Super Students work on ambitious projects all the time. It’s usually challenging to convince teachers and other stakeholders that we can accomplish the goals we set for our teams (and ourselves). This is especially true for complex, long-term projects, which require startup capital, human resources and careful planning.
Knowledge is power
During my senior year in High School, I assembled a small team for a subject called Project. As the name implies, the students were supposed to develop a project over the course of a year and the present it to the whole school. Most of the time, the projects were both uninteresting and unambitious. We decided to break the trend and to build a killer project. The theme was Cardiovascular Diseases and the plan was to “attack” it in several battlefronts:
- Technical: we built a small, cheap and digital ECG device to use on poorly equipped settings or developing countries;
- Disease prevention: we created a website to educate the Portuguese population about cardiovascular diseases (and to promote our project);
- Community service: we collaborated with a couple regional organizations to help senior citizens get screened for cardiovascular disease.
In hindsight, this was obviously a successful project. However, you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to convince people that we weren’t megalomaniacs. It wasn’t part of the school culture to support projects this big. I remember some comical episodes vividly, like when the three teachers responsible for the subject sat down and “had a talk with us”.
We decided to create a document to prove we could do it, critically evaluating our resources (both human and material) and matching them to our goals. At the time, I had no idea this was called a Feasibility Study. However, it had a tremendous impact on the teachers thinking. We had just documented our faith in the project.
Anatomy of the Feasibility Study
To prove that a certain endeavor is feasible, you need to write a report that supports your claims. Are you sure you can build that rocket? Where are you going to get the funds? What about the material? Are you experienced with rockets? How are you going to deal with safety concerns?
Even when planning in such a professional way, risk is always involved. You can’t account for the days you might get sick or when things just go plain wrong. Feasibility studies exist to mitigate risk, not to eliminate it completely.
Like any other report, you should start by a summary, an introduction, the report per se and finally a conclusion. Let’s look into more detail.
Summary and Introduction
The Summary is the last section you’ll write. In 200-300 words, it should provide a bird’s-eye view of the entire report. Just by reading it, anyone should understand what the project is about and if you found that is feasible or not.
The Introduction is part of the report per se. In this section, you should define your project’s goals and final products. Explain what’s the purpose of the project and what motivated you to start it. Whom will it benefit? What innovation will it entail? After reading this section, the reader should know what will be accomplished and what short-term and long-term goals need to be met for success.
Technical Details, Requirements and Functions
This is the most technical oriented section of the report and thus requires a considerable amount of research. You should map all the technical, material and human resources you’ll need to bring the project to fruition. If you’re building something, list all the components, tools, ingredients and lab equipment you will need. Some of these might be associated with financial costs, which should be explored in the appropriate section.
Teachers usually look for this section first. Be precise in your cost projections and do your estimations with a little breathing room. Include how much funding you’re getting (if any), how much you estimate to get from sponsors, which costs you can reduce and how and your predicted expenses. This is another section that requires a bit of research, but rewards you with precise information about your project’s requirements.
A lot of stakeholders don’t invest solely on projects, they invest in people too. Make an effort to describe the talents and skills of your team members. Who will be in charge of what and what skills make him or her qualified? What positive traits do you have that make you the perfect people for the job? Do you have experience in projects like this? Answers to these questions add credibility to your project.
Project Flow and Timeline
Now that money, resources and people are covered, you should map your project’s main tasks and how they’re located in time. Deadlines are important to keep things going on. I like to do this the professional way, using Gantt charts.
Critical Aspects and Risk Management
In any project you may develop, certain people, events or resources are absolutely essential. They can make it or break it. Or perhaps the whole operation revolves around them. This is the right section to explain them and assure that you will do your best to minimize the risk of something going wrong.
After 100+ pages of data (just kidding, it should come down to 10 or less), you already have an idea if the project is feasible or not. This is the time to conclude, by the power bestowed upon you, that you will achieve your goals. You have proved, using actual data from credible sources, that you can do it.
What are you waiting for? Get winning!