"I am just going outside, and
may be some time." - Lawrence Oates (on Scott's 1912 antarctic expedition) - his last words
Scott wrote in his diary that, when
Captain Oates spoke these words, "we knew that (he) was walking to his death ... it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman."
Perhaps the stakes are not quite so great when the first
release of your intranet portal goes live, but nonetheless, the eyes of the world will be upon you and it is vital to ensure that things go well.
What is a pilot or prototype?
It is really quite amazing how often a 'pilot' is initiated on projects
without any real understanding of the purpose.
Often a project phase termed 'pilot' is really just a small-scale early release. This is quite wrong and misses the value of what a pilot can achieve.
A pilot can best be described as a controlled experiment to test key assumptions, design elements and functionality within the portal.
Pilot / Prototype Success Criteria
On the basis that a pilot is like a scientific experiment, one needs to
first decide what hypotheses one is trying to test. These are referred to collectively as Pilot Success Criteria. If each of the criteria is met, then the pilot has been a success.
'failed' pilot can be equally viewed a success if the failure can be rectified in the finished product. This is (after all) the purpose of a pilot!
In the panel right, you can download my
suggested success criteria for an intranet portal project. You should tailor these for your organisation before applying them.
Selecting your pilot community
Perhaps the single-most important factor in a successful pilot is testing it
with the right community. You need to select an area (or areas) that is representative of the organisation, but sufficiently small to keep costs down, avoid bad publicity and better observe the results.
It is tempting to simply use the project team as a pilot community (particularly if you are including collaborative technology in your portal). However, your team is unlikely to be
representative. It will most likely include early adopters and evangelists (not your average joe!)
It is certainly a good idea to 'eat your own dog food' within the project team, but do not view
this as a pilot; for this you need a small, self-contained area (close to the main project sponsor in organisational terms) and full of 'representative employees'.
A Pioneer differs from a pilot in one simple way; for the pioneer there is
no going back! (as Captain Oates learnt to his cost!)
By the time one looks for a pioneer community, the portal has been built and the infrastructure established. Most of your project monies will
have been expended and it is too late for a fundamental rethink.
The purpose, then, of a pioneer is to allow you to iron out those last minute wrinkles. Is the training pack comprehendible? Do the
floor walkers know what they are doing? Does the roadshow stand look good?
In a sense, the best analogy is one of a dress rehearsal for a stage production. By the time it takes place, the actors
know their lines and where to stand, but they have never really done it in costume and in front of a real (albeit small) audience.
Your Pioneer community will be your first advocates. Therefore, the opposite
logic to the pilot applies; you should go for a higher risk community that are more visible across the organisation (perhaps working cross-functionally).
Possible candidates include your Finance,
HR, Communications or IS communities.
Be confident by this stage! After all, you know from your pilot what works and what does not. You are likely to have gotten most things right and your
pioneers are more than likely to spread the word far and wide, planting the flag for intranet firmly at the heart of your organisation!