PRINCE2 ROLES A Practitioner Exam Guide to Roles 

 September 23, 2020

By  Dave Litten

PRINCE2 ROLES A Practitioner Exam Guide to Roles academy
Dave Litten – PRINCE2 Instructor

There is a lot to discover with PRINCE ROLES — Let me first discuss the basic details at this point. PRINCE2 gives a recommended project management team structure that looks a little like a company organisation chart. It outlines the roles within the project management team both from the customer and supplier perspectives, as well as showing the lines of authority, project assurance responsibility, and the lines of support or advice.


The Four Levels in the PRINCE2 Project Management Structure

The four levels of hierarchy in the PRINCE2 project management structure are as follows:

  • Corporate, Programme Management, or the Customer – This level sits outside and above the project management team
  • Directing Level – The project board is responsible for this and it is the top level of the project management team
  • Managing Level – The project manager is responsible for this and it is the middle level of the project management team
  • Delivering Level – The team manager and their teams are responsible for this and it is the bottom level of the project management team

PRINCE2 Project Assurance

Here I make an important point about project assurance. When agreeing the project management team roles, the project board members have a default responsibility for business, user, and supplier project assurance.

PRINCE2 ROLES Practitioner Exam Guide to Roles

Because of the use of management by exception and the necessity of project board members having the relevant levels of authority, by default they often assume that they will provide their own project assurance. This is a mistake.

Although it is often understood that project board members will spend a relatively high amount of time working with the project during the initiation stage and reviewing management products during the managing a stage boundary process, project assurance continues to be intimately involved with project activities during each management stage. 

Take the controlling a stage process for example. In all but one of the eight activities managed by the project manager during a typical management stage, project assurance play an important part in reviewing the management products that are either created or updated during that process.

It is therefore important that when designing the project management team during the starting up a project process, and the initiating a project process, that due diligence is observed when considering appropriate individuals to fill the project board roles.

Who should carry out the three facets of project assurance throughout the project? Most importantly that those filling project assurance have the right levels of knowledge, skills, expertise, and availability.

Corporate, programme management, or the customer

These fill in the top of the project organisation structure but note that they are not part of the project management team. This is a rather ambiguous group of people, often just described as senior management.

How senior they are in the organisation depends on the size of the project and how much authority is needed to start it.

If it is a very large project, they might be the board of directors of the company, if it is a smaller project they may be heads of Department. 

PRINCE2 Directing level

The project board is responsible for this level. The project board is given authority for the overall direction and management of the project by corporate, programme management, or the customer. They are the main decision-making body on the project.

They make key project decisions, such as whether the project should start, whether it should go on to its next major part, and finally, whether it is ready to close. They need to be high enough up in their own organisations hierarchy to have the authority to make such decisions.

When a project is within a programme, then the corporate, programme management, or the customer level would be the program’s main decision-making body, such as a programme board.

There may be a situation where one company (the customer) commissions another company (the supplier) to carry out some work. A common situation here is when an organisation outsources some or all a project. In this case, the corporate, programme management, or the customer level would be the customer commissioning the work.

Several people make up the project board. Between them, they must represent three key perspectives on the project – the business perspective, the user perspective, and the supplier perspective. 

The PRINCE2 Business Perspective

The business perspective focuses on the returns the project will give their organisation. They also would be interested in how much investment would be needed to get those returns. In other words, what value they might get for their money.

This business view is represented by the executive role who sits on the project board. There is always only one executive who is considered the leader of the project.

The business perspective focuses on how the projects products will be used after the project has completed. This perspective is represented on the project board by the senior user role. There might be several people on the project board who share the senior user role.

The PRINCE2 Supplier Perspective

The supplier perspective focuses on creating the projects products and Is filled on the project board by the senior supplier role. Like the senior user role, there may be several people who share the senior supplier role. 

Corporate, programme management or the customer

Corporate, programme management or the customer instigate the project by creating the project mandate which is the first management product document to describe the project.

The mandate detail may be very high level and it is up to the project board and the project manager to refine them.

However, in some instances, particularly when the project is part of a programme, the project mandates may be quite detailed. This is because a programme should be clear on the definition of upcoming projects to coordinate them.

After creation of the project mandate, they will appoint the project board executive. From that point on, the executive is responsible for taking the project forward.

Corporate, programme management, or the customer set certain boundaries that the executive, and ultimately the whole project board, needs to keep the project within. PRINCE2 calls these boundaries project tolerances.

These tolerances are mainly leeway around the projects forecast budget and delivery time.

If the executive or the whole project board think the project tolerances will be breached, they no longer have authority to continue with the project and must escalate the situation back up to corporate, programme management, or the customer.

The project board will send regular notifications to corporate, programme management, or the customer about significant project events, such as the decision to move on to the next major part of the project (management stage).

Corporate, programme management, or the customer may also choose to receive regular progress reports from the project manager (highlight reports)

The PRINCE2 Managing level

This is the responsibility of the project manager to manage the project on a day to day basis within the constraints set by the project board.

There is only one project manager in a PRINCE2 project. This individual is responsible for planning the project, delegating work, reporting on the projects progress, managing risks and issues, and creating and updating the project management documents.

The project manager focuses on ensuring that the project creates the required specialist products by planning, delegating work to the specialist teams, and monitoring all the separate activities that need to be done.

The project manager delegates work to the teams by creating work packages. These are a management product telling the teams what work they need to do, details such as time and cost targets, and how to report progress to the project manager.

Just as corporate, programme management, or the customer set project tolerances for the project board, the project board set stage tolerances for the project manager.

The project manager, when delegating work to the teams, sets work package tolerances. Only one project manager should be assigned to each project.

The PRINCE2 Delivering level

This is the responsibility of the teams that create products of the project. In some cases, such as a small project, the project manager might manage the teams directly. In which case the project manager is also fulfilling the role of team manager.

For larger projects, the project manager might delegate work to several team managers, who in turn, delegate work to the teams.

In PRINCE2, the team managers are responsible for the delivering level, as it is they who manage the teams that create the projects specialist products. These specialist products vary depending on the type of project, whereas the management products (such as the project plan), Do not. 

PRINCE2 Senior Users – Key Points

The senior users are responsible for representing those who will ultimately use the project’s products, and there could be several different types of ‘users ‘

  • Users who will directly use the projects products 
  • users who might maintain or support the products when they go into their operational life 
  • users for whom the project will achieve an objective or a benefit
  • people who will be impacted by the project end-product

Senior users should be able to have authority over the people who will be using the projects products. They must ensure these people are available to define the characteristics and requirements of the products and then to review the products once they have been built to see whether they meet these requirements.

Also, the scene he uses have an important role in connexion with the business case, as they are responsible for forecasting the projects benefits and then demonstrating that those benefits have occurred. Many benefits may not occur until after the project has finished.

PRINCE2 Senior suppliers – Key Points

The senior suppliers represent those who will be delivering the project specialist products, although the word ‘’delivering may not always be appropriate.

The projects products may be procured, facilitated, written, or implemented, depending on the type of specialist products the project will create.

The senior suppliers have authority over the resources used to create the projects product and can commit and authorise such supplier resources. They could be people from the organisation that has commissioned the project or from external third-party organisations.

A common challenge for the project manager is that they often must delegate work to teams over whom they have no authority. Senior suppliers are useful for overcoming this problem.

There could be problems sharing confidential information if the senior suppliers are from organisations external to the commissioning organisation. Examples here or whether the third-party suppliers wish to share with the project board how much profit they are making.

For such situations, there might be two types of project meetings – meetings that are held to discuss confidential information (which take place in the separate customer and supplier organisations), and meetings that are attended by all those involved in the project.

It can be quite challenging to have all external suppliers represented on the project board, but the important decisions in the project must take account of their views as they can point out unreasonable deadlines or budgets. 

PRINCE2 Project Assurance – Key Points

Project assurance is a role that checks and monitors that the project is being run correctly and can deliver the projects objectives in terms of time, cost, quality, scope, risks, and benefits.

Each of the project board roles is responsible for a project assurance role that aligns to their area of interest.

What does this checking and monitoring entail?

A project assurance role could involve a range of activities, such as meeting with the project manager and team managers and discussing their activities, auditing project documents, or observing project meetings and quality reviews.

My point I mentioned earlier, is that who should assume the project assurance roles? If they have enough time, the project board members might choose to do this themselves, otherwise, they might delegate the day to day assurance activities to other people.

The project board will still be accountable for the project assurance actions aligned to their area of interest even if they delegate them to separate individuals.

PRINCE2 Business Assurance

The business assurance role cheques that the project is providing value for money and that the projects products can deliver the benefits forecast in the business case.

They are interested in things such as the amount of money being spent, how realistic the projects business case is, and whether the risks are being managed effectively. 

PRINCE2 User Assurance

The user assurance role cheques that the project is creating products that will be fit for their ultimate purpose.

They are interested in whether all the user perspectives were represented when the products were specified, whether:

  • the requirements for the products have been captured in the project documentation
  • suppliers are using the correct specifications to carry out their product creation work
  • there is an effective user acceptance process for signing off the products when they are finished

The user assurance role checks the project from a delivery perspective. They look at whether the supplier resources can deliver the project on time and on budget. They consider the technical feasibility of the products.

PRINCE2 Supplier Assurance

If the supplier is external to the organisation that commissioned the project, there could be two perspectives on supplier assurance:

  • Whether the commissioning organisation will want to check how the external organisation is carrying out their work
  • Whether the external organisation will want to check their own work

It is important that project assurance is independent of the project manager, project support, team managers, and the teams, because project assurance will be checking those other roles during reviews of the project.

If for example, someone was given both the project assurance and the project manager roles, there would be a conflict of interest.

However, as part of their role, project assurance will be expected to provide advice and guidance to the project manager, project support, team managers, and the teams.

Structuring the PRINCE2 Project Board

There are no exact rules for how many people should be on the project board. In small projects, some of the roles might be combined.

There might be as few as two people on the project board, one person sharing the executive and senior user roles, and the other person is the senior supplier.

In larger projects, this number will increase, although if there are too many people, it might become more difficult to get agreement on decisions. In such situations it might be better to create separate user groups and supplier groups, each of which sends representatives to the project board meetings. 

Assigning the right people to a PRINCE2  Project Board

Without the right level of authority, the project board will be unable to drive the project forward because they would have to constantly refer to people above them in order to make decisions , thereby causing unnecessary delay to the project.

Without the right level of authority, the project board will not be able to provide resources and money to the project to sort out potential conflicts. If the people on the project board are too high up within their organisations, the project might not be important enough for them to get fully involved.

Credibility is closely linked to authority. Without credibility, the people on the project board may not be able to influence others to provide the resources and budgets necessary to achieve the projects objectives.

The ability to delegate is another important characteristic of an effective project board member. Project board members rarely have the right expertise to make management and delivery level decisions. 

Unfortunately, if the project board does involve themselves too heavily, in the management and delivery of the project, team members tend to follow their bad advice out of respect for their level within the organisation.

It is better if the project board members concern themselves with strategic project decisions and leave the management and delivery to those who have the relevant skills.

Most importantly project board members must be available for the project. They do not need to get involved on a day to day basis, but only when the key decisions need to be made. If they are busy on other work, then the project will likely stall while it waits for key authorization or decisions.

The PRINCE2 Change Authority

From time to time, someone might ask for a change to one of the projects products.

The project board is the usual authorization body for requests for change. However, on a project where there may be many requests for change, the project board can delegate part of this authority to a group called the change authority.

This could be useful when the project board does not have the necessary technical skills to fully understand the implications of a proposed request for change, All the time available to fully analyse all the changes.

The change authority can authorise changes within certain limits. It is up to the project board to specify these limits.

Examples of such limits might be that the change authority can authorise changes up to an agreed cost or changes that don’t impact the project Plans by a certain number of days.

The project manager might also be given some authority to authorise changes. For example, the project might have several levels of change authority:

  • The project board authorises large changes
  • The change authority authorises medium size changes
  • The project manager authorises smaller changes

When faced with a large, requested change to the project’s products or scope, the project board might escalate the decision to implement such a change to the corporate, programme management, or customer levels.

The people with project assurance responsibilities may also have change authority responsibilities.

Other PRINCE2 Stakeholders

A stakeholder is any individual, group, or organisation that can affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by, a project. Stakeholders can be advocates for the project or against the project. All the people who are allocated roles on the project management team are stakeholders, but there may be many other people outside the team who are stakeholders as well. 

At the beginning of the project, the project manager will work with the other members of the project management team to identify all the project stakeholders and determine how they would like to be updated on the project.

The project manager will also determine what information the project needs from the stakeholders.

The output of this work is detailed in the communication management approach.

Not all stakeholders will agree with the project, and it is important for the project manager to identify these individuals who may not support the initiative so that the project management team can consider how to deal with them.

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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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