Five key characteristics of great pilot team members


I recently posted an excerpt from Chapter 17 of Implementing Enterprise 2.0 titled 8 Guiding Principles for Pilot Programs: A Key for Enterprise 2.0.

To follow up, here is an additional excerpt from Chapter 17 on pilots.


The selection of pilot team members is a major factor not just in the success of the pilots, but also whether useful lessons are learned and the successful migration of the pilots into other parts of the business.

The reality is that there is usually limited choice in selecting pilot team members. However since it is such an important driver of success, it is important to understand the characteristics of great pilot team members, and to apply this to the degree possible in bringing the right people on board.

There are five key aspects to a great pilot team member.

1. Enthusiasm

There is no substitute for enthusiasm in a pilot. As such, in most cases the best pilot team members are those who are clamoring to try something because they think it will make them more effective in their work.

Enthusiastic team members will:

• Want to be involved in the pilot!

• Think there are better ways to do things than current approaches

• Be happy to try new things

• Put up with immature systems

• Put in extra time and energy now for the potential of worthwhile results later

• Actively suggest and try new ideas to make the pilot work better

2. Roles and functions

The organizational role and activities of the pilot members are important in what they contribute, their understanding of the value created, and their ability to apply the lessons learned to other parts of the organization.

In most cases pilots are best run in operating parts of the business, where the final implementation will happen and business benefits will be achieved. However some organizations have found it useful to pilot Enterprise 2.0 tools within the IT function, as staff are usually enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and willing to try new technology systems. It can be particularly useful when these pilots are visible more broadly across the organization, for example for IT support issues.

Considerations for the range of roles you will want represented in pilots include:

• A team leader/ champion who is respected and energetic

• Include team members from multiple functions or departments

• Get senior management participation (if possible)

• Find teams that work over multiple locations or are frequently remote

• For some pilots an HR representative can help identify and address key issues

• Staff who already work on multiple projects or functions

• Have experience in product development or innovation

• Do not currently have intense and time-critical tasks so can afford some short-term inefficiency

3. Skills

Skills that are particularly useful in a pilot team include:

• Aptitude in learning and using new technologies

• Good communicators, including the ability to write well

• Have already used similar Web 2.0 tools (either inside the organization or on the open web)

• It an be useful to include people who do not have significant technology skills though are willing to try, as they will identify flaws that may not be apparent to experts

4. Personality

Personality characteristics that assist the success of a pilot project include:

• Think in terms of possibilities rather than problems

• Prefer trying new things to the status quo

• Critical of current business processes while having alternative ideas to propose

• It can also be useful to have a “nit-picker” on the team to identify problems and issues, though you don’t want to many of these.

5. Network

The primary way in which pilots projects will become visible to other people the organization and adapted to new issues is through the personal networks of the pilot team members. Strong personal networks within organizations emerge through both personality, organizational role, and work history (e.g. having worked in multiple divisions or locations). In most organizations networks are fairly strongly correlated to longevity in the organization, meaning that recent recruits are unlikely to have strong personal networks.

As such, it is particularly valuable to have team members who are:

• Social and gregarious

• Boundary spanners, in communicating frequently with people outside their core team

• Credible and respected in the organization

• Fairly long-term employees, particularly who have been exposed to a number of parts of the organization