Setting up a pilot is not only a matter of sizing

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Andrew McAfee recently raised the question Michael Idinopulos discussed some months ago :  is the concept of “pilot” relevant to enterprise 2.0 and should we drop it. Some (excellents) thoughts can also be found on Emanuele Quintarelli‘s blog.

In fact the cause of the discussions comes from some assumptions that are not always true :

1°) Pilot applies to over-the-flow activities

2°) The only thing that makes a pilot different from a mainstream project is the number of participants

In this case where reaching a critical mass is…critical, limitating the number of participants is an heresy that is equivalent to shooting oneself in the feet at the beginning of the projet. If something as to be limitated, rather limit the duration than the size (what was brilliantly done at CSC for instance).

That said, thninking that the underlying question with pilots is only about sizing may be a bit hasty.

1°) The question of a preliminary phase

Before going further, what matters is to know if a preliminary phase is needed before scaling up the project. Obviously the answer is yes : businesses need to be sure they can manage things and get some kind of benefits on a smaller scale before applying a new concept to the whole organization.

So the issue is not there but in what this phase is made of. Starting with its goal.

2°) What goal ?

I won’t elaborate too much since I already tackled this issue a few weeks ago. It’s important to know whether this phase aims at taming new approaches that will be implemented on a larger scale anyway or at assessing if the new approaches have to be implemented or not. The stake is not trivial : it’s hard to involve employees in something that can be shut down anywhen, with no certainty about its durability.

3°) What name ?

As strange as it may seem, the way this phase is called is not neutral. On the user side first (pilot = be sure we won’t give up…but may seem a little bit top down / experimentation : you are guinea-pigs, we don’t promise anything) but also on the business side, some namings making it easier to get the “strategic project” label and the exectuive sponsorship that comes with.

Maybe some have found the “magical name” that reconcile both needs.

4°) What kind of social experience ?

Maybe that’s where things should start. Deploying enterprise 2.0 logics and tolls is not about doing something uniform. As I mentioned in the past, there is “social for communities” and “social for teams“. In other words, gathering an undefined population around some topics and optimizing the “organic” functioning (departments, teams…) of an organization are two complementary but different logics. I won’t elaborate on the management and leadership differences between both and the difference bewteen conversations and interactions, what matters is that in the one case a critical mass is needed and in the other a deeper work on alignment and integration in workaday practices and actions is  key. In short, that’s one more case where distinguishing between in the flow and over the flow matters, and that’s a part of the pre-rpject analysis that’s too often overlooked.

The truth is that both approaches have to articulate and live together in the organization, so it should be the same in a pilot. In the other hand, according to the goals (it’s possible to experiment many social experiences at the same time) businesses should now that some experiences have a defined and limited number of participants by definition and some others need a critical mass.

So the matter is neither sizing nor “pilot or not pilot” : it’s about knowing what is aimed at, what the organization is trying to validate, assess, learn…and the rest will naturally come.

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