If your project involves large scale organizational change, whether it involves software or not, conducting a pilot prior to full implementation can prevent a disaster.
No matter how much planning you do on paper, there will always be a few bumps along the way when implementing a change project in the real world. There really is some truth to that old saying, “Well, it looked good on paper.”
When implementing a big project that impacts multiple departments or business units, especially in situations where the work process has changed, it can put the business at risk if everything changes at one time. Segregating the change by testing a smaller, sample area first (as the pilot) for a specified period of time, gives the project an opportunity to find, assess, and fix any issues before a full roll out.
Should every project have a pilot first? Well, no. There’s no real hard and fast rule on when to conduct a pilot. My rule of thumb hinges on the amount of risk to the organization. Whether the project is short or long, if the implementation poses a risk to customers or employees, could impact the financial stability of the organization, or would be difficult to reverse, a pilot is a good idea.
When conducting a pilot, there are five key steps to help you make it meaningful for your project success.
- Choose Your Pilot Area
- Create a Pilot Plan
- Conduct the Pilot
- Assess Pilot Results
- Go For It!
1) Choose Your Pilot Area
It’s important to choose an area that gives you an opportunity to test as much of your new state as possible. First take a big picture look at the organization and narrow down to areas that will allow for adequate testing of the changes that are happening with the least amount of impact on the rest of the organization. This could be anything from a work group to a department to a business unit.
2) Create a Pilot Plan
Having a road map for your pilot is vital to learning from and conducting your pilot. There are several key areas that should be covered in your plan. Basically, you want to answer the who, what, when, where, and how of your pilot.
- Purpose Statement or Goals – clearly identify why the pilot is being conducted and what the pilot is intended to accomplish, along with any assumptions being made. Include the planned pilot duration to adequately test your goals.
- Pilot Area – define what part of the organization is in and not in the pilot area. Include as much detail as necessary, such as job roles or titles to make sure this is perfectly clear.
- Pilot Resources – detail all resources that will be necessary to fully conduct the pilot. This includes both people and things such as new equipment or office layouts. Designate the pilot team(s) and leadership.
- Training Required – determine the amount and type of training that will be necessary for pilot participants, how long it will take, and when it will occur.
- Feedback Loop – daily feedback is critical when conducting a pilot. Plan for at least a 15 minute feedback session with the pilot team every single day. Discuss what’s working, what’s not and adjust as needed.
- Communication Plan – make sure the rest of the company stays in the loop by reporting on pilot progress. If your pilot will impact customers, ensure there is adequate communication with them also.
3) Conduct the Pilot
When you’re ready to go, start the pilot with a kick off meeting for the participants. Explain the purpose of the pilot and your key expectations for their participation. Share the plan and schedule. Make sure you are available to answer any questions or concerns during the entire pilot process.
4) Assess Pilot Results
Once the pilot has run its course, compile the data gathered. What worked? What didn’t? What had to be changed on the fly? It’s a good idea to get the pilot team(s) together to talk through this information and add additional insights they discovered along the way. Use this information to modify your full project implementation plan.
5) Go For It!
At this point, you should be ready to go with full implementation of your project. Whether that happens on a phased schedule or all at one time depends on what changes you’re making. Conducting your pilot in advance of this can give you more confidence in achieving a successful outcome.