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Solving the pilot purgatory problem in manufacturing

These are the four biggest culprits when it comes to stalling tech projects and implementations.

In manufacturing, it’s not just about the work that you do, but how the work gets done that matters. Manufacturers rely on their internal business processes to create a high-quality product consistently, and deliver a positive customer experience each time.

But what it takes to accomplish that is far different and more difficult than it was just a decade ago. Manufacturers are competing in a global marketplace with added pressures and complexity, while at the same time trying to keep up with evolving consumer demands.

Technology helps, of course. In a recent blog post, we explored how technology innovation has brought us Industry 4.0, which is driving digital transformation throughout all areas of manufacturing operations—from mass customization to 3D printing.

We can do nearly anything with technology, but implementation can be challenging.

Yes, we’re talking about pilot purgatory. A McKinsey study found that 84% of companies were stuck in pilot mode for more than a year, and 28% for more than two years. It’s real, it’s painful, and it’s especially stressful for manufacturers who are looking to technology to solve their problems, not create more.


4 causes of pilot purgatory

So, how do you stay out of pilot purgatory? These are the four biggest culprits when it comes to stalling tech projects and implementations.


Executive buy-in isn’t locked in

Remember when big-screen TVs used to cost thousands of dollars, and now you can get a great one for a few hundred? Similar to the manufacturing industry and many of its products, the cost of enterprise technology can be a fraction of what it once was. Today you can adopt a cloud tool quickly and inexpensively, without jumping through as many internal hoops.

What we’re saying—and we see some companies fail to do this—is that you should get your executives on board early. It’s fine to use pilots to prove ROI and de-risk your decision, but you’ll get stuck there forever if you don’t have executive support and champions to move beyond it.


Scaling tech across the organization is complicated

If your company can't run with the technology after the initial deployment, it's a distraction, not a solution. Heavy developer or vendor involvement every time you need to add to or change your use of technology slows you down. 

Ask yourself some questions: Is it really user-friendly? Can we easily adopt new features and functionality? Is it flexible enough to grow with us, as our company and processes change? 


Your operations team is resisting it

Your operations team has heard it all before. They’ve gotten their hopes up about a technology making their lives easier, only to be let down by difficult-to-use platforms that slow them down. And we know time is money on the factory floor, so they’re unlikely to continue setting themselves up to be burned again. 

All technology is not created equal. Some are definitely better at this than others, but the ability for technology to seamlessly fit into your existing processes is key. It shouldn’t take heavy training to understand how to use it; it should be clear immediately how it helps your employees do their jobs better.

Your operations team shouldn’t be pushing back—they should be your biggest allies and advocates pulling it through. 


It doesn’t easily fit with the rest of your technology stack

We’re likely at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to manufacturing technology innovation. Whichever technology you’re currently considering isn’t the first, and it certainly won’t be the last. If it can’t be easily integrated with what you currently have in place throughout your organization, the answer should be a hard no.  

Quite simply, integration is the beast that doesn’t scale. And if you can’t scale it, it will always fall short of supporting your company’s true digital transformation. 

We’ll close with some bonus advice. Never lose sight of your primary goal: to best meet your customers’ needs. The entire manufacturing process—from creation to production to fulfillment—is all about delivering the best possible product to your customer. 





With Catalytic, one global transportation and logistics company automated 75% of tasks in its shipment scheduling process in just six weeks, allowing more bookings than ever before.

Read how they did it

Written by Catalytic