How to Pilot Ideas Fast to Your Users
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October 28, 2022

How to Pilot Ideas Fast to Your Users

Pilot programs are a fantastic way to mitigate risk while still embracing invention and creativity.

Innovation is risky. However, organizations that want to thrive need to experiment and test new methods when building digital products. Pilot programs are a fantastic way to mitigate risk while still embracing invention and creativity.

Building digital products has become very competitive. For each established player, several startups are attempting to disrupt the market with new and creative applications. Getting innovative products into users' hands is essential, but it needs to be done quickly to maintain an edge.

Many prominent developers feel at a disadvantage in building digital products. Their businesses lack the agility of lean startups. Additionally, they are often held back by legacy IT software and a reluctance to take organizational risks.

Piloting ideas offers a solution. If a business truly wants to compete with startups, they need to start thinking more like them. One part of that process means building digital products like a startup.

This article will examine the process behind piloting products and explore the benefits and best practices.

What are pilot programs in software development?

Pilot programs are an effective way to evaluate products without risking too much time and resources. Essentially, they are small-scale implementations of an idea used to assess a product's viability.

One of the essential elements of a pilot is that its success is not paramount. With a regular product launch, the objectives must be adoption and revenue generation. On the other hand, pilot programs are about exploration, experimentation, and feasibility testing.

All that is not to say that pilot programs are not ambitious or geared toward success. However, their priority is to make a controllable structure for testing and evaluating products and generating learnings and data that can drive improvements.

By taking the focus off commercial outcomes and instead concentrating on the product's viability, your organization can work through ideas faster and ultimately lower the risk involved with innovative or disruptive products.

Benefits of piloting ideas

#1. Speed

Enterprises move slowly. Many layers of management and bureaucracy can slow down decision-making. In some ways, this is an advantage because fewer bad ideas get through. However, in the world of software development, getting products out quickly is essential.

Pilot programs offer a way to sidestep these structures and deliver products like a lean, agile startup.

#2. Mitigate risk

All new products carry an element of risk. It’s hard to predict what users will love about a product accurately. Piloting ideas helps your business take more chances because the cost of failure is less extreme.

#3. Proof of value

Successful pilot programs are strong evidence that a product works. When you need to secure investment, support, or resources, a pilot can provide tangible proof to convince management that your product deserves further attention.

#4. Lower initial investment

When organizations invest money, they need to ensure ROI. However, product development is full of unknowns. Piloting products allows you to explore ideas in a controlled way. Management can be more likely to support smaller pilots with big upsides rather than larger, resource-intensive projects.

How to pilot ideas faster

Speed is of the essence when building digital products. While developers naturally want to put out products that are rock-solid, sometimes the best course of action is to get the product to your users as quickly as possible.

Once users interact with your software, you can find out a lot. If people use it and it solves a pain point, then you can push for more resources. If the pilot isn’t a success, at worst, you’ve learned some valuable lessons without throwing too much capital away.

Here are the steps you should take to pilot your ideas faster.

#1. Set the parameters of your pilot

Two of the most common reasons that pilots fail are because

A) The scope is too narrow

B) The schedule is too tight

Avoid these scenarios through detailed planning. Define the features, products, and outcomes you expect. Think about the various apps and tools your pilot product will need to integrate with. Finally, plan what you’ll do once your pilot is finished.

#2. Establish clear objectives

Pilot programs need clear objectives and purposes. While they are experimental in nature, they still need to be focused on a goal.

Know precisely what it is that you are testing. Is it about gathering information? Figuring out if the product solves the pain points it was built to eliminate? Evaluating if it meets business requirements?

Don’t lose sight of your objectives.

#3. Details the requirements and resources you’ll need

Make a detailed list of anything you’ll need for the pilot. That includes any hardware, software, equipment, and any people or departments that will be part of your experiment.

#4. Get your financials right

Take your list of requirements and resources, and determine how much they will cost. Management might need a breakdown to give you the green light—additionally, weighing the investment against the risk of failure is crucial.

#5. Create a realistic schedule

Piloting products is about agility and fast delivery. However, don’t hamstring your product by setting unrealistic schedules. Break down each pilot program into deliverables and milestones and then detail who is responsible for each stage.

#6. Define what success looks like for your pilot program

You should ensure you know what success looks like before beginning your pilot. Again, this is about appropriate goal setting. Set out what you want your pilot program to achieve, be it cost-saving, user adoption, process improvement, etc.

Set out clear parameters and define how you will measure success.

#7. Set out a process for evaluating feedback

Piloting products is an excellent way to gain essential product feedback without the high risks involved with a full product launch. Take advantage of this opportunity to get actionable insights and opinions from users that will power future iterations of your product.

Formalize the ways you will collect this information. To collect pilot data, you can use surveys, focus groups, screen tracking software, and more.

Outline how you plan to evaluate and action this feedback.

#8. Perform risk analysis

As we mentioned already, pilot programs are risky. Many are destined to fail. However, this situation is by design. It’s better for a doomed product to fall at the pilot hurdle than at full release.

That said, it’s essential to understand and evaluate potential risks beforehand. Detail each negative scenario, determine their likelihood, and find possible solutions.

Once you’ve completed these eight steps, you’re ready to go.

Pilot programs: Best practices

Running a solid pilot program takes planning and consideration. Here are a few best practices to help you through the process.

Scaling

Many piloting programs are initially successful but don’t scale well. There are several reasons for this, including the difficulty in replicating the conditions of the original test. What’s more, often, pilot subjects are hugely enthusiastic and feel privileged to be part of the trial. This situation creates buy-in that encourages adoption.

One solution to this issue is to set challenges for stakeholders when you are scaling your product. However, at the same time, give them some latitude to solve the challenges with your product. Creating a goal and encouraging healthy competition in the workplace can create a fertile ground that helps scale your product.

Be fast, not perfect.

Take a leaf out of the startup piloting book. Fast iterations and experiments, alongside continuous learning, are the most critical element of piloting ideas.

Fast cycles are preferable. You don’t need your product to be perfect just yet. Get it into users' hands, collect feedback, and use that to learn and power improvements.

Solid foundations

While you can just leap headfirst into pilot programs, building digital products on a solid base is preferable. All pilot programs must have a purpose. Set metrics and KPIs before the pilot begins to ensure you’re on track throughout.

Take advantage of existing cloud solutions.

Building digital products takes a lot of time and testing. When moving products from the idea stage to prototypes, MVPs, or product pilots, lean on as many existing resources as possible.

Use application frameworks, cloud-based authentication systems, existing code libraries, and any of the various automation tools available to build products quickly. Adopting these tools helps you move fast and keeps costs down, so your focus is on getting your products to your users.

Conclusion

The costs involved in building software can make management cautious about creating genuinely new and innovative products. Building digital products consists of a lot of trial and error. Many assumptions made during the development process can quickly fall apart once the product is in the user's hands.

Pilot programs are an excellent way to mitigate some risks inherent in new products. Building lean and agile products allow you to perform tests about how a solution can impact your organization or users. Any feedback made at this stage can be invaluable in improving future iterations of your product or service.

Startup piloting has changed the game. These businesses focus on getting disruptive products into the market quickly to gain first-mover advantage. Traditional enterprises can struggle to compete, especially when management moves at a glacial pace.

Piloting programs are the solution to building digital products in the startup age. Enterprises should adopt some of the development processes that characterize startup culture. Ultimately, it will allow them to fail quickly without incurring substantial financial losses. In addition, it will help build better products that users will adopt.