The Art of the Doable: Feasible, Pragmatic, and Capable

When making decisions about new projects or initiatives, many considerations are involved.

Where the project or initiative is strategically significant, say due to the scale of resources required to deliver it, questions of feasibility will be involved.

Decisions described as ‘pragmatic’ may, on the one hand, be sensible in the circumstances. Alternatively, in the pejorative sense, they may be considered politically or ethically compromised.

Feasible, pragmatic, and capable are just three of the synonyms for ‘doable’. These and some others are listed below.

Possible and doable

While we readily acknowledge that many things are possible today that were historically inconceivable, we tend to resist the notion that similar world-changing developments can occur in our future. If we can conceive of it, it may be possible. Prudent governance, however, requires that the practicality of an initiative be assessed before major resources are committed to what might be a futile effort.

Being pragmatic and open to compromise is not always a bad thing of course. When an organisation, or a person, is unable to see another point of view, negotiations stall, or advocacy campaigns gain no traction.

The Political Dictionary says:
“The “art of the possible” is the idea that politics is a matter of pragmatism, instead of idealism. According to this worldview, politics is a matter of creating achievable goals and implementing them in the real world.”

Political feasibility is just one of the many feasibility dimensions a board may take into consideration when contemplating a new initiative or advocacy position. The contrasting quotes below, about whether politics is or is not ‘the art of the possible’, invite further reflection on what leaders feel they must do to get things done.

Futurist Tom Cheesewright suggests that science is more the art of the possible than politics.

“It explores the boundaries of what the laws of physics permit us to achieve, pushing back those boundaries with knowledge all the time. Inside the envelope defined by science, everything else comes down to choices.”

You might wish to see your organisational strategy in the same way – exploring the boundaries of what is possible on behalf of your purpose and stakeholders. The chart below also invites reflection on synonyms for ‘possible‘ that you might use when deliberating on new projects and initiatives.

Plausibility Vs feasibility

Just because something is plausible doesn’t mean it is feasible. Something may seem reasonable on its face, but impractical to achieve. This is where feasibility assessment comes in.

Smaller nonprofit organisations may think they would have no use for feasibility studies such as those conducted by large corporations, say in the finance and construction sectors. However, assessing the practicality of a project or initiative is a foundational step in risk assessment, regardless of the size of your organisation.

Every initiative that ends up being prioritised for inclusion in your strategic plan needs to have been risk-assessed before the ‘Go/No-Go‘ decision is taken. Part of that risk assessment involves confirmation that it is feasible.

Risk assessment (and control) may sometimes take the form of a Technical Feasibility assessment. Some of the other names we use for different kinds of feasibility assessments are:

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis (Economic Feasibility)
  • Control efficiency (Operational Feasibility)
  • Service viability (Market Feasibility)
  • Timeline estimation (Schedule Feasibility)
  • Resource capacity (Financial or Skills Feasibility)
  • Compliance check (Legal Feasibility)
  • Hazard assessment (Saftey Feasibility)

A selection of feasibility types is offered in the chart below, some of which you may already use (albeit using other names or descriptors).

If you are contemplating one of the following, you are (or should be) engaged in feasibility assessment in some form:

  • Introducing a new service or product
  • Considering the outsourcing of key administrative functions
  • Looking at forging a strategic alliance
  • Mounting a major project or advocacy campaign
  • Setting up a subsidiary entity
  • Implementing a complex new procedure or workflow before a looming deadline
  • Moving to a new office
  • Increasing your staffing establishment

No single set of questions

These projects and initiatives are of essentially different natures. Consequently, the feasibility questions you will want to be answered are also different for each. No one template approach will be applicable to all the many kinds of feasibility assessments required by nonprofit decision-makers. That said, most will make use of the TELOS group of considerations – summarised in the chart below and the header image above.

Rather than using only one type of feasibility assessment for any given initiative, the TELOS model suggests that multiple dimensions should be considered – both separately and collectively.

There are hundreds of potential questions you could be considering, depending on the type/s of feasibility assessment you are conducting. The very small sample shown above only hints at the various perspectives which may be brought to bear.

See also

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