Product Pilot Guide For Product Managers
Considering a product pilot to gather feedback on your recent innovation?
This article provides the guide you need. As you read on, you will learn the key steps to launch a successful pilot and how to analyze the results. We also covered the difference between a pilot and an MVP and when to use which.
- A pilot is a test release of a product or feature to a select group of users, designed to gather feedback and validate assumptions.
- A minimum viable product (MVP) is used to test the feasibility and viability of a new product idea. It’s a less advanced version of a pilot and is typically shared with a wider audience.
Steps to launch a successful pilot project and gain valuable insights:
- Define the scope of your pilot, don’t test the entire system
- Define the target users for the pilot
- Build a clear hypothesis
- Set success criteria and metrics to measure
- Launch your project
- Collect feedback using various methods.
- Whether you had a desired outcome or not, document the lessons learned and make changes moving forward.
- Userpilot helps SaaS companies like yours launch pilots to specific user segments and measure the results through surveys and in-app analytics. Book a demo now to learn more.
What is a product pilot?
A pilot is a small-scale release of a product or feature to a select group of users, aimed at collecting valuable feedback.
Pilots are typically used by multiple organizations to test a new product or feature’s usability, functionality, and desirability to mitigate risk.
Having this initial test will save you from making a large investment into something users won’t adopt.
Product pilots vs. minimum viable products (MVP)
It’s understandable if you confuse pilots with MVPs, but they’re not the same.
The major differentiator is their purpose:
- A minimum viable product (MVP) is used to test the feasibility and viability of a new product idea. The MVP is built with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future development.
- A pilot is a more advanced version of an MVP—think of it as a full product/feature version but released on a small scale.
- Pilots are shared with a smaller audience than MVPs (usually beta testers).
- While MVPs test feasibility, pilots measure user experience qualities like usability and functionality.
Let’s consider an example to illustrate these differences.
Imagine a startup building a new product management tool. Their main objective will be to enter the market quickly and test the viability of their ideas. What they need to achieve this is an MVP, not a pilot.
The MVP could include basic task management, project tracking, and user collaboration features. The company will push this out to a broad audience to gather feedback and understand whether the core functionality meets user needs.
After the MVP launch, the company may realize a demand for advanced collaboration features like real-time chat and document sharing.
Instead of immediately adding these features to the main product, a better approach is for the product manager to build a pilot and test with a few interested users.
The process will allow the company to gather specific feedback on the collaboration features and fine-tune them based on user input before a broader release.
How to launch a successful pilot project and gain valuable insights
Without a clear strategy, you will struggle to launch your pilot and measure the results. Here’s a solid 6-step process to follow:
Define the scope of your product pilot
Similar to MVPs, you need to understand what you are testing before you begin.
Clearly articulate the goals and objectives of the pilot and determine what specific aspects of your product or feature you want to test. For instance, this might be a new functionality that includes one or multiple features or a new user onboarding experience.
It also helps to establish a timeline upfront. Depending on what you’re testing, the project can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
When a test has a long duration, it’s typically because participants are required to interact with the tool a few times weekly for several weeks.
If you have a test like that, a best practice is to ensure regular checks at key intervals (e.g., weekly). This ensures everything goes smoothly.
Define the target users for the pilot
Remember, pilots are for a small, select audience. Choose your target users by determining the segment of your existing users most likely to find the pilot valuable.
You can know this by looking at their JTBDs and past engagement data using a trend analysis report.
Accounts that don’t fit the use case for your project aren’t likely to participate or give their best, so avoid them.
Notion understands this. In the example below, the company tests their sprint planning feature only with Notion Projects template users—you couldn’t access the feature any other way.
In other words, they targeted a highly specific audience of advanced users who have a clear need for that feature and could provide relevant feedback.
Build a clear hypothesis
A hypothesis is a statement of what you expect to happen as a result of your pilot. Having this helps to keep you focused, and it becomes easy to tell if your pilot failed or succeeded.
For example, your hypothesis might be that users will find a particular feature valuable and easy to use or that implementing an AI-powered chatbot will reduce response times and improve customer satisfaction.
Set success criteria and metrics to measure
By highlighting the metrics to measure upfront, you’re better positioned to collect meaningful data once the project begins.
Launch your product pilot project
If you haven’t, ensure you clearly communicate with both the participants and the internal team about the pilot’s purpose, scope, and duration. Everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities before the project begins.
With that out of the way, it’s time to launch! Below is a follow-up on the Notion example we shared earlier.
The company made an in-app announcement of Notion Projects paired with an email launch:
Implement the same approach. If necessary, provide proper training in-app so participants don’t struggle to use the pilot.
Collect feedback using various methods
There are multiple ways to gather feedback and data about your pilot project. Some of the most effective and easy to implement include conducting feedback surveys and digging into your analytics.
Use surveys to collect structured feedback from users. Ask about their experience, satisfaction, and suggestions for improvement.
You can combine both qualitative and quantitative questions to get holistic insights.
Funnel analysis shows you how users are engaging with the product pilot across all the stages involved in using the tool.
By tracking this, you can know if they’re using the tool the right way. You will also spot friction points that can be addressed later in the development process.
Trend analysis helps you identify and evaluate user behavior patterns over time. It’s particularly useful if your pilot will take a while to complete.
Just like funnel analysis, trend analysis supports iterative improvement.
For example, if you observe trends indicating declining user interest or satisfaction, you can implement changes and monitor whether those trends reverse before the project ends.
By following the steps in this article, you will reduce ambiguity and ensure you collect high-quality data for decision-making.
After analyzing the results, you may find that you proved your hypothesis right…or not. Either way, use the outcome to improve—build a new solution or use the results to make changes and roll out the full implementation.
If you’re ready to begin right away, Userpilot can help. Book a demo now and see how our platform can help you launch your product pilot to specific user segments and measure the results through surveys and in-app analytics.