“Good design successfully manages the tensions between user needs, technology feasibility, and business viability.” – Tim Brown
New and potential clients of Device Solutions may be surprised to find that one of the keys to the company’s success is founded on two, simple words, “Feasibility Study.” Simply defined, a Feasibility Study is an assessment of whether or not project or plan is realistically possible. To be realistic, a project must be both technically and financially viable.
Feasibility studies are required for most, but not all projects Device Solutions works on. In some cases, when Device Solutions is contributing to only a small portion of a project, the feasibility study has either been done by another company, or the task is clear enough that a study isn’t needed. According Device Solutions’ CEO, Bob Witter, there are five main reasons to conduct a feasibility study:
To collect and document the scope of and requirements for a project, thereby helping insure Device Solutions and its client agree on exactly what is going to be done;
To identify and recommend solutions or courses of action to satisfy the requirements;
To investigate the technologies and components that will be used in the project. This also helps insure that Device Solutions is up-to-date on the most current, state-of-the-art technology available;
To investigate and mitigate project risks; and
To provide the client with information needed to create a solid business plan. This includes items such as a bill of materials and licensing costs, as well as a list of constraints such as battery life and size. Having this factual information enables the client to not only create a business plan, but determine if the project will be cost effective as well.
The potential risks involved in failing to do a feasibility study are high. Without a thorough understanding of the technologies and requirements, it’s possible for the cost of a project to rise due to changes as it evolves. For example, if invalid data was used to make a business case, a lot of time and money could be wasted before accurate information is acquired and input, and the business plan modified. “It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new idea or problem to be solved,” says Witter, “but without a feasibility study we don’t really know what’s possible.”
Feasibility studies are typically conducted just as soon as a client and Device Solutions agree to do business together. They are handled by Device Solutions’ Senior System Engineers with input from external partners when needed. This senior team of experts meets with the client to get a thorough understanding of the concept and requirements for the project, then begins meeting with pertinent technology sources and component vendors. These meetings keep the engineers up-to-date on cutting edge technology and help them determine if that technology will be available in time and is suitable for the project. Although the length of time needed to complete a study is extremely variable, an average time frame is two to three weeks.
In addition to time, feasibility studies cost money. This comes as a surprise to some clients, but Witter stresses that the studies consume engineering resources. “We would go broke if we did the studies for free,” he says. “Our clients are paying for our engineers’ time, expertise and experience making sure that we deliver products that are the best they can be.”
Once a feasibility study is complete, Device Solutions sits down with the client to do a formal review. The purpose of the review is to verify the thoroughness and accuracy of the study, and to make a decision about whether or not to go forward with the project. Clients can accept, question or ask that the study be revised before making a final decision about next steps. If the results show the project is technologically and financially feasible, the next phase is typically prototype development.
Witter attributes the fact that most projects Device Solutions works on are very successful to the fact that they began with a feasibility study. On the flip side, Device Solutions has occasionally been approached by people who have purchased designs off the shelf or created prototypes themselves with little or no experience. “These individuals haven’t done any feasibility work, and in many cases are close to project launch,” says Witter. “These projects often have significant design, manufacturing and/or certification issues, which often means it’s back to the drawing board for these poor folks.”
In the end, Witter stresses, feasibility studies pay for themselves, saving everyone a lot of time, money and stress while helping insure that the final product is one everyone can be proud of.