Many of us like our products to be perfect before sending them into the universe. While this can be a strength, it can also be a limiting weakness. It slows down your process (analysis paralysis, anybody?), and as it turns out, no matter how perfect you make something before it launches, you will always learn more by actually launching it. Behold the power of the pilot.

A pilot, or a small-scale test, is the opportunity to gather data and identify any shortcomings you need to address. The idea of a pilot is to rapidly collect information before you find yourself in too deep in regards to resources, time, or the impact to customers. That’s not to say you should test out ideas willy-nilly without thinking them through first. Rather, don’t overthink your ideas, and don’t over commit to them before you have real data to back them up.

Cycle depicting the continuous flow between "plan", "do", "study", and "act"

In Lean terms, this is part of the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycle where you plan for your implementation, implement your idea, and then importantly, you assess the success and use the information to inform how you proceed. Here are some examples of what this look likes in action:

  • Derek Scott works at Denver Animal Shelter and he wanted to try a new method for providing an animal’s medical information to adopters prior to them taking the animal home. With the goal of reducing customer wait times, he did research and collaborated with colleagues to developed his new procedure.  His pilot involved starting the new process with just one veterinarian and himself.  He gathered data about how the new procedure was working, modified the protocol and then started rolling it out with the entire staff.
Derek Scott pictured with a dog.
Derek Scott
  • Cecilia Rivas de Schuermann wanted to find a way to help connect small business owners with information about forthcoming opportunities to do business with the city. She created an event to educate owners and gave them an opportunity to network with city representatives who would be soliciting for business in the near future. Initially, she only committed to one event so she could learn if the model was worth repeating. In her pilot, she started with representatives from General Services who had upcoming solicitations. Following the first event, she was able to gather feedback from her customers (small businesses) and the agency participants. Overall the event was a success, so she incorporated the lessons learned, expanded the event to all city agencies, invited many more business owners, and established this as an on-going quarterly event.
Groups of people talking in a large room at the Bridging the Gap event in December 2019
Bridging the Gap, December 2019
  • One of the current challenges tasked to the COVID-19 recovery team is ensuring that employees can safely return to their office jobs. The team mapped out a plan for what they anticipate will be the best course of action. Before brining back a large number of employees, they decided to pilot their plan on a single floor of the Webb building to allow them to gather insights and adjust for any unforeseen circumstances before they implement the plan building-wide.

In addition to being an opportunity to gather information before a full-scale launch, a pilot is an easy tool to generate buy-in. People may be skeptical to make a big change, but it’s much easier to commit to a short-term and/or small-scale change. In doing so, you can address people’s fears that they will be committed to a change they may not like and you create a clear opportunity for people to weigh in with their valuable feedback. Even better is the fact that if your pilot generates the outcomes you hope it will, the results will speak for themselves. Rather than expending all of your energy trying to change somebody’s mind with your words, invest that energy in your pilot, and then you have data to back you up. Or, worst case, you have data to prove their point, but you’re both better off when you’re armed with helpful information on what will work or not.

The concept of a pilot is not mind-blowing or new, but it is particularly important to remember in this time of rapid change. Be thoughtful and come up with your best plan, but no matter how strong the urge to double, triple, quadruple check that everything is perfect before releasing it into the universe, we don’t have that luxury right now. Instead, we’re reminded of an important lesson that is relevant in all times: fail fast and learn by doing.

Keep your eyes out for some exciting news from Peak Academy as we take our flagship training online, starting with a pilot, of course! 

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