PD101 is our series on insights and advice into the less common elements of the Product Development Process. Today we talk Feasibility Studies.
Feasibility studies form an integral part of the early Discovery stages of a project, but can often be overlooked as an unnecessary part of the process. Let’s looks at why we undertake feasibility studies before embarking on increasingly extensive product development stages.
noun [ U ]
UK /ˌfiː.zəˈbɪl.ə.ti/ US /ˌfiː.zəˈbɪl.ə.t̬i/
The possibility that can be made, done, or achieved, or is reasonable.
What is a Feasibility Study?
A Feasibility Study at its simplest is a risk-mitigation tool used to evaluate the “possibility” that an innovation can be reasonably made, done, or achieved. The study is intended to help identify risks, challenges and help formulate a path for development. It is not intended to find, develop or confirm a solution. Moreso to evaluate, through a set of tests, if we are confident a solution can be found, how easily that solution can be found, and at what level of effort and cost a solution can be found.
How is a Feasibility Study conducted?
Our Feasibility Studies are typically broken down into six sections
A statement of the problem, including knowns and unknowns, and a description of how and why we propose to solve the problem.
2. Presented or Desired Solution.
A statement of the possible solution/s as presented or desired by the client. Each proposed solution is simply illustrated where possible and accompanied by a thorough description. A simple SWOT analysis is then performed for each, listing out Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Finally, reference materials or products can be listed to aid comparison and an understanding of prior art or state-of-the-art.
3. Possible or Alternate Solution.
Following the same structure, our designers and engineers will bring to the table possible alternate solutions for discussion and review. These are listed out in the same manner and subjected to the same SWOT analysis as the presented or desired solution/s. We do this as a quick and simple method to draw on vast amounts of experience to look for other ways to solve the problem, in case there is a quickly apparent better way.
4. Evaluation Criteria.
Development of a set of evaluation criteria to rank solutions. An example set of criteria could look as follows:
- Complexity – Relative complexity of the solution, be it mechanical, electronic, software, parts/assembly based etc.
- Cost – Relative cost of development, production or RRP.
- Mechanical Viability or Robustness – are we confident we can develop a robust solution suitable for desired manufacturing methods.
- Repeatability – Can the solution be repeated, producing consistent results.
- Ease of Use – Is the solution easy for customers or end-users to operate.
- Size – Is the size within a defined acceptable range.
5. Most Feasible Solution.
Each solution is then ranked according to the Evaluation Criteria, and a selection of preferred solution/s to move ahead with is agreed upon.
6. Recommendation for Development.
Finally, a recommendation for the next development stages is laid out, based upon the findings from the Feasibility Study.
WHAT CAN A FEASIBILITY STUDY TELL US?
On completion of the Feasibility Study, we should have a clearer understanding of the path forward. The conclusions reached here can be crucial to how the project progresses. For example, we could breakdown outcomes into three main categories, not dissimilar to a traffic light system.
1. OK TO PROCEED.
Following investigation, we determine that the proposed solution is acceptable with no significant obstacles or cost uncertainties expected. We could even identify a potential different solution to the problem that simplifies development and saves time and cost, or results in a more robust solution. We are safe to proceed with development.
2. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
Following investigation, we determine that the proposed solution or an alternate solution appears achievable, though may come with significant elements of risk. This may typically revolve around unknowns, which require significant R&D to solve. Whilst not unachievable, a robust development plan, with clear Success and Contingency KPI’s should be developed, to ensure that R&D is yielding desired results within available budgets to still allow a successful commercial outcome.
3. DO NOT PROCEED.
Following investigation, we determine that the proposed solution is more complex than first thought, and either not achievable, or may come with significant development challenges. This conclusion must occur in conjunction with an understanding of the commercial development requirements, typically with budget and time as the two driving factors. For example, it may be conceivable to develop an anti-gravity car, but may require years/decades/centuries of R&D and unlimited funding to do so, without any guarantee of success. For most, this would be marked Do Not Proceed.
This is why we suggest Feasibility Studies early on, when developing new innovations. The ability to identify and understand risk in the initial stages, where investment from a time and budget perspective remain low, is paramount to minimizing that risk, particularly if uncertainty is high. From here, an evaluation can be made as to whether your business is willing to carry that risk. Of course, the “no risk, no reward” applies, but now we are better informed as to what that risk is, and where we need to focus our efforts.
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