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4 Steps for a Successful Pilot (and Project)




In Part I of this series I’ve questioned the fact that Enterprise software vendors cannot provide a trial version and have compared the purchase of a core software without trying it out to buying a car without driving it.


In Part II of this series I claimed that going through a Trial period, whether paid or unpaid, is a win-win exercise important for both you and your vendor.


Today, I’d like to provide some pointers about the main pitfalls to stir away from during a Trial period, all of which I’ve had the questionable pleasure of learning the hard way!


So, without further a due, here they are:

1. Make sure you have the right people in the room (and all of them!)

Every sales person will tell you that one of the most important things to know about a prospect is the decision authority; who makes the call? Similarly, every project manager will tell you that he spends a lot (if not most) of his time on managing “stakeholders” and basically making sure that everyone that has an effect on the project are happy.


Stakeholders who are left outside of the loop during the valuation phase can have a devastative effect on the success of the implementation, mainly because they might have needs which were overlooked and that are critical to the business success of the product, but also because they might feel antagonised due to being excluded from the trial period thus creating a bad reputation for the product internally.


This becomes even more relevant when it comes to decision makers. It sounds trivial but it is crucial to understand the decision-making process and make sure that all decision makers are highly involved in the evaluation and that their decision criteria are considered.

2. Have clear KPIs

Once we know who the decision makers and influencers are, it is crucial to know what for them be considered a successful trial and what are they looking for in the product. An IT executive will look for infrastructure, maintenance and support criteria while business leaders will look for improved efficiency, better quality performance, etc.


It is too often that I see companies engage in month-long POCs only to reach the end of the month and realize that they don’t have a clear understanding if the POC was successful or not.


Therefore, it is crucial to discuss KPIs in the early days of the trial period and agree on success criteria that will ensure a conversion to an ongoing engagement if such criteria are met.

3. Have a defined scope

During the evaluation period, more stakeholders and potential users are exposed to the product, and therefore sometimes new requirements or business implementations arise.

Now this is actually a good thing because it means that there’s a positive “vibe” around the product and that users can think of several pains that the product is solving.


However, the down side is that this might derail the team from focusing on the KPIs discussed in the previous paragraph, and again present a risk that the evaluation will conclude without meeting its success criteria.


Therefore, it is critical to maintain focus during the evaluation and ensure that it’s KPIs are met before deciding to increase the scope.

4. Pick the right time

One of the most challenging aspects of an evaluation period is that it represents extra work for most of the team, as they still need to perform all of their daily activities. As such, it is quite often that evaluation activities are pushed aside due to daily work overload and before you know it the evaluation period is almost over without any evaluation actually done.


Therefore, it is crucial to engage in trial periods when the team has the capacity to take on additional evaluation activities. If you’re facing an Audit, an organisational change, roll out of new products, etc. it might be wise to postpone the evaluation period to when you have the bandwidth to do it properly.


Also, it is critical to monitor the team’s engagement during the evaluation (i.e. entries to the software, questions asked, meetings held, etc.) and take immediate actions if you feel that engagement is lacking.

Summary

Trial periods (i.e. Pilots, POCs, etc) used to be a big no-no for software vendors in the old days, but with modern technology and subscription models, Trial periods can help you build trust and ensure that the selected vendor is the right one for you, both from software capabilities aspects but also from financial as well as personal aspects.


When setting up a trial period, you should make sure your team is engaged, that you’ve identified all relevant stakeholders and decision makers, that you have a clear view of the success criteria, and that you keep track of the defined scope.


If you follow all of the above, you’re well on your way to select the right software for you.

Good luck!


Have your thoughts about POCs? Share them with us in the comments!