integration(s) between systems. Any changes made after that come in theory with higher costs derived from systems and processes’ redesign.

Many projects start big and data projects are no exception to this. Some of them build a costly infrastructure without first analyzing the feasibility of the investment, or at least whether the data can form a basis for answering the targeted questions. On one side one can torture any dataset and some knowledge will be obtained from it (aka data will confess), though few datasets can produce valuable insights, and this is where probably many data projects oversell their potential. Conversely, some initiatives are worth pursuing even only for the sake of the exposure and experience the employees get. However, trying to build something big only through the perspective of one project can easily become a disaster.

When building a data infrastructure, the project needs to be an initiative given the transformative potential such an endeavor can have for the organization, and the different aspects must be managed accordingly. It starts with the management of stakeholders’ expectations, with building a data strategy, respectively with addressing the opportunities and risks associated with the broader context.

Organizations recognize that they aren’t capable of planning and executing such a project or initiative, and they search for a partner to lead the way. Becoming overnight such a partner is more than a challenge as a good understanding of the industry and the business is needed. Some service providers have such knowledge, at least in theory, though the leap from knowledge to results can prove to be a challenge even for experienced service providers.

Many projects follow the pattern: the service provider comes, analyzes the requirements, builds something wonderful, the solution is used for some time and then the business realizes that the result is not what was intended. The causes are multiple and usually form a complex network of causality, though probably the most important aspect is that customers don’t have the in-house technical resources to evaluate the feasibility of requirements, solutions, respectively of the results. Even if organizations involve the best key users, are needed also good data professionals or similar resources who can become the bond between the business and the services provider. Without such an intermediary the disconnect between the business and the service provider can grow with all the implications.

See also: Part II, Part III, Part IV

Originally published at Written Apr-2024.




IT professional/blogger with more than 24 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management