Education, Demonstration, Celebration: The Power of Pilots


Tom PetersWhenever I am talking about organisational change and the delivery of significant projects, I find myself drawn to the importance of making your initiative into what Tom Peters calls a “WOW Project!”

I’d love to spend this whole post talking about Tom’s wonderful little book, “Project 50 (Reinventing work)” but I am, instead, going to focus on one aspect of it.

What is a WOW Project?

Simply put – and Tom knows no other way – a WOW Project! is dynamic, stimulating, revolutionary and cool.  WOW Projects matter and Project 50 is fundamentally about the mindset that allows any project to be a WOW Project.

I am sure I will return to WOW Projects many times in this blog, but for now, I am going to focus in on one way to create a buzz about your project and also help you to move it forward, minimise the risk and motivate your people at the same time.

How to move your project forward, minimise the risk and motivate your people at the same time

The technique I mean here is pilots, or prototypes.  Any way of trialling the change you are creating; or the product or service you are building, in a tangible way.  The power of pilots is simple:

Success begets success

A successful pilot will motivate your supporters and create momentum for your programme.  It gives you a platform for publicising progress and a foundation to build the next stages upon.

A Classic “Win-win”

Pilots and prototypes are also a classic “win-win”.  The best outcome is that they are a roaring success and you can trumpet that success publicly.

The worst outcome is that they are a crushing failure.  But if you think that would be bad, think again.  What if you hadn’t run the pilot or tested the prototype?  Think about that crushing failure writ large across the whole change initiative or project.

Imagine trying to go-live without  having tested? Unlikely, you say.  So why would you go for a full build without a pilot?

The Power of Pilots

The power of piloting and prototyping lies in three opportunities.  The opportunities to:


When you plan to run a pilot or build a prototype, ask yourself “what do I want to learn from this?” Not only will this help you design a valuable pilot, but it will focus you on the primary purpose.  Your result will be far more likely to help your project.

(I will have more to say about choosing a pilot in a future posting.)


Show people what they can expect and invite them to engage in a conversation about the possibilities around what you are doing.  This is a valuable part of your stakeholder process.

And let’s remember the important political advantage of prototypes – to demonstrate to the nay-sayers, doom-mongers and general doubters what can be achieved, whilst giving a morale boost to your supporters.

Nothing provides as much proof of a concept as a proof of concept that works!


When you want to motivate a project team, celebrate success.  The first thing you are going to need is to schedule opportunities for success and pilots are the perfect things.  They are big milestones in your project that give a conspicuous sense of progress.  Use the launch of a pilot or prototype as a chance for a small celebration and its completion (especially a successful completion) as a chance for a big celebration.

The “so what?”

Buy Project 50 (Reinventing work), and read it; look for opportunities to prototype and pilot; design them to secure real learning; learn from them – if you get it wrong: change something!


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