How to launch a successful pilot program

You may think you’ve come up with the best product idea or found the most effective technology for your business needs, but launching a pilot program is the perfect way to test and assess your new plan before spending a significant amount of time and resources on a large-scale project.

Simply put, a pilot program is an experimental trial or preliminary test of your new process, solution, or initiative on a limited scale. It can determine whether your project is a success or failure. Think of it as a small-scale model of a major construction project you’re just about to undertake or a dress rehearsal for an upcoming theatrical performance.

pilot program betaLaunching a pilot program has several benefits. It helps you assess the viability and reliability of your solution, determine whether there’s a market, and helps limit resource usage, ultimately lowering the risk of failure. Lastly, it provides you with valuable insight into the challenges you’re likely to face and allows you to make continuous improvements until the solution is ready to launch across the organization.

It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs and brand managers to prematurely launch a product offering or initiative that’s doomed to fail in the market. Others run poorly organized pilot programs with futile results. When launching a pilot program, you want to make sure it’s set up properly so it’s easy to measure how well it’s performing. Otherwise, the results may be skewed, inaccurate, and misleading. Here’s how you can launch a successful pilot program and get useful results:

Identify your goals

To launch a pilot program, you’ll need to set clear goals and objectives for whatever you’re trying to accomplish. You should also make sure you’ve tested your product enough to satisfy your batch of pilot participants, whether that includes gtest, manual bug testing, or preparing test cases.

Remember, you’re testing out a new solution that’s set to meet your business needs. No matter the reason for the test, you should have a picture of what success will look like with the new solution, a few months or years down the road.

Make sure your goals are specific and align with your vision. A goal may be to save time and money, increase adoption by 25 percent, or complete projects faster. Your pilot program should run for a specific time to determine if you’re accomplishing your goals and by how much.

Define the scope

One of the reasons you might be launching a pilot is because the scope of your new solution is very large. Additionally, the cost of a new product failure is huge and you want to limit resource usage. So, after setting clear goals and objectives, you need to narrow down your pilot team’s focus to the specific workflows, features, or functions you want to measure before detailed implementation planning is done.

By defining the scope of your pilot, you’ll be ensuring everyone understands what’s in and out of scope. As such, you’ll help the participants and the pilot team avoid testing unrelated capabilities. You may need to write down your expectations on how your new solution should perform in the market or within your business.

Decide on a length of time

The next thing you need to do is establish a realistic timeline to execute the pilot. You need to have an endpoint for your pilot so it’s clear to the team when to make a decision on whether to go ahead with a full rollout. And since you’ve already defined what success looks like, deciding what to do next will be easier with the data you obtain within the set time frame.

The truth is that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the recommended or right length for your pilot programs. As such, you’ll have to find what works for your brand. However, the minimum viable length of time to start seeing reliable results from your program is one quarter. There needs to be sufficient time for your pilot to either fail or succeed in meeting the set goals and objectives.

Choose the appropriate team

Bring together a team of people that are comfortable working together and participating in the testing exercise. Consider getting the participants from diverse, cross-functional divisions of your organization. If the team doesn’t have any experience working with the new solution, provide them with the necessary resources and training throughout the pilot program so they are comfortable using it. Avoid participants who won’t commit to full participation.

Create a clear communication plan

For a successful pilot program, you need to create a clear communication plan that will ensure everyone involved in the pilot program knows what is expected of them. Participants should know what they’re testing so they can be vested in the pilot process and results. Stakeholders may need daily updates on the actions being taken and the data collected while those running the pilot may need to be briefed on what each person should focus on each day. You will need a communication plan, highlighting how you and when you intend to be communicating with each of these groups.

Consistently measure the progress

First, you need to identify the individual success criteria and metrics across various categories, such as user satisfaction, business operation costs, user and system performance, etc. Make sure you set up the right metrics so it’s easier to collect data, measure various activities, and track progress.

As mentioned, each pilot goal should have a target metric with a realistic range of values. This will make it possible to measure success before making a decision on how or when to proceed with broader implementation. Give the participants and your pilot team the opportunity to share qualitative feedback before, during, and after the pilot program. Some of the ways you can use to obtain their feedback include surveys, focus groups, and individual interviews.

Also, take the time to evaluate the quantitative feedback from the data captured behind the scenes using analytics. Having both the quantitative and qualitative feedback will help you determine if the new solution was a success and you can move forward.

Examples of pilot programs

Microsoft’s Windows 10 pilot testing program. Microsoft delivers its new Windows 10 features into the windows insider community to allow organizations to see what they’re developing, test the new features, and give feedback throughout the development process. This helps Microsoft to make improvements as quickly as possible without having to wait until after the official release.

Google’s Android Beta program. This program allows Nexus users to test experimental features and provide feedback during the development cycle of the Google app. By running pilot programs, these companies are able to check the readiness of new features for full-scale deployment, determine the target audience’s reaction, and make better decisions when it comes to resource allocation.