How to conduct a successful pilot: Fail fast, safe, and smart

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Companies want to leverage the latest innovations, ideas, and insights to develop strategic products and services, improve their existing processes and methodologies, and uncover new growth opportunities.

But before diving in head first, companies want to test technology out on a small scale to determine its level of success. One way to do this is through a pilot.

This initial rollout of a system into simulated production targets a limited scope of the intended final solution. Over the course of several days to multiple weeks, pilots test whether the system is working as it was designed and can meet a given set of business requirements. By quickly identifying whether an idea, technology, or solution is a viable option, pilots allow organizations to manage risk, save time and money, and define the best path forward. That is, if they’re conducted correctly.

In this post, we’ll look at why some pilots fail, as well as the steps you can take to give your pilot the best chance to succeed.

5 main reasons why pilots fail

Although pilots offer businesses a great opportunity to test assumptions, evaluate feasibility, and gain valuable insights, many are destined for failure. Here are the top reasons pilots fail:

  • They’re bound by an unrealistic schedule
  • They’re too narrow in scope
  • They lack stakeholder support
  • The pilot team doesn’t have the right members
  • There’s insufficient collaboration among the participants

While these represent the key reasons why pilots fail, they aren’t the only factors. Other problems with pilot programs include internal workplace politics, poor communication, lack of proper training, no visibility, inadequate user involvement, bad documentation, and failure to monitor progress. Outside influences, such as regulatory requirements and vendor support issues, can also derail a pilot.

Steps for achieving a successful pilot

There are no hard and fast rules for conducting a pilot. However, you can improve your chances of success by following these best practices:

  1. Define the scope. Make a list of the features, functions, and services you plan to include and how you expect them to perform in the environment. Identify any applications and tools that will interface with the solution to be piloted, and try to test as many situations as possible. Include a contingency plan if a testing scenario fails, and be sure to describe how you expect to proceed after the pilot is complete.
  2. Develop objectives. Use objectives to identify the criteria for measuring a pilot’s success. Here are some example objectives:
  • Ensure the design meets the business requirements
  • Certify that the system works properly in the business environment
  • Test the deployment process
  • Gather information for estimating actual hardware and supportability requirements
  • Confirm that the system adds value to learning
  1. Document the requirements. Make note of the necessary hardware, software, licenses, networking, cables, rack space, power, cooling, and testing tools. Provide the bill of materials and cabling diagrams as appropriate.
  2. List all key resources. Incorporate all business, technical, support, and vendor personnel, including their role and responsibilities.
  3. Provide a breakdown of the pilot costs. Examples include: hardware, software, licenses, project management, and other services. Identify who will be responsible for funding the costs, if applicable.
  4. Generate a schedule that outlines key activities. For each activity, specify the party responsible, its expected completion date, and its actual completion date.
  5. Describe the success criteria and metrics. Specify individual criteria across a variety of categories, such as system performance, operations costs, user performance, user satisfaction, and business goals. Each measurement description should include a target metric and an acceptable range of values.
  6. Define how the results will be evaluated. Include the processes by which lessons learned will be incorporated into the final solution deployment, the methods for assessing the quality of the pilot deployment process (such as user surveys, peer reviews, focus groups, and user interviews), and the procedures for identifying, assigning, and following up on action items related to deployment or product issues identified during the pilot.
  7. Identify the risks for the proposed pilot. Include their risk rating, how likely they are to occur, any consequences that may result, and the actions that can be taken to control them.

To ensure your pilot goes off without a hitch, include a list of common pilot questions and answers, as well as your requirements definition, training plan, supportability matrix, vendor evaluation and selection results, and communication strategy.

Leveraging SHI’s Customer Innovation Center for your pilot

Companies choose to embark on a pilot expedition for a number of reasons. Yet, they usually all have the same goals in mind.

Pilots can help you define best practices for using the new solution; identify concerns, objections, and onboarding issues; and document lessons learned before full implementation.

Whether you’re time and resource constrained, limited on data center space, or just don’t want to deal with the hassle of setting up infrastructure in house, look no further than SHI’s Customer Innovation Center (CIC). You can choose to run the pilot on your own or offload the entire project to us. Our team of certified engineers can perform a variety of testing on your behalf, including functional, performance, and end-to-end testing. This will help streamline your solution evaluation and selection process, mitigate risk, save money, and speed up service delivery.

Contact your SHI account executive to see if the CIC is a good fit for your upcoming project.