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Only 40% of all IT projects are completed successfully - Why?

European companies suffer losses of 140 billion euros per year due to the failure of IT projects. The causes have long been identified, but the rate of successful IT projects hardly changes. The tourism industry is also struggling with this problem. What are the reasons?

Digitalisation has arrived in tourism. The digital transformation is being driven forward with a lot of energy. However, despite great efforts, tourism businesses in Germany (hospitality and transport) rate the status of their digitalisation as only "satisfactory" on average. The challenges cited are complexity, high costs, lack of time, the implementation of IT security measures and the lack of IT specialists. (1)

However, this assessment obscures the actual causes. Most projects fail because of unclear goals, unrealistic timelines and a lack of coordination among all project participants. (2) Coordination in particular causes problems for many companies. In one study, 70% of respondents said that business-critical IT projects failed because decisions were made elsewhere that were not known at the time of planning. (3)

There is often a lack of a holistic view of all processes associated with the digitisation project. In particular, the lack of inclusion of processes that are detached from IT, such as business and communication processes, are often the cause of failed IT projects.

But IT projects that take a holistic approach are also exposed to risks. Involving all stakeholders is time-consuming. In the DACH region, an average of 2.5 weeks is needed to bring about a coordinated decision. This almost inevitably adds up to long project durations. According to a study (3), more than 80% of business-critical projects take more than 13 months - a period in which the framework conditions of the project and the available technologies may have changed fundamentally.

A study by Roland Berger comes to a similar conclusion: every second IT project takes longer or becomes more expensive than planned. The probability of failure increases with the duration and complexity of projects (4). 

Communication and personnel challenges

IT projects are not only a technical challenge, they are also particularly demanding in terms of staffing and communication. There is a central field of action that often decides whether a digitalisation project fails or can be successfully completed.

A large number of studies come to similar conclusions: Project work is also "people business". This is especially true in tourism. This means that bridges must be permanently built between the technical implementation teams, the professional requirements and the daily work of the users. This requires experienced project management. This team should have a great deal of know-how regarding processes and their digitalisation in tourism as well as great technical and social competence. This is the only way to ensure that all project participants are satisfied and that the time frame, budget and scope of services are right. 

However, despite the great importance of project management for project success, this role is often incompletely fulfilled in companies and institutions.

As a result, IT projects are either set up too technically. Then the view is lost that technology is never an end in itself, but always a tool that supports and optimises business processes. Or projects are not managed as IT projects at all and elementary requirements, such as a clear product vision or a coherent service design, are missing. 


Involving external project management in the planning and implementation process is helpful in many cases to supplement missing competences and to identify and master project-critical points through an external perspective.


Checklist for successful IT projects in tourism

Before / at the start of the project

  • Clarify: what problem is to be solved with this project?
  • Create clear project framework conditions and specifications (budget, project deadlines, who is the client and who are the users).
  • Define clear starting conditions (expectations, objectives, external dependencies, system landscape, stakeholders)
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities in the project work
  • Define and communicate the rules of the game in the cooperation between the project participants
  • Create product vision
  • Analyse external dependencies in order to identify risks and possible delays that may not be influenced by the project team.

During the project

  • Do not define requirements in silos
  • Consider real user needs. Later involve users from the beginning
  • Create "common language" between business and IT. Develop mutual understanding and interest. Often "translators" are necessary for this, as business and technical implementation teams work in different "ecosystems". 
  • Technology drives business" does not work
  • Maintain project focus. No "moving targets" or changing objectives.
  • Enable participation of all stakeholders
  • Do not focus too much on technology. Technology is not an end in itself!
  • Business and business processes must be the focus, technology should support them optimally.
  • A bad process remains a bad process even when digitised. Question and optimise processes.
  • Close integration of business and IT is the key to success. This requires a moderator or translator in project management.
  • Stakeholders' expectations must be reviewed and communicated again and again. This helps to clear up misunderstandings and avoid a bad atmosphere in the project. A functioning team is the basis for project success!
  • Train departments for project work if necessary
  • Take departments seriously and give them the opportunity to get involved
  • Anchor" the new solution in the organisation. This requires project marketing that sufficiently presents the advantages to future users.

At the end of the project

  • Communicate "go-live dates" in good time. Make sufficient allowance for user absences and workload peaks.
  • Plan for contingency buffers to deal with surprises (e.g. with regard to data protection, compliance, connectivity). 
  • Plan training for new system sufficiently early
  • Plan for temporary support for users so that they do not feel abandoned.
  • Take users' concerns about the new system seriously.
  • Conduct lessons-learned: have the project goals been achieved?
  • Celebrate successes sufficiently!


  1. DIHK Digitalisierungsumfrage 2021 / 2022
  2. Assure Consulting, 2007
  3. alfabet GmbH 2013
  4. Studie „Projekte mit Launch Management auf Kurs halten. Warum IT-Großprojekte häufig kentern und Projekterfolg kein Glücksspiel ist“, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, 2008