In the services world, winning a project that too for something long term, is not always a straight forward way out. Product companies are often asking for pilots / proof of concepts before investing in anything long term as it gives them a chance to evaluate the performance of the team and completely buy into their long term commitment.
I thought I will elaborate on this post about what it takes to succeed in a pilot or at the very least, lay out best practices to adopt, to guide the effort into a successful long term relationship. At the very basic level companies need to understand that their execution approach during a pilot should not be much different than during a regular project execution. That said, a pilot phase is in some sense similar to an extended interview and evaluation period. So, while the team may be qualified enough to prove their value in the long run, it is also important to keep in mind that they need to impress the client during this short evaluation period. Typically such evaluations run for about 1 month to a maximum of 3 months and are paid engagements such that the risk involved for all entities is low from financial and dependency angles in case the client does not see the performance ROI during the said period.
From the services company side, obviously the right person needs to be chosen for the pilot. This is a person who is representative of the company’s capabilities and the team that would work on this project down the line (assuming a longer term assignment is agreed upon at a later date). Picking the person with the right domain and disciplinary skills is important. This person has to also have very good communication skills and the right understanding of business and end user implications, because he/she is operating within a much shorter timeline that a usual project cycle. Sometimes it might be challenging for the person to get a complete understanding of the big picture, especially when the system to be worked on is very complex. However, unless this level of understanding is established the person is not going to be able to succeed in the evaluation phase. So, some core practices to follow here would include:
1. Requesting for a kick off meeting with the required stakeholders from the client’s side at the very start of the evaluation phase. Identifying the project’s key communication points and having discussions with them to understand their expectations. This not only helps understand their expectations of the execution effort but also reiterate the success parameters
2. Explore the possibility of accessing the client’s test strategy to align your test efforts with them
3. Consolidating all of this information and chalking a clear execution plan for the pilot team especially since time is very limited in this phase
4. Periodically evaluate team performance and also discuss with the client manager to understand feedback for the team and dynamically incorporate it in the team’s executional efforts
5. Establish the right rapport across teams so you can talk to cross group people to proactively contribute on the project. Since you may not have had the time and chance to meet cross group teams as yet, this is a very project specific need and may not be needed at all times
6. Keep aside time for the team for exploratory test efforts so they can contribute over and beyond
7. Propose your tools including open source solutions such as defect management, test case management along the way to help your clients improve their processes even during a pilot
If one were to notice, these points are not very different from core best practices to adopt in any project. However, these become all the more important in a pilot because this is your chance to impress the client and win a longer term assignment. Also, these practices sometimes get neglected in a pilot because the team is scrambling for time and has not had the opportunity to meet the right people as yet. It is important to set aside the time it takes to get these details and processes in place as these go a long way in executing the pilot effectively and winning the client’s confidence in your team for a longer project.