In the course of our work we have developed a set of eight “best practices” for piloting an information system. This series of posts provides an summary of those practices. In previous posts we discussed the need for Executive Sponsorship, and goal setting, and expectation management. In this post we discuss choosing pilot participants, communicating with the world about your pilot, and the planning and management of your pilot.
4. Choose the right people to be “pilots.”
Typically in systems projects 15% of those affected by the system will have a very favorable attitude about it, 15% will have a negative attitude about it. It’s the middle 70%, the ones who just want to get their job done in the most efficient way possible, that should be the core of your pilot group. Choose the best and brightest from this group. They will give you an honest opinion about your pilot and help improve the value of the pilot. The reasoning here? Nay sayers won’t like the system no matter what and vice versa the cheerleaders will overlook flaws that should be noted.
Your instincts will probably serve you well here but novices typically make the mistake of choosing only proponents. It’s the neutral crowd, the ones who will pay the price for a bad system, you want giving you feedback.
Plan to communicate. Develop a written communication plan that defines who you need to communicate to (pilot staff, stakeholders, bosses, staff that will eventually be affected by the system), what they need to know (goals and scope, the project plan, summary status information, detailed status information, closeout report etc.), how you will communicate with them (in person, via phone, by a center, etc.), when you communicate with them (before the pilot begins, daily or weekly during the pilot, and post pilot), and who is responsible for conducting this communication.
Carry out your plan, judiciously tracking each communication that occurs, evaluating the efficacy of that communication, and adjusting your plans accordingly.
Proper planning for communication and carrying out that plan helps ensure the right people are on your side should the need arise.
6. Plan and manage the pilot.
This may seem a bit obvious but you’d be surprised how many pilots we see where the system is thrown into a pilot setting with no real plan for what needs to be done and no individual clearly in charge. Pilots are small projects. However, they are critical projects and deserve all the discipline and attention any project receives. Plan and execute the pilot according to agency or industry (such as Project Management Institute) standards. Develop a work breakdown structure, defining the tasks that need to be completed, who will do them, how much effort each task will take, and when they are expected to be done. Document the plan and communicate it to appropriate parties.
Execute the plan as any other project plan. Monitor tasks, note and mitigate obstacles, and where reality deviates from the plan make adjustments to the plan and communicate associated changes to stakeholders and team members.
Choose an experienced individual to ensure the plan is developed, executed and monitored according to standards. This is, of course, the pilot project manager.
Having a plan and manager in place will avoid having a runaway pilot and the associated costs and headaches.
We’ll wrap up this series about piloting in our next post by discussing preparation and what to do with what you find in your pilot. As part of a broad range of services designed to help you prepare for implementing information systems, Public Knowledge, LLC helps public sector agencies successfully plan and execute information system pilots.