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03/17/2011

The Importance of a Pilot Phase

IStock_000005461904XSmall_w The implementation of project management software tools (or any tool) needs a pilot phase.  In fact, I would say that it is vitally important to success.  This may seem elementary but it simply does not always happen.

But first, what is a pilot?  A pilot is simply a test or a trial.  It is the validation that the system works as intended and that it is setup in a way that properly supports your processes.  In other words, do the screens collect the right information?  Are we getting the reports out that we need?  Do we have the situational awareness that we need to make decisions?  Does the process make sense to the users?  These are the types of questions that are answered in a pilot phase.

I find that I am an optimist about most things.  It seems that many of us in project management are optimists.  We believe that the work we have done is good and will be successful.  However, in reality, we never know until it is actually used by someone else.  They have different perspectives and viewpoints.  We may not have considered everything.  There are unknowns there that we need to find.

That is why it is important to go through a pilot phase when you implement any sort of project management software tool, even a spreadsheet system.  You need to validate, make changes as necessary, and re-pilot before going live.

Do you know what the number one reason is for a pilot phase?  Expectations.  If you do not communicate and plan for a pilot phase, people will expect that the system will be perfect from day one and it will not.  That leads to frustration, not because of any big misdeed, but just because of unrealistic expectations.  I have been bitten by this myself and have had to learn the hard way.

When you go through your pilot, talk to people.  Don't be afraid to solicit positive and negative feedback.  That is what you need to make the system and the process better.  You may be limited in what you can change, but there is often a way to at least make the process better.  You do not want to think that the system is well received, when everyone in reality mutters bad things under their breath.

This simple rule of running a pilot eliminates a lot of headache and frustration, and makes you look much better in the end.





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