At Sketchbox, I spend a lot of time working with large organizations that have done their research and understand the benefits of VR training but don’t know how to choose the right VR pilot project. I’ve also spoken to many organizations who have run VR project pilots that were truly doomed to fail — now it’ll be another year or two before they even consider VR again.
To help you have a successful experience with your next VR pilot, I want to share what I’ve learned from working on VR training projects within very large organizations, like IBM and the US Air Force. In this article, I’ll cover how to select the right VR pilot project, pitfalls to avoid, and how to build a persuasive business case.
Select an Existing Training Curriculum Suited to VR
Choose a pilot project that can be built around a training curriculum that already exists, which is also well suited to VR. You’d be surprised at how many people have asked me how they could create a training program around something like Excel or project management using VR. (Hint: more than zero).
It’s much faster to adapt an existing training curriculum to VR than to design a brand-new one from scratch. Building a business case for VR training is also much easier when the results of a pilot project can be compared to some baseline, such as an existing training curriculum.
Identify an Important Problem for Your Organization
The most successful VR pilots we’ve run tackle an important business problem (use case), which means tangible results get the attention of senior leadership.
For example, one of the projects we worked on with the US Air Force (USAF) was designed to reduce a seven-month training backlog on a cargo plane called the C5. There are congressionally mandated targets for unit ‘readiness’ across the USAF, and reaching them is a priority for USAF leadership. However, traditional training methods limited the client's ability to increase unit readiness. With our help, the USAF was able to prove that VR reduced total training time, successfully winning the attention and approval of its leadership team.
The results that are important to senior leadership will vary across industries and organizations. For instance, the energy companies we work with care deeply about safety.
Ask yourself: What problem do your organization's senior leaders care about that VR training can tackle? Is it safety? Reducing costs? Conducting remote training during COVID?
Focus on Reducing Hard Costs
In our experience, the best way to get buy-in from change-averse company leaders is to demonstrate hard cost savings they can’t ignore.
For example, most manufacturing companies we work with don’t have extra equipment to train on and have to shut down plants for training exercises. They know exactly how much it costs to shut down a plant for a training session, and the costs come directly from their bottom line.
After a VR pilot project, where you show senior leadership how you’ve reduced planned downtime by 80% saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, you’ve won their attention.
Find a pilot project with specific expenses that can be, unarguably, eliminated or reduced through VR training. That includes expenses like travel, machine operation, and plant shutdowns. The training department is a good place to start when looking for such a project since they’ll be able to break down training expenses for you.
Choose a Project With a Short Delivery Timeframe
The longer a VR pilot project goes on, the harder it is to keep interest internally and the greater the chance supporters switch roles or abandon your project. We’ve seen this happen a few times within the Air Force, where everyone changes roles every three years, and overseas deployments are frequent.
Keep the development period under six months because the testing period could take anywhere from two weeks to three months, and is rarely as smooth as you expect.
Know Your Goals and Evaluation Criteria
Before starting a VR pilot, you need to understand how your organization will evaluate your pilot.
There were many potential pilot projects at the Air Force that offered different benefits: cost savings, increased safety, reduced emissions, etc. Even so, the only metric that senior leadership cared about was the reduction in total training time. If reducing emissions was paramount, we would have chosen a different pilot.
Once you understand how your organization will evaluate your pilot, you can create a realistic and persuasive business case centered around your company’s needs. You can also better frame the benefits of VR beyond the pilot project.
Choose Your Success Metrics Before Development Begins
Measuring your pilot’s performance is absolutely necessary if you want any kind of support. Senior executives usually want to know: how does VR perform against traditional training methods? How do the training outcomes compare? What about costs or training times?
You may also find value in tracking user engagement levels and how prepared trainees feel after using the VR program. These measurements can reveal just how much safer and confident employees feel with VR training and can form the foundation of a persuasive business case.
Reserve Internal Resources Early On
Just because you have a launch plan in place for your VR training project doesn’t mean that there are endless internal resources available.
Enlist the help of many subject matter experts (SMEs) who have the bandwidth to invest in your project. You’ll want them to be available for the entire pilot’s duration, or at least for the development and testing phase.
Different SMEs have different opinions on what should be taught and how. Replacing them partway through a pilot can cause serious issues.
Think About the Long-Term Benefits Ahead of Time
With strong pilot results, there will be serious interest from senior leadership, and you’ll be asked to explain how VR can benefit your entire business. To get ready for that conversation, you’ll need to do some research: How much does your organization spend on training? How much could be done in VR? What if travel costs could be reduced by 80%?
One of our recent projects with the U.S. Air Force reduced overall training time by 25% and saved $100,000 per student. When the results got attention from senior leadership, we were able to explain exactly how moving 40% of the training curriculum into VR would reduce overall training time by 50%.
I’m hoping the tips above help you identify the right pilot project for VR training and allow you to gather support for it in your organization.
How Can Sketchbox Help?
We provide a scalable, military-grade VR training and assessment platform that can be deployed to any VR headset, in even the most secure environments. If you want to learn more or find out what VR training can do for your organization, click the button below.