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Why Your Business Transformations Fail

Posted on July 05, 2017

All too often in the business world, a grand scheme for expansion or a visionary new innovation has to be given up for a bad job. Leaving behind a gaping financial hole and the tattered careers of the unfortunate fall guys, even the largest and most high profile organisations have had to abandon revolutionary business projects when it became clear they were beyond redemption.

David Hilliard, CEO of strategy execution specialists Mentor, argues that in the vast majority of cases, business transformations fail due to the people in charge of delivering them. He asserts that insubstantial ideas, poor management, miscommunication and fear of ownership are some of the biggest contributing factors to botched business schemes. Here we share his experiences of failed business transformations, along with the after-effects of failure and why effective project planning is so important. 


Although being on the program team of any failed business transformation initiative cannot be easy, we should spare a thought for those who’ve had to admit defeat on a public scale. In recent years, prominent organisations including the NHS and the BBC have suffered widespread humiliation thanks to high profile programs gone wrong.

For the NHS, its National Programme for IT was one such disaster. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called it one of the ‘worst and most expensive contracting fiascos’ ever, after it spectacularly failed in its aim to digitise all patient records to a central database. The programme cost in excess of £20 billion and was finally terminated in 2011.

In 2013 the BBC had to can its own costly failed endeavour, the Digital Media Initiative. Set up with the similar purpose of digitising video archives, the project was initially a joint enterprise with subcontractor Siemens but was brought back in-house following uncontrolled spending and failed targets. Despite this the bill continued to rise until it topped £100 million, prompting the PAC to comment that the BBC had been ‘far too complacent about the high risks involved in taking it in-house’.

As these disastrous program demonstrate, failure really is universal – making it even more important to understand the reasons why these failures happen.

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