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A trade study is a type of detailed assessment that seeks to compare the pros and cons of various approaches, with an eye toward identifying the best possible approach for use in a given situation. At its best, this type of study helps to identify the best plan of action to ensure that a company is able to move forward in a manner that is cost-effective, provides a high level of quality, and moves the company closer to the achievement of its stated goals. Trade studies can be conducted as broad assessments of an operation or focus on a particular area of the operation, depending on the type of decision that must be made.
As part of a trade study, a team assigned the task of evaluating a particular situation will begin the task by identifying as wide a range of possible strategies as possible. At this stage, the idea is to brainstorm as many alternatives as possible, even identifying those that are somewhat unusual or different from the current process or procedure that is currently in place. The idea is to inspire creativity that will hopefully lead to a final solution that is both innovative and practical for the situation at hand.
Once the participants in the trade study have identified possible options, the process of assessing and prioritizing those approaches begins. This often involves the use of simulations to project the anticipated outcome of each option. Using this process, it is easier to eliminate the options that ultimately do not show promise of producing the desired end. Along the way, this careful assessment of each of the options may in fact inspire some new option that was not identified before, providing even more potential for ultimately finding the ideal course of action.
After narrowing the options to a small group, the trade study advances by breaking down the impact of each of those possible strategies, considering both short-term and long-term impacts on the operation. Each of the benefits and liabilities associated with the remaining options is compared to the process currently in use to determine if they offer results that are superior. In some cases, a trade study may confirm that the current process is in fact the best option and nothing will change. At other times, the results of the study will identify a new approach that is superior to the current process, making it possible to create a time line for the implementation of that new course of action in a manner that does not interrupt other key functions within the company and begin enjoying the benefits associated with the change.