So why don’t successful pilot projects age and scale well?
1. Most Pilots are ‘best practices’. In the case of the SSD Pilot, all the required resources were made available. Enough training was provided for the team. All possible lethargic barriers and bottle necks were removed or suspended. Most times, it is difficult to maintain those best practices beyond the period of the pilot.
2. We picked our First Eleven to run the Pilot. The SSD execution was also their only job. Add to that, nobody wants to fail when you have been ‘specially’ selected.
3. Significant focus and attention is given to pilots. Everyone involved either has an eagle eye (the bosses) or are on their toes (the implementors). We were reporting on the project every week…. And any time the MD saw us.
4. During the pilot, “special interests” study the pilot and make parallel plans
a. Will it take ‘food’ from my mouth? Let me sabotage it. Our staff unions got to know that the program may mean reduction in head count. That caused some challenges and skirmishes
b. Are there ‘juicy’ opportunities within the project? How do I corner it? Some of our field team members saw this as an opportunity to make money… through land leases, pre-set up civils and construction and even through owning the SSDs by proxy.
c. Will it create a new sphere or allow the demonstration of influence? I must garner it. For some of field officers. It was an opportunity to bring in family members, mistresses/girlfriends, and other acquaintances.
5. To Drive Speed, we completely decentralised implementation, but the vision did not transfer. When the vision does not transfer, it is not unusual for your scaling to be a grotesque caricature of your pilot
6. When the Pilot is very successful, it sets unreasonable, impractical and unachievable expectations for scaling. In our case, moving from 16 to 100 made sense. We had the capabilities to handle and manage that. We could learn and improve capabilities as we expanded. The 600 we were asked to place (with no gearing allowance made) literally crashed the system. The Managing Director wanted to fire me by the 16th of January because we were behind on SSD placement
a. We could not find enough Containers
b. We needed time to get all the other resources together that each SSD needed to be successful.
c. We could not find enough qualified people who will run the SSD business (people who understood ‘turnover over’ rather than ‘margin’ business; who would actually distribute the product in assigned territory and not wait for ‘buyers to come and self-collect.
7. Though we could hide behind the fact that the numbers moved from 100 to 600 by fiat, from hindsight, I am not too sure that we designed for scale from the beginning of the project. We didn’t think though all the intricacies of scaling the project. One key part of this would have been for us to make implementation malleable within a framework and to get the buy-in of the local teams to the vision of the project.
Today, in our work with our clients, we almost would not undertake any major assignment without a Pilot. We use what we call the SSRS (Segment, Sequence, Replicate and Scale) Model.
We have successfully implemented and scaled versions of the SSD/Distribution expansion project across different industries using the SSRS model.
We ran a Market Development Project one of Nigeria’s major salt producers across the Country. After we looked at their fundamentals, we told them that they could triple their volumes using our MDDM Model. They thought we were out of our minds. We told them that we will use the SSRS process. We segmented and sequenced the Country. Then we started with a small pilot in Mile 3 Market in Port Harcourt. We grew Sales by 3008% in the 1st month. This established that the fundamentals of our plan were right. Then we expanded to the whole of Port Harcourt, and we replicated similar results. Our biggest challenge at this point was how to manage client expectation. Eventually, we grew sales by more than 650% over prior year, tripled numeric availability to 76% and for the 1st time, attained Market Share leadership for the brand.
To Be Concluded
In the concluding piece, I will explain how the SSRS Model works and How to conduct a Pilot that will scale