The problem with BIG projects… and 5 ways a well-run pilot can help

group of people working on a big project in front of a computer monitor - iTalent Digital blog

How many times have you experienced a major software rollout or other big change at work that had you crying out in frustration, “What were they thinking? This doesn’t work or make any sense to me.”

If you’re a project manager, it’s possible you’ve been in the unenviable position of having to roll out something new to a lot of people with minimal user testing or involvement, and then suffer the headache of fixing problems that could have been easily anticipated and avoided by deploying a well-run pilot first.

The next time you’re asked to spearhead a major project, use these five best practices to get the data, insights, and feedback you need to minimize risks and issues and increase the probability of success for the overall project.

For a detailed communications plan for pilot projects complete with templates and best practices, download our e-book.

What is a pilot?

A pilot project is essentially a test with a small group of people who represent different groups and/or roles who will be impacted by a wider rollout.

Pilot projects are run for several reasons, but primarily to see how something will work in the real world – and learn from it – before rolling it out more broadly.

Set your pilot up for success

Even if you’ve been asked to run a pilot project, you may still have had challenges getting value out of the pilot to make the eventual broader rollout run more smoothly.

Because pilot projects roll out changes to real people doing their actual jobs, you’ll want to consider participants’ needs and put plans in place to make participating in the project as quick and easy as possible. For project managers, this means applying techniques to effectively manage the “people” side of change.

On the surface, a pilot sounds easy because it is – by definition – a trial of something on a smaller scale, with a short timeframe and a small budget. Because of that, project teams may be tempted to cut corners in these key areas that will put success at risk.

Although sometimes you can’t avoid hiccups, there’s a lot you can do to avoid going off course.


planning-illustration - iTalent Digital blog

Spend time up front with the project’s sponsors and business leaders to clarify the scope and understand the project’s objectives, deliverables, and requirements. You may need to ask the team to slow down long enough to do this and put a clear plan together.



stakeholder engagement illustration - iTalent Digital blog

As part of your plan, think about how you will reach out to and prepare the pilot participants. While they aren’t the only stakeholders to consider, they do need the most communication and support. Also think about other stakeholders to include, like the project sponsors and participants’ managers. Their lack of buy-in can sink a project before it leaves port.


risk-management-illustration - iTalent Digital blog

Pilot projects are experimental by nature and can hit some rough spots. Make sure to think through possible risks ahead of time and have mitigation plans in place for those “what-if” scenarios.



data-analysis-illustration - iTalent Digital blog

The main point of a pilot is to see how well something works and improve it before scaling up. So, it’s important for your initial plan to detail what data needs to be tracked throughout the pilot, how it will be collected and analyzed – and, crucially – how to carry those learnings into planning for the full rollout.



data-reporting-illustration - iTalent Digital blogWhen people participate in a pilot project, they want to know that their time and effort made a difference. Make sure that your pilot communication plans include a participant follow-up communication to let them know the pilot’s results, what was learned, and how it will improve the full rollout. It will go a long way towards building trust and making your pilot projects ones that people want to join!


The guidance in our free e-book provides practical steps and templates for implementing these best practices, as well as ways to address potential pitfalls quickly and effectively. 


Isn’t that change management?

You might be thinking that these five tips sound a lot like change management, and you’d be right! Change management for a pilot project doesn’t have to be complex or take a lot of time. There’s a way to do it well even when it’s “just” a pilot project with limited time and resources.

Check out our e-book, where we look at a set of simple change management approaches and tools that iTalent Digital project and change managers have used to successfully steer pilot software implementations for their clients with less stress and more success.

Following the steps outlined in the e-book will enable you to…

  • Shepherd participants confidently through a pilot project
  • Give leaders data and insights to decide how to move forward after the pilot
  • Create a road map that sets up the full rollout for smooth sailing!

Do you suspect your pilot projects aren’t being leveraged as well as they could? Bring an experienced iTalent Digital project or change management professional on board to help you maximize project outcomes.

Email to learn more about our strategic change management consulting services or about our intelligent, cloud-based change management software, ChaMa.

Learn more about our project management consulting services or email our project management experts at

You may also like:

Change management for project managers: how to ensure better outcomes

PMO, CMO and TMO: what they are and how they drive change agility

Why CX leaders should integrate change management into all they do


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