Our customer – whoever that may be – wants something done, right? That may be an external customer, an internal customer…it may even be our own CEO. But, is what they want done even feasible? First, you have to get past the cover your own neck concept of the thought of going through a complete project to create a solution or product exactly like your customer asks only to have it be something completely unusable in the market place or by the customer’s end user community. In that scenario you – the project manager – look bad (very bad) because you delivered something unusable even if it wasn’t your own direct fault. Rather, you have to see the big picture and understand that it’s about making a customer happy and not completely wasting their money in the process.
So, yes, it is up to us to help them determine whether or not if what they are asking for is even feasible. If you really want to make your customer happy then make sure from the beginning that what they want is actually feasible. And how do we do that? Well, methods for verifying feasibility can often include such things as market studies, simulation, pilot testing, and prototyping. Let’s examine each of these methods in a little more detail…
If your project is to bring a new product to market, you must determine its market potential. Does anyone want this product and can it be produced in such a way that it is truly feasible to bring it to market in an economically viable fashion? Market research asks customers whether your product satisfies their current or potential perceived needs. It can also examine similar products to determine how your product is differentiated. You have to ensure that even though the customer wants to bring this new product to market, that it is truly something that someone out there will need or want. The worst thing you can do is help a customer create something that will never be purchased by anyone. Can you say betamax and laserdisc?
Computer technology permits modeling of many types of projects. For example, you can predict the market potential or overall usability of a product or end solution by analyzing demographic data of the target users along with assumptions about current and potential needs or you can determine the load-bearing potential of buildings, bridges, and vessels through mathematical calculations and computer simulation. The value of simulations lies in their ability to identify potential problems in a risk-free environment.
You can try out your project on a small scale, such as in a limited area market test of a product or a working model of key project deliverables. Sometimes known as field-testing, a pilot test gives you the opportunity to observe your project’s performance under actual conditions.
Prototyping involves the act of constructing and assembling some portion of the project deliverable or deliverables and putting them through performance tests designed to verify whether or not they can meet the performance criteria identified in the requirements. In other words…once again…will this actually work and be a usable product or end solution?
If the results of a well-conceived and executed feasibility study indicate that the project should proceed, you now have proof that the project or product should be successful and you’ve now just increased your own overall likelihood that your project may be successful…and that’s never a bad thing. However, if the results don’t look good, then you have just tested/studied yourself out of a project, product or consulting engagement and – while saving the customer the needless cost of going through the project only to have it fail – you’ve now also basically canceled a lucrative project. But you can rest assured that you’ve done everything you can for that customer and in the end that’s really what we are tasked to do.