Bite-Sized PRINCE2 (PRojects IN a Controlled Environment) 

 May 12, 2023

By  Dave Litten

Bite-Sized PRINCE2 (PRojects IN a Controlled Environment)

PRINCE2 evolved from a methodology called PROMPT, and has since evolved to become the most extensively used and leading project methodology in more than 150 countries around the world.  The flexibility of PRINCE2 ensures that any project of any size in any environment can tailor and use the PRINCE2 method.

PRINCE2 is owned by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and continues to develop and improve the method, and it currently represents the pinnacle of best practice within the world of projects. PRINCE2 allows any project to deliver the required outcome by managing the costs, timescales, quality, scope, risks and benefits.

You can become an PRINCE2 Practitioner by passing both the Foundation Exam and the Practitioner Exam. Here are some hot tips on passing your PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner Exams!

The PRINCE2 method provides an accessible and easy to tailor framework for any project, with a focus on the Business Case and benefit realization.  To their credit, the OGC has consulted widely with the stakeholders and experts to ensure that PRINCE2 reflects current and future trends within the fields of project management best practice. For example, the method describes a unique product-based planning technique which ensures optimally scoped plans.

The PRINCE2 method can be used not only by both novice and experienced project managers, but also by general managers looking for a flexible and adaptable method for all of the project endeavours.

PRINCE2 describes a project as a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case, and this demonstrates clearly that a project is an entirely different undertaking to those who provide operational or ‘business as usual’ services within an organization.

By their very nature, projects introduce change, are temporary, and utilize cross functional teams, in addition they are unique and therefore introduce threats and opportunities over and above those normally encountered via business as usual activities.  Projects are therefore a more risky undertaking, and hence the need for a project management method.

One of the main factors that puts PRINCE2 head and shoulders above the other methodologies is that it is non-proprietary and freely available.  This is in stark contrast to traditional mainstream methodologies which are kept commercially secret by those organisations that have developed them (quite reasonably) for commercial gain.

The major strength of PRINCE2 is that it can be applied to any project regardless of scale, type, organization, geography or culture.  This has been achieved by the masterstroke of isolating the management aspects of project work from the specialist contributions.

Clearly, specialist work varies greatly according to the type and industry environment in which the project is taking place.  Such specialist work will include aspects such as design, build, test, and incorporate an infinite variety of different techniques, knowledge, skills and experience.

No matter what the nature is of the specialist skills these can be easily integrated into the PRINCE2 method. PRINCE2 has been designed upon the bedrock of proven principles and life cycles.

Within any PRINCE2 project, regardless of its nature, there will always be six variables: costs, timescales, quality, scope, risk, and benefits. PRINCE2 provides an integrated framework consisting of seven processes and seven themes that provide a framework of planning, delegation, monitoring and control of the above variables.

The PRINCE2 method has been designed to encapsulate four integrated elements, namely;

PRINCE2 Principles.  These are mandatory best practices that must be applied to any project that is using PRINCE2

PRINCE2 Themes.  These represent the approach is used for the various project management disciplines and explain why they are needed.  These will be applied across all of the processes.

PRINCE2 Processes.  These show the time-frame sequence that will be followed through a project lifecycle, some of these will be used once per project others will be used regularly or continually.  Each one includes details on its activity checklists, what needs to be produced, and who is responsible.

PRINCE2 Tailoring. PRINCE2 is a flexible framework that can be tailored to any type or size of project, and extensive guidance is given to any organisation wishing to adopt PRINCE2 (embedding), or to tailor the method to an individual project.

It is important that you understand that PRINCE2 is not intended to be a general guide to project management, and has deliberately left out some project management aspects, mainly because they are available elsewhere, and their use would vary greatly from project to project.  These aspects are:

Specialist aspects.  There is an infinite variety of specialist approaches, knowledge, skills and techniques which depend upon the nature of the project. PRINCE2 quite rightly, makes no attempt to include these.  But to be clear, the specialist nature of ANY project can harness the framework of PRINCE2.

Detailed techniques.  There are a variety of project management techniques in common use on projects, such as critical path and earned value analysis to mention just two.  The application of these will vary greatly according to the nature of the project, and hence such general techniques are not described in detail within PRINCE2.

Leadership capability.  This includes aspects such as team building and motivation skills – often called the soft skills of project management, there are many models and interpersonal skills training available elsewhere.  Their application to specific projects will again vary greatly, and for this reason is not addressed by PRINCE2.

I will now give a brief overview of the PRINCE2 method, starting with the Seven PRINCE2 Principles.

The Seven PRINCE2 Principles 

Continued business justification.  There should always be a justifiable reason to start the project in the first place and this justification should continue throughout the project.  It is important that this justification is documented and approved.

Learn from experience.  Because projects are temporary, it is vital that they learn from previous experience; and for this reason the lessons are proactively sought out, recorded and implemented within the project.  At project closure, any lessons gained are documented and used for future projects.

Defined roles and responsibilities. PRINCE2 defines roles and responsibilities so that the right people are involved and know what is expected of them.  This engages the business, user and supplier a stakeholder interests within a project.  This answers the question to everyone involved within a PRINCE2 project ‘what is expected of me?’

Manage by stages.  Every PRINCE2 project is planned, monitored and controlled on a stage by stage basis.  These management stages provide senior management with control points by dividing the project timeframe based on its planning horizons, while having a high-level project plan split down into detailed stage plans. PRINCE2 states that there must be at least two management stages: an initiation stage and a delivery stage, complex and larger projects may need to use as many stages as is appropriate.

Manage by exception. PRINCE2 sets tolerances for each project at the directing, managing, and delivering levels.  As long as such tolerances are forecast to be met, then each management level can continue.  The moment a tolerance is forecast to be exceeded, the details and options for recovery must be escalated to the next level for resolution via an exception report.  Tolerance objectives are couched in time, cost, quality, scope, risk, and benefit.  Management by exception provides efficient use of senior management time.

Focus on products.  This enables an explicit understanding of the products/deliverables that need to be produced along with their quality expectations or criteria.  Because of this focus a PRINCE2 project clearly defines the scope of a project and provides the basis for planning and control.

Tailor to suit the project environment.  As has already been mentioned, PRINCE2 is tailored to suit the projects environment, size, complexity, importance, capability and risk.  A major and key document within PRINCE2 is the Project Initiation Documentation (PID), and this states how the PRINCE2 method is to be tailored for that particular project. This contains information on how to tailor the PRINCE2 Themes, and how to tailor the PRINCE2 processes

PRINCE2 is a process-based approach for project management, hence its use of the seven processes, each with a set of activities to direct, manage and deliver a project successfully.

The PRINCE2 processes are not applied in a simple sequence, but should be seen as a set of seven ‘toolkits’ that are replied at key time-frame points throughout a project.

These PRINCE2 Processes provide details of how any project may be managed in a step-by-step fashion, and for this reason I shall describe each process and summarize the key activities contained within them:

Starting up a project

Project Startup occurs pre-project and is triggered by the project mandate provided by senior (corporate) management or programme management if this project forms part of such an undertaking.

This process is there to appoint the executive of the project board and the project manager who go on to design and appoint the other key roles within the project management team.  These include the senior user, the senior supplier, project assurance, and other optional roles.

A daily log is created by the project manager which acts as his/her diary, but it doubles as a receptacle to capture and work any known issues or risks.  In addition, the lessons log is set up for the project manager to capture any known lessons for previous similar projects.  This is used throughout the project on an ongoing basis, and is the source for lessons reports. The next step is to select the project approach and assemble the project brief.

The project brief along with the project approach are created which contains amongst other information, the project manager goes on to prepare the outline business case and the project product description.  In addition the plan is created for the first stage in any PRINCE2 project called the initiation stage, and this is done in the activity plan the initiation stage.  This information is put before the newly formed project board for them to make a decision about whether or not to invest in the initiation stage.

Directing a project

This directing a project process is used for the first time at the end of the starting up a project process, and continues until the project closes.  This process is used exclusively by the project board who are accountable for the project success by making key decisions and exercising overall control while delegating the day-to-day management of the project to the project manager.

In order to do this, there are various activities providing key decision points, and these include, authorised initiation, authorize the project, authorize a stage or exception plan, give ad hoc direction, and authorize project closure.

Initiating a project

This process is used within the initiation stage which is the first stage used in every PRINCE2 project.  The main product becomes out of this process is the Project Initiation Documentation (PID), and therefore all of the activities are focused on contributing to that document.  Before any planning can take place, the project must first determine how key aspects are to be delivered, and to this end there are four key documents but need to be created first:

They are the risk management strategy, the quality management strategy, the configuration management strategy, and the communication management strategy (because the previous three contain communication aspects, then this must be the final strategy in the sequence).

In parallel with these activities the risk register is set up to populate and manage all risks within the project, and ensure configuration item records are generated, the issue register is set up to manage any issues, problems, and concerns along with requested changes and off-specifications, and the quality register is set up to record all future activities relevant to product quality management.

The next key activities are to create the project plan and set up the project controls.  Because these PRINCE2 controls are embedded within the project plan and contain such aspects as end stage assessments and the reports, then these two activities occur in tandem.  An important control for the project board is the number and timing of management stages within the project. The PRINCE2 project controls consist of those controls used by the project board and those used by the project manager.

The next logical step is to refine the business case.  The outline business case formed part of the project brief but since the project plan has now been created, time scale and cost information can be used to refine the business case into becoming the PRINCE2 detailed business case.

Since the business case contains in essence the balance between cost, risk and time verses the business benefits to be eventually realized, then an important related document called the benefits review plan also needs to be created (this is kept separate from the PID), it outlines when of the benefits can be realized, how all they will be measured, and the resources needed to achieve this.

All of this PRINCE2  information is brought together in the activity called assemble the project initiation documentation, and is used by the project board to authorize the project (or not, as the case may be).

Managing a stage boundary

This PRINCE2 process is used to prepare the relevant information at the end of the stage – the stage boundary at an event called the end stage assessment (ESA), for the project board to hold an end stage assessment, and hence make a decision on what to do next with the project. If needed it is also used to prepare for an exception assessment by the project board when either stage and/or project tolerance is forecast to be exceeded.  For these reasons, the only use of this process is to plan the next stage or create an exception plan. The event to determine whether to approve the exception plan is called an exception assessment (EXA). There are no other uses for this process.

Managing a stage boundary consists of the following activities:

Plan the next stage (this prepares the next stage plan), update the project plan (with the latest actual and forecast information), update the business case (to reflect its current viability or otherwise), and report the stage end.  This process therefore, will only be used at the end of each management stage, or if triggered by an exception situation.

The next stage plan is created, as well as updating if needed, the various strategies and plans within the project initiation documentation, the issue register, the risk register, and the quality register.  The project plan is now updated to reflect actual progress and future forecast along with the business case for the same reasons.  Because products may be handed over to the operational environment during the stage then the benefits review plan will also be updated if this is appropriate.

The results of the stage should be reported back to the project board via an end stage report, along with an optional lessons report and follow-on action recommendations (if any products have been passed on to the operational environment).

If the managing a stage boundary process is triggered due to an exception situation, then in place of the next stage plan, an exception plan will be created along with updating all the above documents, and registers as required.

Controlling a stage

This PRINCE2 process is used by the project manager, and the main purpose is to assign and monitor work that needs to be done, deal with risks and issues, taking corrective action where needed to ensure that the stage remains within tolerance, and report progress to the project board. Controlling a stage means that it should complete within the plan tolerances and deliver products that satisfy their quality attributes.

Controlling a stage is normally used within any delivery management stage, that is, a stage where specialist products are being created.  This PRINCE2  process drives on a regular basis the managing product delivery process which is where the specialist products are created.

This process would start by the project manager using the activity authorize work packages to give a work package to the specialist team within the managing product delivery process.  The project manager will then use the review work package status activity to read, and if necessary take action on the regular checkpoint reports which are created at the frequency stated within the work package.

This progress, or otherwise, is then an input to the review the stage status activity to enable the project manager to take a view on the progress or otherwise of the management stage as a whole.  Based on this information the project manager may use the activity, take corrective action to ensure that the stage remains on track.

On a regular basis issues and risks may arise or change, and the project manager uses the activity capture and examine issues and risks, for this purpose.

When each work package has been finished, the project manager uses the activity received completed work packages to acknowledge that this is indeed true.

All issues, risks and corrective actions are viewed in the light of the overall stage status, and if at any point the project manager forecasts that stage tolerance is to be exceeded, then this situation must be escalated to the project board via the activity escalate issues and risks in the form of an exception report.

On a regular basis as requested by the PRINCE2 project board at each end stage or exception assessment, the project manager will create regular highlight reports during a stage via the activity report highlights, and these are sent to the project board and if appropriate, other stakeholders.  Once the end of the current stage is reached, this will trigger the project manager to use the PRINCE2 managing a stage boundary process.

Managing product delivery

This PRINCE2 process is used by a team manager (if that optional roles has been appointed), or by the specialist team themselves, and is where all PRINCE2 specialist products are created.

This process is triggered by the project manager authorising a work package, and must be agreed or acknowledged by the activity here called except a work package.  An optional management product is the team plan, that may be created by the team manager to demonstrate (and to use for monitoring and control ), that the work package can be delivered within the constraints laid down.  Once that has happened, the specialist team will now create the specialist products contained within the work package, and described within the product descriptions and their quality criteria.

The team manager or the team themselves will create regular checkpoint reports for the project manager to determine progress made on the creation of the specialist products until such time as the specialist products within a work package had been created, quality checked, and authorised.  This triggers the final activity within managing product delivery, called deliver a work package, and it is when the work package completion is communicated back to the project manager to await his or her acknowledgement that this is so.

As part of agreeing that the work package is indeed complete, the relevant configuration item records must be updated and approval records obtained to show that the products within the work package are also complete.

Closing a project

This PRINCE2 process is used either within the final management stage to bring the project to a controlled close, or it may be used to prematurely close the project should that be necessary.

The PRINCE2 closing a project process is used to obtain acceptance for the project product and to recognise that the project initiation documentation objectives have been achieved.  It also verifies user acceptance, that maintenance and support services are in place, to assess any benefits that have been realized, to review the project performance, and to ensure that any unfinished business has been addressed with appropriate actions.

This process starts with the activity prepare planned closure within the project plan is updated with the final actual results and a product status account requested from project support.  The activity and over products ensures that these are passed to an operational and maintenance group and the follow-on action recommendations for any unfinished work, issues and risks is documented and that the benefits review plan is updated to reflect any benefits that have yet to be realized.

The next activity is to evaluate the project and prepare an end project report which contains the lessons report.  The project manager will then recommend closure to the project board to take the appropriate action. If the project board request that the project be brought to a premature close, then the activity prepare premature closure is used instead of the activity prepare planned closure.

That concludes the PRINCE2 processes.

I now want to describe the

PRINCE2 themes

These are approaches describing aspects of project management that must be addressed continually throughout the project and are therefore applied to the above seven processes at appropriate points.  Here is an overview of these themes:

The business case theme 

This is used to establish mechanisms to judge whether the PRINCE2  project is, and remains, desirable, and viable and achievable.  It provides an answer to the question ‘is the investment in this project still worthwhile?’ The project manager prepares the outline business case in Starting up a project and then creates the detailed business case in the Initiating a Project process.

The business case which is continually updated , is used at key points throughout the project to give the project board an informed choice about whether or not the project should continue or not.

The organization theme

The PRINCE2 Organization Theme defines establishes the projects structure of accountability and responsibility, and because PRINCE2 is based on a customer/supplier environment, sets out the team roles and responsibilities that need to be in place for any PRINCE2 project.

PRINCE2 does not describe management jobs but rather roles which may be filled by one or more individuals, or maybe shared by a single individual.  These roles make up the PRINCE2 project management team.  This team consists of the executive of the project board, the senior user role and the senior supplier role.  These three roles have their own project assurance responsibilities namely, business assurance, user assurance and supplier assurance.  The project board may set up a separate change authority to deal with issues and changes.

The project manager is a role filled by a single individual, and optional roles include the team manager and project support.

The quality theme  

The Quality Theme within PRINCE2, defines and implements the mechanisms by which the project will create and verify products that are fit for purpose.  The PRINCE2 approach to quality includes the customer’s quality expectations, acceptance criteria, the project product description, prepare the quality management strategy, product descriptions, the quality register, the PRINCE2 Product-based planning technique, quality and approval records along with their relevant acceptance records. In support of reviewing the products for quality, PRINCE2 also includes a quality review technique.

The plans theme

This covers all PRINCE2 aspects of creating and managing PRINCE2 plans.  If includes the project plan, stage plans, exception plans, and the optional team plans.

The philosophy behind PRINCE2 is that the required products are identified first, followed by the activities dependencies and resources required to create those products.  This is known as product based planning, and is used for all PRINCE2 plans. The PRINCE2 method contains a product-based planning technique.

There are several steps to product based planning, starting with the activity, write the project product description, which is used for the project plan only.  The next step is to create the product breakdown structure which is a hierarchical diagram.  Following this the product descriptions along with their quality criteria are generated for each product identified in the above diagram.

The next step is to define the sequence in which the products of the plan will be developed and any dependencies between them.  This is achieved by creating the product flow diagram.

From this point on, the more traditional activities of creating a plan needs to be carried out.

This includes identify activities and dependencies, prepare estimates, prepare the schedule, assess resource availability, assigned resources, level resource usage, agreed control points, defining milestones, calculate total resource requirements and costs, present the schedule (in a suitable format – typically a Gantt or Bar chart), analyze the risks, and finally to document the plan.

The risk theme

This PRINCE2 Theme is used to identify, assess and control uncertainty and, as a result, improve the ability of the project to succeed.  Risks come in two flavours, a negative impact threat, and a positive impact opportunity.  Both have the common thread of uncertainty, and hence are both forms of risk.

PRINCE2 has a tailorable risk management procedure consisting of four steps, identifying, assess, plan, and implement,, bound together via a common steps of communicate.  Key documents that are created here are the risk management strategy and the various management products that help communicate the aggregated risk situation within a project, these are typically checkpoint and highlight reports, end stage and end project reports, and lessons reports.

The risk register is used to capture and maintain information on all of the identify threats and opportunities related to the project.  It contains the various responses and individuals who are responsible to the project manager for managing these risks, in particular the risk owner and risk actionee.  Optionally a risk budget may be used set aside to fund the specific management responses to the project’s threats and opportunities.

The change theme

The PRINCE2 change theme purpose is to identify, assess and control any potential and approved changes to the various approved baseline documents.  The PRINCE2 approach is to treat all changes as a type of issue, and includes of specifications, and requests for change. PRINCE2 has a common approach to change control. Configuration management may be thought of as project asset control.

Closely aligned to change is configuration management which is normally provided by project support.  The configuration management strategy document will define the way in which this, issues, and hence changes are to be handled.  Specific aspects of the change theme include the use or otherwise of a change authority, a change budget, configuration item records, product status account, the issue register and issue report.

The progress theme

In any PRINCE2 project, plans and strategies are created and approved, and then progress is measured and reported against them.  Any deviations from these must be managed by regular monitoring and control.  The purpose here before is to establish mechanisms to monitor and compare actual achievements against those planned.  It also includes taking corrective action so that future forecasts keep the project within tolerance bounds.

The progress theme describes in detail how the principle of management by exception and hence tolerances are to be applied to all PRINCE2 projects.  It is split into two main sections; controls at project board level and controls at project manager level.  It includes the description an application of management stages and describes the nature of event-driven and time-driven controls.

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Dave Litten

David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of Project Management Masterclasses, under the Projex Academy brand name. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.

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