There are plenty of strategies for managing risk on projects that your organization routinely performs. However, when preparing for a new project, project managers and organizational leaders must know that the project is feasible before committing major resources. That’s precisely where a pilot study comes into play. 

In this article, we’re taking a close look at pilot studies, including how to conduct a pilot study that will help you determine whether a new project has the potential to deliver a satisfactory ROI. 

Introducing pilot studies in project management

A pilot study, often referred to as a pilot project, is essentially a mini-version of a project that tests the viability of executing the project at full scale. Before diving head-on into a new, untested project idea, a pilot study can help PMs and stakeholders determine whether the project is likely to succeed. Additionally, pilot projects help manage risk and reveal serious deficiencies or flaws in the plan before substantial resources have been committed to the project. 

Why are pilot projects useful?

Pilot projects provide stakeholders and managers valuable feedback on new project ideas and concepts — namely, whether the project can be delivered within a reasonable timeframe and within budget. Much like a pilot episode of a TV series, a pilot project is a test run to determine whether the idea has legs and is likely to produce a reasonable return on investment. 

So, why is this useful? Any time you can avoid sinking money and resources into a project that isn’t going to pan out, it’s a win. A pilot project is a small up-front expense that can save you from a much, much bigger loss down the line.

What’s more, pilot projects can uncover potential flaws and inadequacies in project design ahead of the full project launch. This way, PMs and their teams can redesign the project and add efficiencies to streamline the process for optimal delivery.

What is the difference between a project trial and a project study?

A project study or pilot study is conducted before the actual project is launched. It is a standalone mini-project designed to prove the project concept’s viability and expose significant shortcomings and potential problems. 

On the other hand, a project trial is a component of a full, committed project that helps manage risk during the implementation phase. 

How to conduct a pilot study

There are five key steps to conducting a pilot study or project pilot. 

  1. Set a clear objective
    Before you set out on your pilot study, you need to define the pilot’s objective clearly. It’s critical to determine what success will look like and what criteria will need to be met for the full-scale project to get the green light. 
  2. Create the pilot plan
    Just like a regular project has a plan, your pilot project needs a plan, too. The pilot plan should include a timeline, the resources needed, any training that will be required, and a communication plan to ensure that all stakeholders are kept informed along the way.
  3. Conduct the study
    With your objective and plan in place, it’s time to execute the pilot study. Kick it off with a meeting with all participants to share the purpose of the study as well as your expectations. 
  4. Assess the results
    With the pilot study complete, it’s time to compile the data, assess what worked and what didn’t, and determine whether the desired objective was achieved. Once you’ve reviewed the results and made your assessment, you’ll ultimately decide whether to proceed with the full-scale project or not. 
  5. Address issues 
    If the pilot is a success and you decide to move forward with the full project, you’ll use the pilot project to identify and address issues that can be corrected before the full launch.

Pilot project plan example

Since a pilot project is essentially a miniature version of a project, a pilot project plan will follow a very similar structure to a regular project plan. Here’s an example of a pilot project plan outline that you can follow for your next pilot study:

  • Define the goals, scope, and objectives for the pilot project
  • Develop the pilot project schedule
  • Define roles, responsibilities, and resources for the study
  • Establish the communication process

How to run a pilot project with Wrike

With Wrike, running a pilot project is a cinch thanks to a full suite of pre-built project templates that help with everything from scheduling to resource management to communication plans. What’s more, Wrike allows you to set up custom workflows that fit your team’s processes and help ensure smooth sailing for your pilot project. Wrike also centralizes communication and keeps project data organized and easy to find — no more sorting through endless email chains to find the most recent version of that spreadsheet. 

Discover all the ways in which Wrike can help you run a pilot project — get started with a free two-week trial today!