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research - 10 minute read

Planning a pilot into a step by step timeline

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By Sam Reid - 2nd Mar, 2021

This article is part of a series around how to simplify complicated thinking into a single-page view so that other people can easily understand you.


Here is the final piece in our ThinkSprint canvas range, the Pilot Canvas. You’ve written a solid brief and defined a relevant concept, now it’s time to make it real through the delivery of a prototype and assess if true potential exists. A clear plan will help massively when you’re in ‘live’ mode as it will focus your brainpower on learning as opposed to reacting on the fly.

Why we created the Pilot Canvas

This one page tool pushes you to define each stage from early planning to final wrap up and analysis. Breaking down each phase and considering all the inputs to deliver it over time is critical. Think of it as writing a short film script e.g. detailing each scene and explaining what the actors must each do to deliver the required outcome. 

Whilst it’s mentally intense thinking through all these scenarios you will be glad that you did because you’ll always uncover flaws in the plot - your job is to apply the missing information so the end to end logic holds up. It can be a lengthy process but the effort is worth it as you’ll have a detailed plan for who is doing what, when and why.

The canvas works as a timeline across six levels

  1. Stage Summary
  2. Required Outcome For Progress
  3. Outputs & Deliverables
  4. User Interactions
  5. Backstage Operations
  6. Watch-outs


Here are our tips for the type of detail you should put in each of the boxes:

Stage Summary

This is what it says on the tin. We’ve given the typical stages from the start to the finish of a pilot but you can always modify these as required. Our example steps;

  • Defining success
  • Planning
  • Pre-production
  • Execution
  • Winding down
  • Analysis
  • Next steps

Required Outcome for Progress

Define the validation event that means the work is done and you can move to the next stage. If possible try to quantify it and be as specific as possible e.g. In ‘Pre-Production’ it could be ’300 downloads of the prototype via Testflight’.

Outputs & Deliverables

List out all the things you need to get completed before you can move to the next stage e.g. ‘Defining Success’ may need you to do some desk research to see if you can get any data on similar products to understand what ‘good’ looks like. Or for ‘Winding Down’ you may need to arrange time for interviewing pilot participants.

User interactions

Complete this section only when participants are involved in a stage. You want to list every likely touch point you’ll have with them and what they’re expected to do. Here you really need to put yourself in the user’s shoes and imagine all the steps they’ll be doing. This is where you usually uncover blindspots you’d not previously considered such as signing NDAs or how you’re going to pay respondents.

Backstage operations

Now you are clear on the outputs and what participants are expected to do you can think through who in your team will own each part and what they must contribute to each phase. This is one of the most useful tracks of info since each stakeholder can quickly zoom into their job and see how it ladders up to the project as a whole.


If you feel there are risks (which there will inevitably be) call them out and if you can suggest a mitigation plan in case they come to bear. This way you’ll be able to quickly respond and not fall behind schedule. Obviously there will always be curveballs you never saw coming too!


We’ve made it really easy for you to see if you’re on the right track and get business buy-in

As with each of the tools we’ve given away you can create a free account at useloops.com/register, upload your completed canvas then share via a link to relevant people for instant visual feedback. You’ll unlock their expertise to help you unearth blindspots and improvements. On the one hand you’ll align them to the mission and on the other you’ll refine the plan, meaning you’ll make faster progress while increasing the likelihood of success.



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