The start of a new project is always exciting. It is the start of a new journey. But with a new project also a lot of risks come along, especially when a lot of money and resources are on the line. That is why it is wise and often necessary to do pilot project, in order for the “real deal” to run smoothly.
The project before the project
A pilot project can be seen as a kind of test run for a big project. Especially if there is a lot of money involved, pilot projects can be useful to determine the best way to spend the budget and to avoid unnecessary spending.
Pilot projects are essentially the big project being put to the test. A much smaller scale is being set. A schedule is being planned, much shorter than the main event, but one that still brings valuable results and data.
The point of a pilot project is not only to make the planning easier that lies ahead for the main project. Goals that are being set for the main project can be tested in terms of feasibility (is it possible to reach this goal?), money (will it get more expensive than expected?) durance (will we maybe take longer than expected?) and effort (will we need more people to work on this project?).
Depending on the area of work, pilot projects look very different from each other. A pilot project, testing a new flavour of mineral water, is not the same as a pilot project for a financial business, trying out a new way of procuring funds.
Although it is a test run for the main project, a pilot project should be taken as serious as the real thing. After all it will bring valuable data that will influence the main project in a big way.
Not every project that is planned has a pilot project, not every endeavour needs one or can afford a pilot project. But the ones that can afford and will run it should bear in mind that the test runs objective is to “look into the future” of the next big project. What can we expect? Will everything work as planned? What do we do when the pilot project tells us we could fail?
All of these questions can be answered with a simple test run.
Pilot studies estimate effort, infrastructure and competence
As already mentioned, the pilot project is a test run for the main event.
The following questions should be answered when doing a test run for the project ahead:
- Are the goals reachable with the planned budget?
- How much effort do we need to put into reaching our goals?
- Which infrastructure do we need to achieve the project’s aims?
- Is the workforce competent enough for this task or is further training necessary? Do we have to hire new people? Do we have to get advice from experts?
That being said, the pilot project has not one, but two purposes.
The main project will not answer the questions that are being asked above – they should be answered before the main project even begins to avoid failure.
So the pilot project has the purpose of answering the questions above, while also giving a prognosis of the final results that are expected of the main event. Effectively a test run like this can actually decrease the costs of a later project because achievements might be tightened or reformulated.
Wrap-ups for lessons learned
Once the pilot project has reached its end, it is important to screen and analyse the the data collected. The results will hopefully predict what you want to achieve with the big project, only on a smaller scale.
The most important thing during the analysing process is to learn from the mistakes made during the dry run.
The whole team is now presented with the opportunity to change the course of the main project by looking at the data collected and optimise the plan.
Will the project be much more expensive than expected? If that is the case then there is a chance to procure additional funding and look for the reasons why it is so much more expensive than anticipated.
Was there a problem with the workforce? Did the project not resonate with the public the way it was supposed to?
With the valuable data of the pilot project a team can take the necessary steps to avoid failure, increase the outcome and learn from mistakes made in the dry run.
During the analysing, the team might realise that the goals it has set are out of reach. The data could also shine a new light on the whole project and provide the team with an angle and a perspective that they have not thought of before!
It is important to understand that whether the results are negative or positive, the opportunity to learn from a pilot project is something that not every company has, but every team that has it should make use of this resource.
The findings should be gathered in lessons-learned cards or equivalent measures for future projects to recap. This is self-improvement process of a company is necessary for complying with ISO9001.