How much is your research study going to cost? How long will you need to research to capture sufficient data? Is your research project feasible in terms of scope, budget, and participants needed?

These are all the questions you need to ask yourself before starting a new market research study. But, how do you find the answers to these questions?

The answer: a pilot test.

This article will address what pilot testing is, why you should engage in pilot testing and the top benefits of pilot testing.

What is Pilot Testing?

Imagine this. You’ve spent a significant amount of time developing your study, and you think you’re ready to start gathering data. Your first participant walks in the door to get started. You explain all the details of the project and dive right in. After just moments it’s clear the participant doesn’t understand what they are supposed to do, doesn’t grasp the meaning of your questions, or they can’t complete the tasks required in the amount of time you’ve provided, to name a few potential problems.

Instead of back-peddling and trying to save your study, a better option is to do a pilot test first.

In pilot testing, you elicit the help of a few users to run through your test before you launch. This allows you to see what is working and what’s not. Once you have conducted pilot testing, you should have all your kinks ironed out and be able to start a valid and reliable study.

As a quick note, completing a research study isn’t the only time a market researcher might use pilot testing. Pilot testing, or field testing, could include selecting a group of users to test new software or functionality of a website feature or even try out a new product.

Why Should I Do Pilot Testing and What Are The Benefits?

Pilot testing will help you fine-tune your study, software, or product before you launch. Let’s look a little bit closer about what that means and how a pilot study is beneficial. Pilot studies help you in the following ways.

Tests the validity of your study.

During test development, you’ll learn that writing interview, or survey questions, is a challenging science. It’s difficult to write a question that isn’t leading, biased, opinionated, or confusing.

Pilot testing the questions you plan to ask in a survey or interview will help you understand if your questions are clear and really asking what you think they are asking. In other words, a pilot test will help you test the validity of your study.

Gives you insight into the true scope of the project.

Another reason to engage in pilot testing is to make sure you understand how long a project is going to take and what resources are required.

It’s optimal to understand this information before you launch your study so that you know you will stay within budget and hit your deadlines.

Lets you know if a product is ready for implementation or needs updates.

Anytime your organization plans to implement a new product, it’s critical to engage in pilot testing. The reason? A pilot study will tell you if there are any problems with your products in regards to usability. A quick pilot test will help you save time, money, and potential embarrassment.

If everything goes smoothly during your test, you know your product is for full-scale implementation.

Provides practice.

Did you know that Steve Jobs had a rigorous 6-step rehearsal schedule he went through before every keynote address he gave? With his black turtleneck, blue jeans, and sneakers, it may seem like he just walked onto the stage and delivered a speech, but he spent hours fine-tuning his address to make it perfect.

Pilot testing follows the same principals. Pilot testing provides you the opportunity to practice and make sure everything is perfect before you spend money on market research.

Test reliability.

A research study must be both valid and reliable. A pilot study helps you determine if your research method is reliable. In other words, it enables you to determine if your methods are precise and that your research is easy to replicate.

If your study isn’t reliable, it’s difficult to trust the data you gather. It’s much better to test reliability before you spend money on a market research study.

Helps you test timing.

Unless you’ve completed a similar study before, it’s difficult to know how much time you need to give participants to complete tasks.

Whether you are running a qualitative or quantitative study, a pilot test will give you insight into how long you need to tell participants to be available.

This will help set the right expectations and lower the risks of participants experiencing fatigue and potentially dropping out of the study.

For the pilot test, let examinees know you are testing for time, so they don’t have expectations of how long it will take.

Captures data you may be able to use.

Another remarkable benefit of pilot testing is that you may be able to use the data you capture during the study. If the session goes well, and there are no significant problems, then there is no reason you can’t use the data you’ve collected to support your study.

If one or two tasks don’t run smoothly, don’t immediately forget about the data. You still may be able to salvage some information from the pilot test and use it in your study. If not, you can always use that information to help fine-tune your study and make it better for the next go-around.

Wrap up

Even if you are sending out a simple survey, you can still benefit from a pilot test. A pilot test will give you an extra opportunity to make sure you are asking the right questions, that you have the right audience, and that your data will be valid.

For more information about launching a successful pilot study, and for a more in-depth look into the tools that will help you create and analyze a study, contact Fuel Cycle today.