Effective Solutions Through Partnership

What is the Difference Between a Pilot Project and a Trial Implementation?

Project Management, Technology

pilot project trial implementation

By Jason Hardi, PMP, CSM, LSSGB

If you have worked on any major project, you know that Pilot Projects and Trial Implementations are often built into project plans and schedules. Both have merit, and yet both are often misunderstood. If the project team does not clearly understand Pilot Projects and Trial Implementations, then risk could easily be introduced to the project.

Knowing the basics about Pilot Projects and a Trial Implementations can provide guidance or best practices which can help reduce risk on your project and support overall project success. Below you will find brief overviews of Pilot Projects and a Trial Implementations—including the benefits of each—which should help you determine which would be best to use on your next project.

Pilot Project

Pilot Projects may be conducted because due to uncertainty as to whether a product or process will effectively operate in an environment as promised. A Pilot Project can be considered a study where the feasibility must be understood prior to implementing a new tool or process into the framework of an operation.

Pilot Projects are useful to control the risk of introducing something [into production] that:

  • could upset the normal flow of operations;
  • is very short in duration;
  • has a limited set of high-level requirements;
  • has carefully-defined outcomes; and/or
  • could result in risk or uncertainty.

To conduct a Pilot Project, the high-level requirements must first be determined. When you are ready to begin your Pilot Project—often accomplished through Proof of Concept sessions—you should conduct it in a non-production environment that mirrors the production environment as closely as possible. If mirroring is not used, the results of the Pilot Project could be flawed.

Once completed, the final step is to evaluate the Pilot Project results for the following:

  • Fitness of use, or satisfaction of the requirements
  • Scalability, or the ability to continue to function well when it is expanded in scope
  • Stability, or the ability to perform and function under load
  • Configurability, or how easy it is to configure the settings, code, and components

The results of the Pilot Project will confirm that the requirements either can or cannot be met and will give you the information and data to readjust your project plan and schedule as needed.

Trial Implementation

A Trial Implementation is a small-scale implementation planned before the main rollout of a project. The Trial Implementation allows the project team to test the project plan and, oftentimes, a sub-set of functionalities and/or a carefully defined sub-set of the population where the product and corresponding processes will eventually be the target of a full implementation.

In doing so, Trial Implementations can expose deficiencies in the project plan before exposing the entire project to unintended consequences that could occur after a full implementation.

Trial Implementations can be very useful as a component of the User Acceptance Testing process, where a trial set of application functionality can be scripted, executed, and the results evaluated. The intention of a Trial Implementation is to test the project plan while controlling the outcomes and evaluating the results. The results of the Trial Implementation upon completion can be added back to the project plan as lessons learned and as a result, the quality of the implementation can improve.

Understanding and communicating the definitions of Pilot Projects and Trial Implementations can reduce risk and improve the stability of your project. How do you see a need for a Pilot Project or a Trial Implementation to help successfully plan and execute your next project?

About the Author: Jason Hardi has been in the Information Technology field for over 25 years. Prior to that, he started his working life as a Marine Biologist. As a Marine Biologist, he saw the need to develop an early advanced statistical analysis program for biologists. The application, formerly called “Hyper Stats,” was subsequently marketed and sold at colleges across the country. Following this, Mr. Hardi entered the Information Technology field as a System Operator working in mainframe shops and has enjoyed advancing from entry level positions up to Project Director and Advisor.

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