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Project Design Phase (#28 in the Hut Project Management Handbook)
By Wouter Baars

With the list of requirements that was developed in the definition phase, the project team is able to make choices concerning the ultimate appearance of the software.

A design document is the result of the design phase in IT projects. The design document contains an elaboration of the concept and a broad outline of a technical design. The goal is to investigate what the software will look like, both technically and functionally.

In this regard, it is helpful to work with dummies in the design phase. A dummy is a quickly assembled, non-operational (or only partially operational) piece of software that serves primarily to evaluate the design. These dummies are presented to the clients, customers (or both), as well as the end users. One advantage of dummies over schemas on paper is that they resemble the finished product.

In theory, the waterfall method specifies that it is not possible to reverse any design decisions after the design document has been approved. The design document serves as the starting point for the builders. Should advancing insight show that changes in this document are needed, however, they can be carried out. In addition to being programmed, any design adjustments that are made during the cyclical phases must be documented in a ‘project log’. Once the design is sufficiently elaborated (in the opinion of the project team), the cyclical phase can begin.

Activities in the Project Design Phase

  • Prepare the design document.
  • Create and evaluate mock-ups (i.e. dummies) with the customer.
  • Report on the selected design.
  • Report on the control factors that have actually been implemented thus far.
  • Prepare a new global estimate of the control factors for the rest of the project.
  • Prepare a concrete estimate of the control factors for the cyclical phase.

Result of the Project Design Phase

  • Approved design document
  • Approved control-factor report and estimates


  • Project leader
  • Designers
  • Programmers
  • Current or potential end users for design evaluation

Decisions/Approval in the Project Design Phase

  • Project leader
  • Client
  • Current or potential customer

Next in the Hut Project Management Handbook:

Project Cyclical Phase

Previously in the Hut Project Management Handbook:

Project Definition 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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