The Power of the Pilot Program

Mar 12, 2018 10:36:19 AM / by Jeanne Achille

Building the business case for a new HR technology solution requires the involvement of numerous stakeholders within the organization. The most obvious is running the procurement gauntlet; others typically include IT, marketing, finance and HR operations. It is one of the reasons some HR teams limp along without the latest and greatest. After all, pushing an enterprise purchase forward can require the energy of Sisyphus; on its best day, it’s risky, disruptive and downright exhausting.


Taking a page from academia, more HR departments are turning to pilot programs that serve as feasibility studies. The construct of a feasibility study provides a controlled environment in which to test the viability of a solution. Time, costs, adverse impact and projected business benefits can be examined without the risk of wide-spread failure. It seems so logical: start small before going big.


Often in sharp contrast, the idea of piloting a new technology solution isn’t well received by the corresponding vendor. After all, their sales teams are compensated for multi-year license agreements. Their go-to-market strategies acknowledge less profit in the early stages of an engagement, with escalating rewards later in the relationship after the implementation and training are complete.


From HR’s perspective, it’s not a single-threaded scenario. For them, it’s not about the software license; it’s about their employee population. It’s about rapid adoption, sustainable business change and the career success of the internal champion. Especially lately, it’s about balancing the need to test innovation in a safe environment, without creating undue risk. Good examples of new tech-driven frontiers that can generate threats or opportunities are AI (artificial intelligence), blockchain and bitcoin.


The elements of a pilot program are a microcosm of any well executed project: Plan, Process, and People. Whether your pilot program focuses on campus recruiting for engineering students, payrolling your employees in Zimbabwe using cryptocurrency or assessment testing for call center reps, consider these questions before you start:


  • Does my preferred vendor offer pilot programs? If not, why not?
  • Will a pilot program enable me to determine solution fit and effectiveness in my corporate culture by providing enough data and results?
  • How will we measure the success of the pilot program? How long will it run and what does the eventual migration to full enterprise implementation look like?
  • How will employees and managers react to the pilot? What employee communications support will be required?
  • Can the pilot program be managed by the HR team? How much support does it require from other departments?
  • Do the results justify the enterprise investment?


Conducted specifically with the intent of producing measurable results, a pilot program should demonstrate resource, financial and operational success. Return on investment can justify its rollout across the company. Quantification aside, happy employees and managers will find it difficult to argue against a new solution that improves workplace productivity.


“No” should never be the first answer received by busy HR teams when seeking new solutions. Expand the possibilities by asking “Can we pilot this solution instead?”


Learn more about initiating and managing pilot programs in your organization by attending the Women in HR Tech Summit at this year’s HR Technology Conference.



Jeanne Achille

Written by Jeanne Achille

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