A client recently asked us to do a feasibility analysis. The client had the basis of an idea and they needed a study to see if the idea was feasible. Feasible means possible and likely to be achieved. This seems simple, but means looking objectively at the idea rather than just discussing its merits. A feasibility study analyses whether a thing can be done and whether it is likely to succeed. We usually do one before preparing a business case or business plan. It helps avoid wasted effort on ideas that won’t fly.
We have done feasibility studies before so we knew what to do. We still like to start a new consulting job by checking for current best practice. We also check to see if there are lessons we can learn from similar jobs by us or someone else. In this case, we looked for recent feasibility studies that we could learn from or use as benchmarks.
The problem with feasibility studies
We found ten feasibility studies and we had a good look at them. We were shocked; there’s no other word. Almost none of those studies objectively determined if the idea was feasible. They were full of descriptions of the idea, text and pictures that made it look wonderful and statements about benefits, including numbers in some cases. However, they failed to assess whether the idea was feasible, what options existed to realise it and how likely they were to succeed. The problem with studies like this is that they don’t uncover potential issues early enough, which turns into optimism bias later on.
The feasibility study process
We didn’t find a benchmark but we did learn a lesson. Our feasibility study had to determine feasibility rather than taking its cue from the examples we had reviewed. We gathered data on current and projected demand. We looked at similar ideas to see how they worked in practice. We visited sites where such ideas had been implemented to identify success factors and learn lessons. We carefully examined all the constraints that could prevent or hinder successful implementation and we looked for things that would help the idea succeed. We put all that together in a series of options then we wrote a report that presented the findings in plain English. We put the details in appendices for traceability. It was well-received.
Purpose of a feasibility study
It can be very tempting to use a feasibility study to sell an idea. It is the wrong place to do it. A feasibility study needs to be objective, explorative, analytical, dispassionate and evidence-based. A good feasibility study provides clear thinking to inform decision-making. It is an evidence-based feasibility study. Save the passion for the sales pitch and the implementation. You will need them then!