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How to Conduct a Pilot Project

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Pilot projects, or pilot studies, are a good way to test ideas, processes or prototypes before fully investing in them. From a research point of view, pilot studies help you practice your evaluation and experimental strategy before conducting the full experiment. In both the workplace and in research, there are some guidelines to help your pilot project be successful.

Define the objectives of the pilot project. Clearly state what the project is supposed to accomplish and what aspects of the full project you hope to examine. The pilot project is by definition not the full project, so there are some factors of the full project that will be left out in the pilot. For example, the pilot may run for less time than the full project would. Therefore, you need to clearly state the goals of the pilot within the limits you will set for it.

Define the internal boundaries of the pilot. Set the limits of time, scope, participants and other factors of the pilot itself. The pilot project needs to have clear boundaries or the project could get out of hand and not achieve the objectives set for it. For example, the pilot could drag on for far too long and consume too many resources if a clear point of termination is not set. This step also helps you define what factors you will be examining in the pilot so you can make predictions about the full project.

Anticipate the external variables of the pilot. The external variables are factors outside of your control. For example, have a plan in place if you suddenly lose funding for it or lose participants in the study. You can't anticipate everything, but thinking about what is most likely to happen will help you be prepared.

Determine the evaluation methods you will use in the pilot project. There are two fundamental types of evaluation you should use. The first is formative evaluation, which is assessment and data gathering strategies that happen before and during the pilot project itself. The second is summative evaluation, which occurs after the project concludes. For both of these evaluation types, you need to articulate what factors you want to examine. These factors should be directly related to the objectives set out for the pilot at the beginning.

Brief all of the key participants (or researchers). This step will help you ensure that everyone is aware of the project's purpose and boundaries.

Conduct the pilot project using the parameters set out in the planning phase. Collect data during the pilot.

When the pilot is finished, analyze the data and write a summary of the findings. Having a written summary will document the project and help others determine the success of the pilot. Documentation will also help you review the project in the future.


Documenting the planning phase will add another set of data for you at the end of the study.

  • Documenting the planning phase will add another set of data for you at the end of the study.