3 min readApr 9, 2024


Why Data Projects Fail to Deliver Real-Life Impact (Part IV: Making It in the Statistics)

Data Analytics Series

Various sources (e.g. [1], [2], [3]) advance the failure rates for data projects somewhere between 70% and 85%, rates which are a bit higher than the failure of standard projects estimated at 60–75% but not by much. This means that only 2–3 out of 10 projects will succeed and that’s another reason to plan for failure, respectively embrace the failure.

Unfortunately, the statistics advanced on project failure have no solid fundament and should be regarded with circumspection as long the methodology and information about the population used for the estimates aren’t shared, though they do reflect an important point — many data projects do fail! It would be foolish to think that your project will not fail just because you’re a big company, and you have the best resources, and you have a proven rate of success, and you took all the precautions for the project not to fail.

Usually at the end of a project the team meets together to document the lessons learned in the hope that the next projects will benefit from them. The team did learn something, though as the practice shows even if the team managed to avoid some issues, other issues will impact the next similar project, leading to similar variances. One can summarize this as “on the average the impact of new issues and avoided known issues tends to zero out” or “on average, the plusses and minuses balance each other across projects”. It’s probably a question of focus — if organizations focus too much on certain aspects, other aspects are ignored and/or unseen.

So, your first data project will more likely fail. The question is: what do you do about it? It’s important to be aware of why projects and data projects fail, though starting to consider and monitor each possible issue can prove to be ineffective. One can, however, create a risk register from the list and estimate the rates for each of the potential failures, respectively focus on only the top 3–5 which have the highest risk. Of course, one should reevaluate the estimates on a regular basis though that’s Risk Management 101.

Besides this, one should focus on how the team can make the project succeed. When adopting a technology, methodology or set of processes, it’s recommended to start with a proof-of-concept (PoC). To make the PoC a helpful experience it’s probably important to start with a topic that’s not too big to handle, but that also involves some complexity that would allow the organization to evaluate the targeted set of tools and technologies. It can also be a topic for which other organizations have made important progress, respectively succeed. The temptation is big to approach the most stringent issues in the organization, respectively to build something big that can have an enormous impact for the organization. Jumping too soon into such topics can just increase the chances of failure.

One can also formulate the goals, objectives and further requirements in a form that allows the organization to build upon them even if the project fails. A PoC is about learning, building a foundation, doing the groundwork, exploring, mapping the unknown, and identifying what’s still missing to make progress, respectively closing the full circle. A PoC is less about overachievement and a big impact, which can happen, though is a consequence of the good work done in the PoC.

The bottom line, no matter whether you succeed or fail, once you start a project, you’ll still make it in the statistics! More important is what you’ve learnt after the first data project, respectively how you can use the respective knowledge in further projects to make a difference!

See also: Part I, Part II, Part III

[1] Harvard Business Review (2023) Keep Your AI Projects on Track, by Iavor Bojinov (link)
[2] Cognilytica (2023) The Shocking Truth: 70–80% of AI Projects Fail! (link)
[3] VentureBeat (2019) Why do 87% of data science projects never make it into production? (link)

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