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Project Definition Phase (#27 in the Hut Project Management Handbook)
By Wouter Baars

After a project plan has been approved, the project enters the second phase: definition phase. In this phase, the requirements that are associated with the result of the project are determined as clearly and as completely as possible. This is in order to identify the expectations that all involved parties have for the project result. This list (mentioned previously) can serve as a memory aid in this regard:

  • Preconditions
  • Functional requirements
  • Operational requirements
  • Design limitations

The collaboration of all parties that are involved in a project is very important in the definition phase, particularly the end users who will actually use the project result.

Activities in the Project Definition Phase

  • Compile list of requirements together with client, (possible) customer, end users, experts and project team.
  • Balance requirements.
  • Test the feasibility of the requirements.
  • Report to client, customer or both about the requirements.
  • Report on the control factors that have actually been implemented thus far.
  • Prepare new global estimate of the control factors for the rest of the project.
  • Prepare a concrete estimate of the control factors for the design phase.

Result of the Project Definition Phase

  • Approved (tentative) list of requirements
  • Approved control reports and prognoses


  • Current or prospective project leader
  • Client
  • Current or potential customer
  • End users
  • Experts
  • Current or future programmers and designers
  • System administrator (in connection with requirements in the follow-up phase)


  • Project leader
  • Client
  • Current or potential customer

In theory, the waterfall method specifies that no additional or supplementary requirements can be added to the project after the definition phase. The list of requirements serves as the foundation for the contract between the project team and the client or customer. The list of requirements is the one to which the project result must ultimately conform.

Because this can cause problems with software projects, the definition phase is used to investigate the requirements in order to provide the best possible direction for the project. Descriptions are also made of what will not be made, in order to clarify the expectations between customers and producers. Should the advancing insight that is acquired during the cyclical phases show that certain requirements must be redefined, this method of working allows for adjustment (obviously in consultation and well documented).

Next in the Hut Project Management Handbook:

Project Design Phase

Previously in the Hut Project Management Handbook:

Project Initiation Phase

Wouter Baars has a Master of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and Management Science. He has been a project manager for several years for The European commission, Waag Society, KPN (Dutch telecom provider) and many smaller organizations. He is specialized in creative projects such as serious game development, e-learning and software development. Currently he is teaching project management and coaching organizations that are working on their project management. More info on his work:

Originally published by DANS – Data Archiving and Networked Services – The Hague

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