Project Feasibility Planning: What I Need to Know and When I Need to Know It
Plans are nothing; planning is everything. Dwight D. Eisenhower
This is a reminder of what you must know and be able to articulate with a strong sense of confidence regarding the feasibility of your project to your institution’s stakeholders. Your project could be an exhibit, a learning center, a database project, a boiler replacement, a new wing, or any project based effort that enhances your institution’s capacity.
While every cultural institution is different, all institutions are under unprecedented pressure to make very strong cases upfront with a high level of assurance to their supporters for the resources they need and the outcomes they will create. Supporters and Boards want to know: what, how much and how long, as well as ‘are you sure’?
Think of planning and design (which are very different activities) as a continuum that leads from idea to reality. Planning is the work that occurs prior to design or implementation, and is the process to decide what resources (staff, capital costs, space) are needed both now and in the future to create a sustainable outcome (future operating costs, staffing, etc. vs. revenue/funding).
Perhaps most critically, a Feasibility Study helps you make more decisions up front, so you have fewer unknowns, fewer variables, and fewer chances for ‘missing something’ (which results in budget busts, time delays or loss of Board confidence). The quality of the study will provide the assurance you need.
This ‘list’ assumes you have established the need (and audience) for the project, and you are focused on the resources and process needed to move from idea to reality in a thoughtful way:
- Establish Project Goals and Outcomes
- Board support and identify a Board liaison/champion for the project
- Identify decision makers and other stakeholders (internal/external) to be engaged
- Allocate project resources required to develop the plan (staff time, funding, consultants, etc.)
- Create a work plan that includes appropriate stakeholder engagement and a schedule for the effort
Feasibility Study Contents
- Schedule and Phasing Plan – Steps to achieve your outcome over time
- Total Project Costs – The hard and soft costs with proper contingencies for unknowns
- Operational Costs – Budgets including staffing (years 0, 1-3, 4+)
- Prepare the Feasibility Study document (and backup) that captures the information including assumptions and unknowns
- Test ideas with your donors in advance where possible
- Communicate: Keep staff and supporters in the loop
- Keep budgets updated
The most successful outcomes are achieved when you take a ‘conservative’ approach, and numbers are independently verified. If your Board cannot allocate sufficient resources for a thorough Feasibility Study, keep a large contingency and document what you do not know and find funding for a second round to answer the unknowns. Remember, sooner or later you will need to have all the answers – better results come with more a more in depth study of your project.