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Mr. Parag Mehta

Prototype vs Pilot



Prototype is an early version of a product / service / software. Usually it encompasses all the intended functionality and it is the first working model realization of a theoretical idea. Prototypes are generally used for internal functional testing.




Pilot is when a new product / service / software is given to a smaller group of intended audience for use before complete roll out. It is done to understand the following.
1. Implementation issues before complete roll out.
2. How the product is being used and/or misused.
3. Refine the shortcomings (if any).
4. Get initial acceptance.

In software testing, a pilot is usually referred to as a Beta version, in marketing, it is referred to as a soft launch etc.


An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. 


Applause for the respondents - Sreejith PC and Nilesh Akre.


Also review the answer provided by Mr Venugopal R, Benchmark Six Sigma's in-house expert.


Q. 152 Rapid prototyping and piloting are two main ways that organisations prototype new products and services. What are the differences between the two?


Note for website visitors - Two questions are asked every week on this platform. One on Tuesday and the other on Friday.


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Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R


The first time I ever saw and experienced a “prototype” was during the early years of my career with a white goods MNC. The product was a consumer durable with unique mechanism and control features being introduced to the world for the first time. The product was developed in a well-equipped research and engineering division of the company in US. Special purpose tools and machines were used to create the several hundreds of components in the Bill of Materials as per the design drawings, the prototype was assembled and made functional. Such a prototype was very useful in concept evaluation, fit and function. It would not be adequate to evaluate the reliability or endurance, nor would it help to assess the capability of a production process. The unit was used internally for the engineers to perform concept / design FMEA studies and improve the design of the components and assemblies. The term ‘proto’ means ‘first’ or ‘original’, from where something starts.


In the later years the concept of rapid prototyping emerged with the advancement of Computer Aided Designs and 3D printing technologies. The 3D designs are broken into layers and get ‘Printed’ out as products using special materials. The rapid prototyping methods have helped in bringing down costs and time as compared to the conventional prototyping methods.


Pilot testing is usually done once all the necessary preparations and set up are ready for production of the product. Before commencing regular commercial production, an initial batch of products are produced and subjected to evaluation in real use, but monitored closely. The objective of pilot testing is to evaluate not just the functionality of the product, but also its reliability in the actual working conditions, user acceptance, production related issues and any other feedback based on the actual field usage.


For my above example on consumer durable, the company had one practice known as “Customer Use Field Trial”. Some products were offered to employees for use at their homes for a certain period of time and feed back obtained. Another method was to launch the product in a non-prominent market; for example, sell a few products only a B city in a distant locality and monitor the feedback.


How does the Proto testing and Pilot testing translate in the IT services industry?


Well, the coded softwares are subjected to test cases. There are tools available for handling large number of test cases and help improve the concept and design of the software. Another interesting practice that is followed is the Agile model, where, at different stages of development, the product is made available to customer, who also understands that the output may not be perfect and willingly provides feedback for rapidly modifying the designs until the final version emerges.


However, only when the developed software product is put to real use by multiple users in multiple systems and subjected to the real-life variations, will the pilot testing be completed.


In short, we should not rely on Pilot testing for key changes in concept and design, most of which should have taken place during the Prototyping stage.

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Piloting - when the actual product/service is tested in a small segment of target population/domain to measure the effectiveness and study the impact. The full fledged product/service roll out will be done post achieving successful results from the pilot run. 


Prototyping- in this scenario, actual product/service is never made, but a working prototype/sample model is rolled out to the target segment to measure the effectiveness. This is done when the product development requires more effort/time/cost and when it is important to understand the market requirements/feedback through a sample model immediately.

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  • Before implementing a feasible solution test is carried out on small scale on target population
  • It focuses on value of the project
  • Success or failure of the pilot project decide whether it should be repeated or not
  • Helps to understand the risk in solution
  • Makes full scale implementation more effective



  • Before  implementing the pilot project  a prototype is made to see how the model  or solution will work. In one  way we can say simulation is carried out
  • It focuses on the value of design cycle
  • It involves multiple iteration and after trail one decide what changes should in next trail
  • Used to obtain customer feedback for new product
  • Data collected while testing new design helps to improve product or design

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There are no chosen best answers as the term Rapid Prototyping is not explained. Please refer to the expert view for details.

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