Critical decision overview



DOE’s Order 413.3B delineates a structured framework of project approvals, denoted as “Critical Decisions (CDs),” which mark key milestones in the project lifecycle. This system is characterized by its intricate details and subtle variations contingent upon the project’s scale, offering flexibility for tailoring to the specific needs of individual projects. It’s important to note that this framework is not unique to Fermilab but is applied uniformly across the entire DOE spectrum. The description provided here is a general and high-level overview, recognizing that the complete list of prerequisites for each CD is more extensive and specific, tailored to the unique requirements of each project.


For more details on Order 413.3B, see the DOE website.

Critical Decision Descriptions

CD-0 – Approve Mission Need

What purposes does CD-0 serve?

CD-0 signifies the recognition of a fundamental mission need, be it a scientific objective or the pursuit of a novel capability, necessitating substantial financial investment. Importantly, at this stage, the mission need may not yet detail the specific facility, technology, or project configuration, although these aspects are typically described to some extent.

What is evaluated at a CD-0 review?

At a CD-0 approval, a comprehensive assessment is conducted, which includes the evaluation of pre-conceptual plans with a keen focus on strategic goals and objectives, meticulous safety planning, and preliminary design considerations.

How does a CD-0 approval impact the project?

Project teams grow and work on R&D, prototyping, conceptual designs, management plans, and cost and schedule estimates. Typically the cost “meter” begins running for projects following CD-0 approval, i.e. costs incurred are deducted from the dedicated project budget.

CD-1 – Approve Alternative Selection and Cost Range

What purposes does CD-1 serve?

CD-1 serves as a determination that the selected alternative and approach is optimized to meet the mission need defined at CD-0. Key elements of the evaluation are the project’s conceptual design, cost and schedule range, and general acquisition approach. The cost range allows for uncertainty in the estimates and scope options such as a range of capabilities.

What is evaluated at a CD-1 review?

 For CD-1 approval, a project is expected to prepare a comprehensive set of documents and analyses, including:

  1. A compelling analysis demonstrating that the chosen alternative is the most appropriate solution for meeting the project’s objectives.
  2. A fully developed conceptual design of the selected alternative, subject to independent review. This design should be accompanied by cost and schedule range estimates, typically detailed in a Conceptual Design Report (CDR). The estimates should be substantiated by a resources-loaded schedule and a collection of supportive documents known as “Basis of Estimate” (BOE) documents.
  3. A funding profile that outlines the phased allocation of funds over time, aligning with the project’s anticipated expenditure trajectory.
  4. A suite of management plans, including:
    1. An outline of the approach for acquiring necessary resources, materials, and services.
    2. A high-level plan detailing how the project will be executed.
    3. An assessment of potential hazards and strategies for mitigating risks.
    4. A plan detailing the quality control and assurance processes.
    5. A strategy for identifying. assessing, and managing project risks.
    6. An evaluation of the project’s risk landscape.
  5. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Strategy: A determination regarding the necessity of conducting a formal environmental assessment or impact statement under NEPA regulations. This determination considers potential environmental impacts associated with the project.

How does a CD-1 approval impact the project?

At CD-1, the project takes a significant step forward by potentially unlocking Project Engineering and Design (PED) funds, subject to availability. This stage also permits the initiation of long lead procurements, contingent upon specific approvals. Project activities progress into the subsequent design phases, encompassing preliminary design and, in certain instances, final design for select project elements. Simultaneously, meticulous work is carried out to develop a comprehensive, resource-loaded schedule. Research and development efforts, as well as prototyping, continue in parallel to ensure project advancement and refinement.

CD-2 – Approve Performance Baseline

What purposes does CD-2 serve?

CD-2 represents a pivotal milestone in the project’s progression, signifying the approval of its preliminary design along with the establishment of a baseline encompassing scope, cost, and schedule. This baseline serves as the definitive plan against which the project’s performance will be measured, employing Earned Value metrics for cost and schedule tracking and Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) for assessing technical performance.

What is evaluated at a CD-2 review?

For CD-2 approval, a project is expected to prepare and present a comprehensive set of documents and evidence, including: 

  1. A fully developed preliminary design of the project, accompanied by a well-defined scope, cost estimate, and project schedule. The cost and schedule details should be substantiated by a resource-loaded schedule that is of sufficient quality to support Earned Value measurement. 
  2. Updates to documents previously submitted at CD-1, such as the Acquisition Strategy and Project Execution Plan, to reflect the project’s evolving status and requirements. 
  3. A demonstration that the EVMS has been fully implemented. This includes measuring project performance against a fixed baseline, formalizing change processes, analyzing variances in cost and schedule, and generating the necessary metrics for the Department of Energy’s project reporting system (PARS-II). 
  4. Completion and presentation of the final Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment, along with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), as required. These documents assess and address any potential environmental impacts associated with the project.

How does a CD-2 approval impact the project?

CD-2 represents a pivotal milestone where the project’s plan garners official approval and strengthens its case for securing timely funding. This approval is crucial for avoiding performance issues stemming from funding constraints. Additionally, at this stage, the project initiates the reporting of Earned Value cost and schedule performance metrics to the Department of Energy (DOE), enhancing transparency and accountability in project execution.

CD-3 – Approve Start of Construction

What purposes does CD-3 serve?

CD-3 represents a significant project milestone, signifying approval of the project’s final design and the authorization to release funds for the construction phase. It marks a critical transition towards the physical realization of the project. 

What is evaluated at a CD-3 review?

 For CD-3 approval, a project is expected to prepare and provide the following: 

  1. A finalized project design that has undergone comprehensive review and validation. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that every drawing is 100% complete, the design should be sufficiently mature to enable the commencement of procurements and construction activities. This phase may also involve the completion of design verification tests for relevant components to ensure their readiness.
  2. Revisions and updates to documents submitted at CD-2, reflecting any changes, progress, or refinements in the project’s status and requirements. 

How does a CD-3 approval impact the project?

At CD-3, construction funds are greenlit for release, empowering projects to advance with construction-related activities and procurements, marking a significant progression toward project realization.

CD-4 – Approve Start of Operations or Project Completion

What purposes does CD-4 serve?

CD-4 signifies the acknowledgment that the project’s objectives have been successfully achieved, marking a significant milestone in the project’s lifecycle. It represents the culmination of the project’s journey and its alignment with its intended goals.

What is evaluated at a CD-4 review?

 For CD-4 approval, a project is expected to prepare and present the following: 

  1. Substantiated evidence that all Key Performance Parameters (KPPs), which serve as critical criteria for technical success, have been satisfactorily met. This demonstrates that the project has fulfilled its technical objectives. 
  2. A comprehensive review of lessons learned throughout the project’s lifecycle, encompassing both successful practices and opportunities for improvement. These insights are valuable for informing future projects and enhancing overall project management effectiveness. 
  3. A detailed plan outlining the transition of the project to operational status, including the procedures, resources, and timelines involved in this transition. This plan ensures a smooth shift from project execution to operational maintenance and use. 

How does a CD-4 approval impact the project?

 CD-4 marks the pivotal stage where the project transitions into operations and undergoes formal closure, encompassing the finalization of all project accounts and activities. This phase signifies the culmination of the project’s lifecycle. 

Tailored CDs

Tailoring the process by combining or splitting Critical Decisions (CDs) is a flexible approach to aligning the project management process with the specific needs and complexities of a project. For instance: 

  1. CD-3a, CD-3b, CD-3c, etc.: This approach allows for the segmentation of the CD-3 phase into multiple sub-phases (e.g., CD-3a, CD-3b, CD-3c) based on the readiness of different project subsystems. CD-3a, for example, may permit the commencement of critical long-lead procurements or construction activities for specific, fully designed items that are time-sensitive. Subsequent sub-phases (CD-3b, CD-3c, etc.) can follow as other project subsystems reach their design completion milestones. 
  1. CD-2/3: In cases where the project’s design and readiness align closely with construction readiness, CD-2 and CD-3 may be combined into a single review, known as CD-2/3. This approach streamlines the approval process and is suitable when the project’s design and construction phases are highly integrated. 

These tailored CD approaches provide a way to accommodate project-specific circumstances and optimize the project management process to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.