Often, when you want to try something new, someone or a team has to be the first and assume the role of Guinea Pig(s). That’s what Charles Elwood Yeager, otherwise known as “Chuck” did back on October 14, 1947, by stepping in the experimental Bell X-1 and flying at Mach 1 and becoming the very first pilot confirmed to have exceeded the speed of sound in level flight.

It wasn’t plain sailing (flying), the test flights had started on August 29th and he had trouble keeping the plane straight due to pitch problems, particularly on a flight on October 10th where he briefly lost pitch control completely. However, by taking into account lessons learned from the initial test flights, Chuck tweaked the approach on further attempts to eventually tame the X-1 and create history in the process!

In the same way that you’d want to complete test flights on a new aircraft to ensure that it’s fit for purpose, you should also look to complete a pilot (test flight) when rolling out Microsoft Project Online or any enterprise Project & Portfolio Management (PPM) solution, especially when the implementation includes a large number of users, spanning a variety of teams or departments. This will allow you to collate feedback and make refinements where required prior to a wider, phased ‘go live’ release ultimately helping to ensure improved change management and increased uptake.

So, within this article, I’ll outline what a pilot is and provide my top 5 practical recommendations to ensure a successful outcome.

What is a Pilot’ Implementation

If you complete a quick online search you’ll find a number of definitions outlining what a pilot is, from our perspective and in relation to Microsoft Project Online:

“The Pilot is an initial small-scale implementation ‘almost production’ implementation to demonstrate the effectiveness of Microsoft Project Online and associated processes. Within a pilot the environment the configuration is completed, pilot users are trained, UAT is performed and feedback collated to enable refinement of the design prior to a live roll-out.”

Dependent upon the scale and complexity the pilot may be iterative. It’s better to ensure that the solution & process designs are fit for purpose on the first go-live attempt rather than to rush, fail and attempt to re-engage later.

Top 5 Tips for a Successful Pilot Implementation

1) Change Management

Recognise that rolling out Microsoft Project Online is not simply a software roll-out, you’re implementing a business change, so do ensure you consider the supporting business processes and more importantly, the impact on users. Poorly managed change is costly and effective change management increases the likelihood of success.

2) See it big and keep it Simple

For the next tip, famed American author Wilferd Peterson, says it best with “see it big, and keep it simple”. Define up front what the end vision should be but take small steps towards achieving it, focus on the immediate benefits and quick wins that will help the solution to embed and deliver fast ROI. Remember that the point of the pilot is to complete an initial small-scale implementation, following which we’d also recommend phasing the roll-out into small, manageable stages. To borrow another saying, we don’t want to boil the ocean (that will happen in approx. a billion years from now).

3) You Need a Sponsor

As with any project, you need sponsorship so it’s vital that you have an executive or SRO involved at the conception. As per the APM definition of a Sponsor this should be a business leader and decision-maker that will be enthusiastic about the change this implementation will bring so that they can evangelise and create advocates.

4) Choose the Right Environment

To facilitate a pilot Microsoft, offer 90-day Microsoft Project Online trial environments alongside 25 Project Online Premium licenses, which can be requested through Wellingtone. However, when activating the trial, you have the option of provisioning the licenses within a new 90-day tenant (temporary environment) or you can add the trial licenses to your existing Office 365 subscription. We’d always recommend that you go with the latter option simply because at the end of the 90-day period you can choose to subscribe and continue with Project Online without losing any of the configuration that was created within the Pilot.

5) Seek Professional Guidance for ‘Free’

Implementing any enterprise solution can be a complex process. There are numerous considerations to make from a configuration and process perspective whilst being able to appreciate what works well in a real-world application.

Partnering with a Microsoft Gold Project & Portfolio Management partner will help you to increase the overall probability of success. The partner can help you to understand the art-of-the-possible and to define the overall roadmap and the respective phases within it.

The good news is that you may be able to seek professional guidance for ‘free’, through the available Software Assurance Benefits that are available if you’re on an Enterprise License Agreement (ELA). In this instance, I’m referring to the ‘Planning Services’ vouchers (SDPS) through which you can receive a 5-day Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) Solution Planning engagement. In a nutshell, the 5-days would comprise of workshops for Discovery, Envisioning and Design.

Next Steps

If you’d like to discuss a Microsoft Project Online pilot implementation or guidance on how to access your SDPS vouchers for a 5-day consulting engagement, then please contact us.