When in doubt, pilot

In today’s business environment there is a tendency to want to make decision in a hurry, to execute them and then move on. In many cases this is a valid strategy, particularly with new products where the market is wide open and the first player on the field has an enormous competitive advantage.

But for the majority of ongoing tactical and strategic decisions it’s often better to take a more graduated approach.

Rolling out a product or program without first putting in place the proper controls, measurement tools and change management policies is asking for trouble. That’s why I recommend using pilot programs wherever possible. These programs may delay the rollout or expansion, but they almost always provide for better information for making the program a success in later phases.

As an example I frequently get requests to order product in the same quantity for every store in the chain. We know that the product won’t sell equally well in every location, but we order as if this is the case. It would be much better to roll out product to a few locations – especially those that historically don’t perform well – to see how the product performs. We would learn a lot about how to manage the product at the store level, how to price and display it, before we expand the program to more locations.

It takes time to do this, but I have never had a case where we did this and did not learn how to improve the program going forward. It’s not an easy habit to establish, but I believe that, in the long run, it will save more than it costs. And what is learned from each pilot program can be shared with other teams to improve processes in these other areas.

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  • Stuart Rosenberg  On December 12, 2011 at 11:07

    I agree 100%. Gather you work in retail operation but this can and should also be adaptable to manufacturing. Before implementing LEAN or Six Sigma a pilot program should be instituted for the same reasons. Perhaps these process improvements do not need to be implemented company wide but only in areas that truly are in need. This too would reduce the costs of implementing a program of this magnitude.


    • fitz1  On March 17, 2012 at 14:00

      Thanks Stuart! I don’t thing retailers or manufacturers make as good use of pilot programs as they should. There’s a lot we can learn through trial and error, and it’s better to learn these things on a small scale.

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