Preventing MACH Project Failures: Lessons Learned from the Real World

By Brian Browning, VP Technology, Kin + Carta, MACH Alliance member, Technology Council

Compared to monolithic legacy systems, it can be easy to assume that composable technology is an automatic success, enjoying waves of error free experimentation and perfect implementations.

But the truth is that, in the 23 years since Gartner first proclaimed that the future of business is composable1, there have been MACH failures.

As a community built upon relentless innovation, transparency, and open-minded learning, we must assess these disappointments and find the lessons, to drive the next wave of successful MACH evolution.

The strategic context

One of the most common causes of a ‘failed’ project is the lack of a clear business strategy.

Organizations still forgo defining a deliberate, intelligent start for their project. They are seduced by the possibilities of technology, instead of imposing their own vision and measurable definition of success.

Composable engagements are often started - and driven - by technology leaders, rather than a focus on the holistic business outcome. The root of this is two separate audiences at two separate stages in the lifecycle of the project.

Organizations begin with a technology purchase in mind and as a result, only involve technical audiences to define the buying approach.

However, it is not until later that business users judge if that investment has been a success.

The two audiences apply different criteria at contrasting times. In this context, failure is all but inevitable.

Fixing this is a simple case of establishing a comprehensive strategy at the earliest point in the investment cycle. This strategy must be customer-centric:

  • What is it that the business wants customers to do, or become?
  • What is the best journey to take them there?
  • What (MACH) tools will best achieve these objectives?

With answers to these questions, the choices of what technology to buy, and how to implement it, becomes a clear roadmap.

Consider the experience of looking through a humble product catalogue. The traditional format and structure of these properties demands that users move through them methodically (and slowly). Passively looking at product details, wondering if it is ‘the right one’ is less than ideal. It is often this sort of problem that leads businesses to assess headless tools to improve the experience and increase conversions.

To solve this specific issue, the business could consider how its customer base may actually want to interact with the catalogue such as filtered search capabilities or a catalogue wizard. Using MACH-powered tools like headless search, the commerce experience is dramatically improved, and customers convert.

MACH enables this functionality to be developed and added incrementally, continually feeding new data back to the business. This then feeds the strategy that defines future investment.

Within the company, planning for the transition to MACH technologies is also often overlooked. Getting the buy-in of all stakeholders is critical if a move to composable is to be effective.

The operational context

Another overlooked area in considering MACH or composable ‘failures,’ is the experience of content creators and admins. This audience is typically the first wave of non-technical users. As such they are usually the group to first raise concerns and complaints – and function as a valuable ‘early warning system.’

Content authors and admins are the real guinea pigs when it comes to experiencing the changes that an updated content or commerce platform demands. Businesses should focus intensively on addressing this first feedback.

This audience has specific demands. Innovative technology investments should replicate the intuitive experience these content creators are used to. The legacy of prior content management systems or even DXPs can be strong, and authors want visual, rich experiences.

It is an issue of managing the demands of different audiences: developers love the elegance of web forms, whereas authors see a list of tables to fill in.

It is important to manage these expectations early. By establishing and reviewing the changes that a new platform will bring about, a business can not only assess how its demands have changed over time, but also eliminate friction. The opportunity to embrace the needs of reluctant users, can transform them into the organization’s biggest MACH advocates.

This approach also opens up thinking to assess ‘what if?’ questions to make innovative operational improvements to address scale. Repeatedly, businesses learn the hard way that what works for 40 or 400 records, falls apart at 40,000.

Content modelling is a notable example. In traditional content management and older DXP systems, content modelling is usually hidden, but in moving to headless, it becomes far more exposed. Consequently, it is vital to develop a highly performant content model, or a business will hit roadblocks later in the process.

Getting back on the horse; rectification

Having looked at what might cause project failures, the last consideration is to address how a business can get a failing project back on track.

The first step in rectification is exactly the same as the strategy outlined above: assess where the project currently is and measure it against the objective. The business needs to define where the project is now and where it should be.

There is a need to consider how far along the original plan the project has come and what are the biggest issues that have been encountered.

This provides the backdrop to reset both the strategy and expectation of all involved parties. It is also a terrific opportunity to integrate the renewed priorities of these groups and re-establish what the project will deliver.

For most MACH projects, it will be a case of a business ‘aiming small and missing small.’ Rectification of specific modules or components of a project can be done quickly, and businesses can reassert control and direction rapidly and with confidence.

A MACH mindset embraces ‘failures’ as learning opportunities across the strategic, and operational aspects of a business, opening avenues for accelerated evolution.

There are of course large ‘sub-problems’ but if the three key avenues of strategic planning, operational implementation and preparation for rectification are tackled at the most senior leadership level, the project will be easier to manage and more likely to succeed.

Regardless of anticipating issues or fixing them, getting a MACH project ‘back on track’ offers just as many opportunities for improvement as the first planning meeting, bringing organizations into a digital future.

The Future of Business Is Composable | Gartner Keynote