Gate Review Method

In ESW, we use the Phase-Gate Review Method to structure projects and provide them resources. This is actually a common review practice in businesses, so you might come across it later on. In business, it’s used to evaluate risk and lead to profitable product deployment. In ESW, it’s used to help your team keep track of where it is, where it needs to go and how it can get there.

Below is what a standard system might look like in a professional setting.


Figure 1: Typical Phase-Gate Review System for Product Development

The phases represent where projects are in development and what end-goals they should be working toward. Once they achieve the phase’s end-goal, they enter the “gate” where their work is evaluated. At the evaluation, the team may be passed into the next stage, asked for clarifications and made aware of problems that they should work out, or both the Board of Project Directors and the project team may mutually agree that the project cannot continue any further.

Our phase-gate system is similar, but we use different phases, and the purpose of the gates aren’t to evaluate profitability, but rather to help keep projects moving along a development path, provide projects with resources and advice, and to help them make sure they’re as sustainable and safe as possible. The nature of the gate-review also depends on the scope, complexity and overall difficulty of the project. For example, some projects may take longer to pass a gate or even have to revisit the development phase if the project design is not comprehensive enough.

Passing a Phase:
We have created a series of deliverables for projects to utilize during each phase to ensure that they finish all of the necessary details to pass a phase.  The deliverables are linked to in each “What to Submit” section of each Phase and should be used as a template for your project’s own work.


Phase I: Basic Research and Project Proposal

To gather background understanding and resources in order to write an educated project proposal. To set a clear project mission, set of goals, and action plan so the project has a destination and route to get there. The team will also determine whether or not the project is feasible.

Work with the ESW’s Board and Cabinet to gather up resources (faculty connections, experienced members, even maybe related projects), which may help with investigation and feasibility discussion. Specifically, we should list out advantages of this project, responsibilities we would have to take, possible end uses for the project’s implementation, and any necessary routine maintenance that would be needed. The project details should cover what the project goals and missions may be as well as how much it would cost to implement. When submitting a proposal the Board will discuss the project’s feasibility based on the materials, experience, and funding needed to complete the project. If feasible, we should summarize highlights for this project to attract motivated members. If not feasible, we should have sufficient reason to terminate the project at this phase.

Phase Actions:
Identify relevant knowledge areas:
As a team, discuss your project idea and what type of information you’ll need to know in order to make educated decisions. Brainstorming would be useful here.

Identify team competencies:
Before you start assigning research, it’s a good idea to get a feeling for how much knowledge your team already possesses, both collectively and for each individual. It’s okay if everyone is new to the field of your project. A major part of this stage is learning and researching.

Assign research responsibility:
Agree with all the members who is going to research what, and try to be specific. It helps to let everyone do some background research “to become the expert” in one particular field. You could try having them teach the rest of the group at the next meeting. This is for efficiency and accountability.

  • Align responsibility with interest: Try to let people research the area they are interested in. The team should also understand that sometimes that’s not possible though.

Research Similar Projects:
For most ESW endeavors, teams will be able to find similar projects completed by other student groups or professionals. Researching other people’s work is invaluable at an early stage to see what has been successful and what hasn’t.

Start networking:
Make contacts with experts, ask professors for advice and information, make a call to local companies to get an idea for how much something costs, etc. Networking makes projects easier and more effective!

  • Start within ESW: Your Director is there to help. Many of our members, as well as Cabinet and Board, have a lot of knowledge. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.
  • Afraid to make the call or ask a professor: We all come in at different levels of skill. Talk to your Director; they’re there to help!

Identify critical factors:
These are the factors that you must determine before you can move forward. Sometimes they’re predetermined, and sometimes you need to make a decision. You’re basically trying to figure out the key questions that need to be answered.  

  • Example: Before determining the design of the Solar Slider, we needed to determine how many panels it needed. To know that, we needed to know how much power it should generate. To know the power output required, we had to find out the estimated kWh capacity of utility vehicle batteries. The battery capacity was a critical factor.

Review Project Proposal Guidelines:
Review the Constitution’s definition of a sustainable project and the document on project proposal guidelines.

Create a Project Mission and a Set of Goals:
Project missions define the final project product/outcome and scope of the project (example: a Solar Tree’s scope could be anywhere from two panels to an array of sixteen). The goals are the intermediary steps it takes to get achieve the mission.

  • Example: The Solar Slider’s mission is to research, design and build a single prototype mobile solar charging station primarily to charge Fleet Service’s electric utility vehicles at UCSD.  

Assess Feasibility:
Knowing the background information of the project, you should be able to discuss whether the original idea is even feasible. Every project comes with challenges and these can make or break a project. It is very important for a team to understand the complexities of each hurdle and how the team will handle them. If it seems that a specific hurdle may prevent the project from being successful, then the team needs to work as one to see how they may overcome this challenge. There is no reason to continue the project until this challenge has been resolved, or least a clear plan of action has been established.

  • Example: In the Solar Slider, we wanted to charge an electric vehicle battery. We found out that the battery capacity was above 20 kWh. That would require eight 250W solar panels working at abnormally high capacity for an hour. Not feasible. So we decided to provide a different goal to meet.

Make (Tough) Choices:
Particularly for the critical factors, you have to make decisions at some point. These decisions will guide your team as you all work towards a future design to address your critical factors.

  • Example: Battery Capacity was a critical factor for the Solar Slider. However, we had to decide how much we wanted to be able to recharge. We chose 50% of its capacity.

Identify how the Project Aligns with ESW:
In particular, see what goals the project fulfills.

Make sure you can answer these questions:

  1. How is the project itself sustainable?
  2. What happens to the project once it’s complete?
  3. Who is responsible for taking care of it once it’s done?
  4. What resources will they need to take care of it (instructions on how to maintain it)?
  5. How long will it be operational?
  6. When it stops functioning, how should it be decommissioned (taken apart, recycled, reused, thrown away)?

Complete Proposal Form:
The proposal form is a type of report that a team completes to help better understand their needs in order to ensure project success. You would then submit this report to ESW so that they can get the necessary help the team needs.

What to Submit:
Deliverable:  Project Proposal

Project Proposal:

  • Project Name
  • Project mission/values (Explain what the project is expected to accomplish and its potential applications.)
  • ESW Alignment (ESW projects must align with at least one of ESW’s goals.)
  • Mentor Request
  • Project Positions
  • Timeline
  • Finances
  • Health/safety Concerns
  • References

Gate Review:
Most importantly, you want to build competence and comfort with the relevant knowledge areas so you can move to Phase II. The Project Proposal informs us what your basic idea is.  Set up a meeting time to present to the Board of Directors your project proposal. Contact the current Vice President of Project Management to set up an appointment.

Passing the Phase:
Once your project passes this phase that means we (the Cabinet and Board of ESW) are all in for helping as much as possible. Your project will also be officially incorporated into our accountability and project structure.


Phase II: Project Design

To create the design documents necessary for physically making, doing or testing the proposed project concept.

Create a Gantt Chart that encompasses the order of all the project goals needed to accomplish your project mission. Include as many intermediary steps as you can to ensure that nothing will be overlooked. Begin designing your project with any necessary models and tests. If necessary look for professional guidance when designing your project.  List all technical specifications needed to implement your design. These may consist of anything important from proper dimensions to required power. Create a budget for the necessary materials and tools (ESW has a few tools and the engineering labs may allow your team access if you meet a few qualifications). Find a place where your team will be working on the project and will be able to store your materials. ESW now has limited storage space and has been allowed to work in the back of EBU II. Propose your design to the Board of Directors and work with them to create a design ready for implementation. When designing your project keep in mind that the safety of our members is always the highest priority. Consider creating a few back-up plans for crucial components of the project so that it can remain on track.

Phase Actions:
Create Project Parameters:
Project parameters set out the boundaries (and goals) for what you’re doing. This is more or less the same as a constraint. For example, a parameter might be to have the final product weigh less than 200 pounds, produce more than 450 W of power, cost less than $150, affect over 50 people, etc. Most likely, your parameters are your team’s decisions on the project’s critical factors from Phase I.

  • Example: Solar Slider parameters were:
    • i) ability to charge consumer electronics ii) ability to charge utility vehicles from ~35% to ~80% capacity iii) legal roadworthiness iv) American-made supplies when possible. These parameters led to other conclusions: to charge utility vehicles that much, we needed ~1500 W peak output, and to be road-legal, the solar slider had to be less than 102 inches wide.

Complete Project Plan:
The build plan can come in different forms, but the purpose is the same: ensuring the most efficient build process possible. This has to be done especially if you’re trying to coordinate thousands of dollars’ worth of materials, advisors, companies and multiple team members.

Break up the build process into stages:
What do you need to build first? After that?

  • Example: for Solar Slider v1, we could order the trailer and build the cage simultaneously. However, we had to wait on the bearings until we finished the cage and got the trailer. We also had to wait for the trailer to build the custom rotating base for the hydraulic ram. These became the stages we built the project in.

Ask yourself basic questions about the stages:
What resources do you need for the stage (expertise, equipment, location, etc.)? Which members are participating? What materials do you need? Which companies are you interacting with? What are the team member’s schedules like during the quarter?

  • Critical ones are: Materials list: Include the quantity, cost and any relevant safety procedures. Reference where you can get the materials and how (do you have to physically pick them up in some type of truck?). Tools list: which tools do you need? Which will you need professional or some other type of assistance with?

Plan with time in mind:
Shipping, travel to the work-site, processing financial transactions, performing a repetitive but necessary task (sanding metal, making the same precise cuts in many pieces, etc.) can often take lots of time. Also recognize you’re probably underestimating how long even if you try not to.

SAFETY FIRST! Take it seriously and plan it if you can. People involved in the Build Phase need the required training/certification and safety equipment to operate necessary tools and materials. The safety of the build environment also needs to be determined. A proper First Aid kit must available on the build site throughout ALL build hours. Don’t do something your team doesn’t feel prepared to do. Work with your Director or a mentor to find some way to get professional help.

Plan for delay:
If possible, include a backup plan if things go wrong in each of the stages. Where will you store everything if there is a significant delay (weeks, maybe even a month)? Will you be able to properly protect the materials (i.e.: metal from rusting)? Who is responsible for taking care of it?

Find Build Space:
We have agreements with various parts of UCSD to host our projects, but they want a specific plan and time frame before accepting them. That’s why you need a build plan. If what we can find at UCSD isn’t the appropriate space, you and your Director can search for alternatives.

Project Termination:
Discuss with your team where the finished project will ultimately go and what purpose it will fulfill. It may be a demo or be used by a team or community. It is not limited to this though, think about where your project can best benefit others.

Design Process:
The design process can be broken down into eight steps which are all critical to meet before the gate review.


Source: NASA

Identify the problem:
Although this step may have already been met in earlier reviews, it is important to establish what your project is going to be used for. Without a need there is no reason to do the project. Without a problem there is no need. This step will help make sure your team is still aligned with your original project goals and hasn’t begun to stray from those.

Identify the criteria and constraints:
What are the limitations of your project? Does it have to fit in a certain area? Does it have to be made out of specific materials? What limits are caused by the criteria and constraints? As important as it is to realize what your project can do, it is also important to understand what your project will not accomplish as this can cause unnecessary spending and changing of your design down the road.

Brainstorm possible solutions:
Have each team member sketch their idea for the project. Be sure to identify and label all parts and indicate if they are intended to move or not. Discuss the strengths of each idea and if strengths can be combined.

It’s important not to disregard any team member’s idea no matter how difficult, forward thinking or even outlandish it may seem. All ideas are worth considering in the early design phase

Generate ideas:
From the sketches, develop two or three ideas thoroughly and make isometric drawings. Include measurements and dimensions on these drawings and save them for presentations or reference.

Explore possibilities:
Write down the pros and cons for each design. Develop Design Priority matrices to help prioritize and decide design possibilities in an objective manner. Includes: material, function, etc.

Select an approach:

Pick the design that best solves the problem at hand. Write a statement as to why the chosen design was picked.

Build a model or prototype:
Construct a scale model (or full size if desired) based on the drawings. Identify the appropriate tools and materials needed to construct the final design.

Refine the design:
Review the prototype and note the changes that need to be made based on the criteria and constraints. Write down the solutions to any problems and then modify your prototype.

Implementation Notes:
Before beginning construction, there’s some final things to consider. It’s your and your project Director’s responsibility to decide when and what particular implementation actions are needed. But here are some suggestions.

Involve Stakeholders:
To the extent that it’s possible and useful, include the stakeholders in the design. For example, UCSD administration is far more likely to accept a project that it had a hand in creating. Additionally, you can gain the stakeholder’s insights and potentially their resources if they like your idea enough.

Different projects may prefer different locations to implement the product. You’ve probably already identified sites you’d like. Have you talked to the stakeholder involved in that site? Some consideration of the project site should have been done during early planning, but checking in with stakeholders again is always a good move.

Implementation permission:
It may not be appropriate to start building until you have permission from the stakeholders to implement the project. Team members will need to negotiate with certain parties in order to get the land-use permission, and such a process may not be easy. For example, the bottle bench project tries to build a bottle bench in an open space between Price Center and Geisel Library. Yet after a long time of negotiation with school administration, the project failed to obtain the permission, and thus had to change the location.

Things other than the location choice may also be considered. For example, the Thailand Biogas team builds a biogas digester for a Thailand Village, and wants to test it out in UCSD. Although human manure will be used in Thailand to be a major material to generate the biogas, it is prohibited to be used on UCSD campus. Thus other substituted materials (such as veggies) may be picked when testing the biogas digester.

What to Submit:
Deliverable:  Project Design

Project Design

  • Executive Summary
  • Team Members
  • Mission Statement
  • Introduction
  • Research
    • Design Parameters and Constraints
  • Timeline and Plan
  • Budget
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix

Gate Review:
The gate review for this stage is the project plan. Your team will present your design and project plan to the Board of Directors. The Board will make recommendations and vote on whether to move the project through to the next phase and what immediate resources it can provide to help. You will have the opportunity to discuss your project with the whole Board directly.  Set up a meeting time to present to the Board of Directors your project design. Contact the current Vice President of Project Management to set up an appointment.

Remember, this isn’t meant to be a high-stress evaluation period. The purpose of gate review is just to make sure ESW projects have the highest possible chance of success with minimal risks. If you disagree with the board’s recommendations, you can talk to us.

Passing the Phase:
We have a positive reputation with The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), which funds sustainable projects and initiatives. After passing this phase with a good plan, you gain the right to use ESW’s name and resources in a TGIF application. We’ll also look for a mentor for you, if you don’t already have one or want another one.  We’ll give you open access to our tools and try our best to find you appropriate workspace. Open-access means you’ll likely be given access to the ESW Tool Shed by your Director. Please take care of them and yourself!  Before you and your teammates can have access to the ESW Tools we ask that your team completes this basic quiz set up by your Board of Directors:  ESW Tool Safety Quiz.  Keep in contact with your director for your results.


Phase III: Prototyping and Implementation

To put your research and design into motion and produce a final product.


In this stage, you will create a build plan depending on the scope of your project, and then start building. The purpose of the build plan is to coordinate all the materials, resources and people-power.  Work out a detailed, safe construction timeline. Consult faculty advisor and experienced people for constructive advice. Be sure to take into account safety issues and potential problems of the project. For obvious problems, come up with additional plans/contacts if necessary. Project leaders play a crucial role to push the project to continually progress.  During this phase you may have to redesign some aspects of your project.

Phase Actions:
Info Sheet:
Take the information you compiled at the end of Phase II and create a 1-2 page document that you will be able to point possible sponsors and investors.  This document is meant to be a quick way to sum up what your project is all about.

The prototype tests the concepts used in the design phase, in a real-time, physical system to see where theory has problems being applied. These problems may be that your stress analyses didn’t account for some type of unanticipated loading or maybe it’s just too difficult to make/get a particular part.  

Prototyping may take varying degrees of importance depending on your project. The prototype itself may BE your project. For example, the Battery Bank project (reconfiguring used Hybrid vehicle batteries into a usable battery pack) is entirely a prototype because they have to test to see what works.

There are three types of prototypes that can be created:

  • Crude Prototype: This is a very rough, physical model of your design.  This can be made of very basic material such as Styrofoam or any other moldable material. Its main function is to provide a general size and feel of the project.
  • Working Prototype: The next step from a crude prototype is to finally test the function and dynamic features of the design.  There may be many different working prototypes to test the different functions of the design.  Each working prototype should be tested and evaluated, so the following prototype will improve the design.    
  • Virtual Prototype:  There are many computer programs that can be useful for testing and providing a visual concept for your design.  Use CAD software to draft designs, and other simulation software to test the mechanical features and many other concepts that are involved in your design.  Some designs can be very expensive to construct, whereas these drafting and simulation software can provide a relatively quick and cheap visualization and testing of your designs.

Whichever prototyping you do, make sure to evaluate it.

Follow your plan to set in motion a coordinated build effort. Ideally, you want to have it so parts come in when needed, you’ve prearranged for consultants and experts to give advice when needed and equipment is ready for material when you start working on it.

  • Example: If your plan tells you that you need a welding torch for Phase III, get the welding torch near the end of Phase II. It sounds obvious, but during the build process itself, your team can get caught up in the issues in front of them and not realize they needed to order the welding torch two days before they finished, not when they finished.

The nature of the build process is often about troubleshooting. Expect problems to come up: parts not fitting, theoretical stress tolerances being incorrect, making a mistake on the only tube you had. When this happens, refer back to the Design diagram because it is the same process, just in real-time.

Professional Fabrication:
In any case that requires professional fabrication or assistance, the project team needs to ensure strong communication and collaboration with the professional.  As many drawings and documents with very detailed descriptions should be provided to the professional to avoid misconceptions of design. Again, this is why doing the design phase and a build plan is important.

In some cases, it might be appropriate to make an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). MOU’s spell out CLEARLY what your team and the professional help are agreeing to. Talk to your Director if this is something you’ll be needing to do.

Whether it’s the sheer amount of time and physical labor involved, or that your plans you developed for hours, days, weeks, maybe months aren’t working, the build process can be stressful. It’s helpful to take a step back to let your brain recuperate so you can address today’s problems more creatively tomorrow.

Be mindful:
You might be dealing with dangerous equipment (live circuits, power tools, large and heavy objects). Don’t take unnecessary risks. This is also why you should try to be well-rested.

Implementation Notes:
As always, the “what” and “when” of implementation notes will vary based on the project. You and your Director should make the final informed decision on when to do these things. But generally, it’s probably not good to start building your project before you know whether the stakeholders are okay with it being implemented. So either you or someone in your team should continue discussions with the stakeholders.

What to Submit:
Deliverable:  Project Implementation Timeline

Gate Review:

The gate review here is simple. Did you successfully do what you sought out to do?  Set up a meeting time to present to the Board of Directors your projects accomplishments and developments while implementing your design and achieving your project mission. Contact the current Vice President of Project Management or your Director to set up an appointment.

Passing the Phase:
You and your team will implement your design while accounting for any unforeseen mishaps along the way.  Once your design is implemented and your project mission has been succeeded then you will present to the Board of Directors how your implementation went.


Phase IV: Project Report

To document what you did to achieve permanence, recognition and future applicability.

Congratulations on completing the project! Although the project may be finished, your team must write a report. In this written report, It is essential to document all the work that was involved with the project. The finished project is not always telling of all the necessary actions and effort that was used. Be detailed and thorough enough so that anyone who has no experience with the project should be able to grasp the purpose of the project as well as what was required of the team from the start to finish.

Phase Actions:

Keep track of everything remotely related to the project:
Have all project files backed up in an organized and easily accessible place.

Keep in mind that readers can’t read your mind:
If you don’t document something, no one knows you did it.

Common Techniques:

  • Start the report early
  • Write everything that may be relevant and revise afterwards. Do not worry about writing too much because it can always be removed in the final draft.
  • Keep a contact list of all people that helped
  • Get the report proofread multiple times by multiple people
  • Be concise in your writing

Write a User Handbook:
Write a user handbook under the assumption the user has little to no engineering background. Use layman’s terms but also include important technical specifications.

What to Submit:
Deliverable:  Project Report

A typical report is organized in the following way.

  • Title Page
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract (This should be no more than a few paragraphs. It must clearly summarize the content of the report for those unfamiliar with the project.)
  • Introduction (The scope of the project, setting the scene for the remainder of the report.)
  • Previous Work (One or more review chapters, describing the research you did at the beginning of the project period).
  • Several chapters describing what you have done, focusing on the novel aspects of your own work.
  • Further work (A chapter describing possible ways in which your work could be continued or developed. Be imaginative but realistic. Also, identify what didn’t work very well).
  • Conclusion (This is similar to the abstract. The difference is that the reader of the conclusions has read the rest of the report already).
  • References and appendices