Enterprise search – the pilot

Last week I met with one of our clients to discuss their enterprise search (ES) pilot planning for the upcoming implementation of Recommind Decisiv Search. I was encouraged by their desire to do so methodically. I believe that carefully approaching a pilot phase for an ES initiative is no different than any other lawyer facing technology initiative; it’s a crucial step for successful adoption. A well executed pilot phase can help you address a number of issues including:

  1. Build excitement and good will with your user community, and as a result seed the firm with ES champions;
  2. Issues that were not caught during QA (Quality Assurance) processes can be identified and resolved before a full release to the firm (just remember to manage your pilot group’s expectations);
  3. Identify and verify success criteria for the pilot which set the stage for a successful roll-out into the firm; and
  4. Test your assumptions and processes for full roll-out activities such as communications, training and support.

The key to a pilot’s success is choosing the right group of individuals, and the best way to do this is to think of it like the layers of an onion:

  1. At its core are KM and IT stakeholders that are intimately familiar with the initiative and its goals. They will be able to assess technical aspects (e.g. speed) and security.
  2. Librarians or KM lawyers (or PSLs) are familiar with legacy search models and will provide crucial feedback on more complex searches.
  3. Practice group cross sections will help ensure their unique needs are met.
  4. Assistants will have a unique set of needs and can provide valuable feedback, comparing their current experience with legacy search (e.g. DMS).
  5. And finally, ensure that your pilot group is represented across offices (if your firm is national or multinational). Think about the firm’s inter office politics. It’s better to have as many of them “inside the tent”.

You should attempt to seed the pilot group with both “friendlies” as well as traditional “naysayers”. The latter are especially important. Their objections and how you respond will inform your full roll-out.

In so far as size of the pilot group goes, ensure it is large enough to represent and deal with the aspects I mentioned above, but small and intimate enough to allow for a personal and very close follow-up processes. The length of your pilot should not be open-ended. By providing your pilot group with clear target dates for completion, a set of instructions on what they should be testing and looking for and specific opportunities and methods for communicating their feedback will greatly increase the success of your pilot.