More companies now look for formal project management certifications when they hire project managers--and more are insisting upon internal methodologies for managing projects. Yet projects continue to fail at higher rates than they should.

The reasons for failure, according to many IT analysts, are that communications over time between projects team members or stakeholders break down, projects (and project difficulties) are underestimated, and full implementations of projects are attempted before the feasibility or the wisdom of a full-blown project implementation has been tested.

Solutions to these issues have included the incorporation of methodologies like scrum, which gets users and IT actively talking and collaborating with each other from concept through implementation of a project; cloud-based project management software that enables everyone on a project to see the exact status of their individual tasks and of the project as a whole; and a pilot project approach to large projects that first confirms that the technology to be implemented for a copay will work before too much time and money is spent.

All of these are excellent project practices, but they tend to bypass a critical element of project preplanning: the feasibility study.

Just what exactly is a project feasibility study?

A feasibility study is that stage of project preplanning that comes directly after project conception (e.g., "What if we didn't have to go out and read electric or gas meters and could install automated meter reading at our customers' homes and businesses instead?") and before presentation of the project proposal to management or initiation of any pilot project study.

Feasibility investigates not only whether the technology is do-able for the company, but also whether the project aligns with corporate strategy and is affordable. Within organizations, the individual most likely to introduce a project feasibility test is the CFO. They're always concerned about how the company invests its dollars.

But should it really be the CFO who introduces the feasibility test?

If you look at the formal project methodologies of most IT departments, the answer would seemingly be yes. These IT departments use a project management methodology that begins with a project concept and review of potential technologies that fit the concept, and that moves almost immediately into pilot study modes. Frequently, there is no interim feasibility study.

But CIOs can improve project performance and success rates by insisting on a project preplanning feasibility evaluation that will have been completed before a project proposal ever goes to a CFO or a CEO with a funding request.

Here is how you can plug feasibility into your project preplanning.

Step one

After a new project and potential technologies for implementing it have been identified, perform a feasibility study.

The feasibility study should look at corporate goals, evaluating whether the proposed project will deliver significant business value. The feasibility study should also address affordability. It should answer questions such as whether the company can fund the project, whether there are adequate staff resources to do the project, and whether corporate culture/operations are at a level of readiness to engage with the project.

Step two

Once you have your feasibility evaluation completed and feasibility is favorable, the next phase is a project proposal presentation to management and possibly to the board. The presentation should describe what the project is, why it is being proposed, who will be involved, how it will deliver company value, and what it is likely to cost--along with a recap of the feasibility study.

Step three

After the project proposal is presented, and if management supports it, the next likely step is usually an authorization of funds for a small pilot test of the project. If the pilot proves out, an organization generally moves forward with full-blown implementation.


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The payoff

How does a project approach that includes a feasibility study benefit CIOs? First, by taking control of the feasibility study upfront in your project preplanning, you are addressing many of the concerns your primary dissenter in the budget funding process--the CFO--is likely to have. By showing the CFO and others that you have done your homework beforehand, you're likely to encounter less resistance for the project.

Second, you create more options for yourself when it comes to laying out your IT roadmap of projects. You can schedule the project for reconsideration at a future date.

Third, you further the project management discipline and understanding of key staff members, who now understand that there is more to proposing an IT project than the fact that the technology seems great. Instead, internal IT project proponents must also understand the project from the standpoint of the CFO, the CEO, the board, and other copay stakeholders.

What you ultimately want to achieve is a track record of great projects that deliver great value. This builds organizational confidence in IT's project planning, proposal, and execution abilities, and it will make it easier for IT to sell projects in the future.