How to Develop Your Idea into a Project (in 10 Steps)


Many people have an idea for a project but are uncertain what to do next. So, if you’ve an idea, what is the next step? We hear this from people all the time. That’s why we set up this 10-step guide to help you bring your idea to life. Let’s make a few assumptions first:


  • It’s an idea that will benefit the local area 
  • It would be delivered by a not-for-profit organisation (e.g. community group or charity)
  • It may require funding, at some stage
  • It may require more than one person to make it happen


The steps work similarly for commercial projects, especially if they are seeking grant funding (see also business plans). The 10 steps are as follows:



STEP 1:           PUT IT ON PAPER


(A) Give the project a name. If you can’t think of one in 30sec call it ‘my project’ for now. This act alone makes it more real and the name can always be changed later. From now on your developing your project idea

(B) Jot down a few bullet points outlining the idea. Flesh out the idea

(C) Create a two-line summary. Something that could be easily and quickly explained to someone unfamiliar with the area. This will make it much easier to talk about your project



STEP 2:           RING FENCE IT


(A) Define the project. Create a start, middle and end. What is the current situation, what would you like to do and what would a success look like.

(B) Funders love projects that are ‘ring-fenced’, i.e. projects that are clearly identifiable, with clear start, clear end, clear cost and clear aims.

(C) Estimate how long this project might take from start to finish, are there milestones along the way that could help measure progress?

(D) How is this project different to what has gone before and/or is ongoing?



STEP 3:           REALISTIC


(A) Before putting in a lot of effort, is this project realistic? If it needs millions of pounds, a lot of land or lot of volunteer time… maybe consider starting on a smaller scale or an alternative. As a general rule the bigger the project the more preparation required.

(B) Identify key pass/fails (e.g. eligibility criteria). If your project relies on a fixed piece of land or person, what if they are not available?

(C) If you are considering a fund, is it capital or revenue focused?

(D) Consider key risks, and how they might be addressed? Can the project be scaled up incrementally?

(E) Have you sufficient skills and experience in this area?



STEP 4:           STEP BY STEP


(A) What is the first step required to make the project happen? What are the next 2-3 steps?

(B) Write it down on paper, use a chart or map to set out what would happen, use arrows etc

(C) Does it require funding (if so, when)? Say you had funding, what would you do?

(D) If you are unsure, highlight the gaps in information and what you need to find out

(E) How/where could you get that information?



STEP 5:           WHO


(A) Who would lead the project? Who would sign the application and letter of offer?

(B) Who would need be involved to make this happen? Do you need partners?

Who, what, when, why and how - Ask Questions

(C) How/where would the project be marketed? How would you get participants/customers?

(D) How would the project be delivered? On budget, on time and in full?

(E) Brief review of findings to date, are any changes needed?



STEP 6:           PROOF


(A) Where is the need for this project? Where is the demand? How can you prove it?

(B) Need to build up evidence, is there research, reports or statistics that support you?

(C) Has there been a community survey or recent village plan indicating a need?

(D) Could you get letters of support or conduct basic audit/survey?

(E) Has the project worked elsewhere or been tested to date?

How can you prove that people want/need this project?



STEP 7:           OPTIONS


(A) Is this project happening already in the wider area?

(B) Would it displace an existing project? How is it different?

(C) What options are there to deliver it (e.g. different scale, location, focus, etc)?

(D) Why is the proposed option the best, all things considered?



STEP 8:           COSTS & CASHFLOW


(A) How much will the project cost to deliver?

(B) What costs are eligible? refundable? non-refundable?

(C) What about time and value in kind, has that been factored in?

(D) What about procurement, tendering, compliance, monitoring and quotations?

(E) What about taxes (e.g. VAT), exchange rates, professional fees, bank fees etc?

(F) Have you profiled the spend, month by month (will most of the cost be at the start, middle or end?)

(G) Have you set out a basic cashflow? Cash in and Cash out. All revenue and expenditure must go through a dedicated bank account

(H) Have you factored in 3-month delay in reclaiming money from funder(s)?

(I) What about match funding? Where will that come from? Can you get a commitment or some formal confirmation in time to submit application?



STEP 9:           EXIT


(A) What happens when the project finishes? Stops being funded?

(I) What happens the equipment?

(II) What happens participants?

(III) What happens staff?

(IV) How can it be sustained? Does it need sustained?

(B) What is the lasting legacy of this project? How can you prove it?

(C) How will you provide monitoring and evaluation information?

(D) Who will keep all the receipts and records (required stored for several years after)?



STEP 10:         TEST & REVIEW


(A) Can you run a pilot or test some of your assumptions?

(B) Have someone external look over the project and give fresh eyes

(C) On review, how could the project be better? Smaller/bigger if needed?

(D) Is the project still a realistic idea at this stage?

(E) What are the gaps? Information still needed?

(F) What is needed to compete an application? a winning application?

(G) What is required to get this project started? How will this happen?

(H) What if the project is a success or failure? What is the legacy?




Congratulations, your idea is a good one and needs just a little more work. You've now answered a lot of potential questions and developed the idea. You’ll also have a lot of information required for any business plan and/or application form. Alternatively, you may find your project idea is not ready or as good as you thought, in which case better now than having spent a lot more time and money. On to the next idea. Both can be good scenarios.



You’re best to dedicate an initial 2-4 hours to this, an evening or a morning and work through it. The more experienced you are and the more information at hand the quicker the process will be. The 10 steps above are a guide and dependent on the project type, scale and funding required. McGarry Consulting have an enviable track record in providing funding training and support. We can help you develop your idea, business plan or funding application. To learn more, call us today.