This disastrous website project provides a successful lesson in failure

This disastrous website project provides a successful lesson in failure

This month, a professional services firm launched its new website. What makes this remarkable is the firm embarked upon this project almost two years ago.

A website redevelopment project should take three to six months, depending upon the complexity of the new site (and the database behind it), whether it is a bespoke build or a templated project, and the state of the content being brought across.

So why did this one take almost two years?

As Bill Gates said, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

Here’s some of what went wrong and how your professional services firm can avoid making the same mistakes.

1.  Wrong agency appointment

The firm invited around eight digital agencies to submit proposals. Some of the agencies were recommended; some were admired; some had stakeholder relationships.

The appointed agency had little, if any, professional services experience. It had few, if any, business-to-business clients. Its proposal did not demonstrate it understood professional services firms, B2B marketing, the firm’s industry sector, or even the firm itself. And its pricing, which was dramatically less than all other submissions, suggested the agency was trying to buy the job or had grossly underestimated the project.

So why was the agency appointed? It was appointed because it has a close relationship with one particularly influential stakeholder.


The agency appointment was an emotional decision. Use a balanced scorecard, or similar approach, to ensure your stakeholders agree on your requirements and the criteria (and weightings) against which you will evaluate suppliers. Commit to making a data-driven decision.

2.  Poor choice of template

When building a website, you have two choices: design a bespoke site or take a templated approach. Most professional services firms use a premium template (or theme), if only because it’s the more cost-effective option. However, a critical success factor is selecting a theme that satisfies 80 per cent (or more) of your needs. That way, you limit the amount of coding required which also controls the time and cost.

In this instance, the firm made a poor template choice. Rather than follow the 80/20 rule, the project team selected a design which could only satisfy about 50 per cent of its eventual needs. It then dismantled the theme, piece by piece, until all that was left was an empty shell.


Agree on the features (design and functional) you require. When choosing a theme, don’t limit your options to templates that are specific to your industry – unless, of course, you want your website to look just like those of your competitors. Think outside the box but keep your focus locked on your end user.

3.  Ineffective project management

From the outset, two marketing managers fought over the project management role. At one time or another, each filled the role. Neither had the experience or skillset to lead the project. In particular, neither had the essential soft skills – for example, leadership, influencing, negotiation, problem-solving.

Subsequently, efforts to lead were resisted. Efforts to influence fell on deaf ears. Efforts to negotiate were met with hostility. Efforts to solve problems were met with threats. And efforts to make rational, best-for-brand decisions were over ruled by the loudest voice in (or outside) the room.


Appoint an experienced project manager who also has the soft skills required to deliver your project. Communicate that individual’s role, remit, responsibilities and accountability – and then empower that person to perform.

4.  Dysfunctional project team

For a long time, this project was out of control. Project team communication was dysfunctional, relationships had deteriorated beyond repair. The project team became distracted by a ballooning list of complaints about very specific (and relatively unimportant) issues, almost as a way to find fault and pass blame. At its lowest point, there were allegations of bullying, individuals on stress leave, and a stream of people withdrawing themselves from the project.


You should be able to avoid issues such as these by appointing and empowering an experienced and suitably skilled project manager. Establish team norms and relationship guidelines to positively shape the culture of your team and position it for success.

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