Getting Things Done Through Pilots (and How Dr. Strange Used this to Beat Thanos)

Remember the time you had an insanely clever idea that you can’t seem to get buy-in from your leadership? You know it in your gut that it will do so well, that it will easily meet and surpass whatever goal you’ve set for it. Despite the strong potential for success of your idea, your boss is not ready to invest money and their credibility to give you the green-light because of the fear of the unknown. It’s so new, they’re unable to visualize it succeeding, thus defaulting to its possibility to fail. If this is you, you’re not alone. Unless you work for one of the many forward-thinking companies who actually push for new ideas to materialize, you feel this frustration. Unless you have the ear of your senior executives to sponsor your idea to fruition, you’re just like me and the vast majority of the folks reading this article.

In this post, I’ll share how running “pilot” programs can help you pass the hurdle of pushing your great idea to production. Of course, you’ll still need to use the science of gathering data and demonstrating your analysis of that data that would point towards a strong possibility of your idea’s success.

In today’s environment, being heard is no longer as large of a problem than it how it was several years ago. Many of today’s companies have strategies implemented within the organization to listen to their customers, for customer satisfaction, and to their employees, for workforce engagement. For the most part, consumers and employees don’t have a hard time voicing their opinions and making suggestions. These opinions and suggestions are considered data by these organization. These organization are getting insanely proficient in collecting data.

For organizations, it’s not a challenge anymore to get the data they need to feel the pulse of their customers and their employees. Almost every individual in today’s environment volunteer their insights, directly and indirectly, to the companies clamoring for information on how to win their patronage, to broaden their marketshare. Cost to gather these data is no longer a factor anymore. If you have access to the internet, an ocean of data is within reach for free.

The workplace is filled with talented and creative individuals. The analysis and interpretation of data is not an issue. These individuals are talented enough to digest the data to come up with the most elaborate, superbly engaging campaigns to win over their target market. The hurdle these folks face is getting their ideas implemented and executed, as I mention at the beginning of this post.

In a March 2011 speech by Intuit’s then CEO, Scott Cook, entitled “Leadership in an Agile Age,” he said that “Leadership by experiment, instead of politics, persuasion, and Powerpoint.”

Experimentation = Pilot

Many companies either make bad decisions or they simply miss on great opportunities because they rely too much on the company’s politics (hierarchy, decision-by-committee), unfounded persuasion (by intimidation, not by facts), and by great sales pitch performances (Powerpoint). It’s like a movie production company that focused all their energy and resources promoting the movie without doing as much work and preparation in actually making it a good movie. Running pilot programs, that are generally inexpensive and reversible, is a key tactic to simulate actual results that will help determine if the idea would be a success or a failure.

“Customers buy products, not Powerpoint presentations.” — Scott Cook

Real-life example. I’ve used this technique many times in the past 20 years at work. From launching new marketing platforms and customer-facing channels, to internal changes in our operational processes. One of the recent ideas I wanted to implement in my current role is to have dedicated individuals working on knowledge articles that are used by our technicians to support employees around the world. Technology wise, we have the platform to store these articles in a centralized location, that our technicians can easily access while getting calls from our tens of thousands of employees worldwide. In our current state, we rely on our technicians assume the responsibility of creating new knowledge, updating knowledge, and archiving outdated knowledge. To do that, they would have to stumble upon articles that need editing or archiving, while they take calls from customers who are already in need of that support. Though this set-up is something that “works” in our current state, it’s simply not a operational design that is sustainable. Technical writing is an art in itself. As smart and talented our technicians are in what they do, they’re most likely not equipped to create knowledge articles that is universally consumable and comprehendible. Even if they’re one of the few who have the secret superpower of technical writing, the state of mind at the point-of-contact of these articles is not the right state to be doing it. It is extremely difficult to create a masterful technical document while you’re trying to troubleshoot a user’s issue over the phone. Customer experience will also perish. Instead of swiftly finding a resolution to their issue, they’ll have to wait for the technician to decipher the existing article, find out if it’s correct, and do the research to find the correct steps. That’s assuming that an article to fix that particular issues is available even edit. Now they have to remember to create a new article for future instances. Like many technical support organizations, calls can get heavy throughout the day. The natural tendency of those who work in these environments is to “fix and move on.” It’s simply not a sustainable scenario to elevate and sustain the quality of our service.

Having dedicated individuals doing the technical writing have many benefits; it ensures the articles’ quality, timeliness, and accuracy. To propose this idea, you’ll need to demonstrate the volume of work it lifts from the technicians, the amount of benefits it creates for the technicians and the customers, how other organizations take advantage of this method, and the detailed approach you’ll need to take to execute on this idea. What I’m proposing is to add a final element in your pitch. Include a “pilot phase” plan that can be executed and reversed almost painlessly. These pilots need to be confined in a short timeframe, so that you can quickly measure its success. This will help your boss give you the green light. Believe it or not, most of the folks in leadership wants to helps and wants to make improvements to their organization. Let’s make it easy for them by eliminating their hesitation. Propose something that they can act on quickly, without the risk of lasting negative impact to your operation. It’s in your benefit to get a pilot phase running as soon as possible.

My final thought on this topic is how the movie “Avengers: Infinity War” reminded me of running pilots. In this movie, Dr. Strange went through several (millions) of possible scenarios on how to beat Thanos. In essence, he ran millions of pilot phases in his head to find that “one” scenario where they can beat the mad Titan.

“I looked forward in time. I saw 14,000,605 futures.” (Tony Stark asks in how many of those futures do the Avengers defeat Thanos ) “One.” — Dr. Strange

Be the Dr. Strange in your company. Make the effort of running through several scenarios as part of your research in coming up with a pitch. Express these scenarios to your boss and their possible outcomes to provide your boss an assurance that you’ve thought ahead and have the due diligence of finding that “one” scenario that would bring the best possible results.

Please share in the comments below some of the pilot programs you ran in your job and its outcome-good or bad. Share what you’ve learned from the program and also some general tips on how to make them a success.

Originally published at on July 18, 2019.

20-Year Financial Services Veteran. Leader and Contributor in IT, Marketing/Advertising, PR, Lending, and Customer Service. Coach. Author. Speaker.