PRINCE2 Stages Explained 

 October 6, 2020

By  Dave Litten

Dividing PRINCE2 Stages into Technical and Management Stages

They can be confusing, but in this article I will make sure you have the PRINCE2 stages explained. There are two types of PRINCE2 stages, Management stages and technical stages. In this article, I will explain the difference between both.

To to crack the code and explain PRINCE2 stages,  you need to understand that PRINCE2 management stages are simply the section of the project that the project manager is managing on behalf of the project board at any one time. The project board authorizes the project manager to manage the project one management stage at a time and at the end of that management stage, the project manager can go no further without a new authorization from the project board.

The definition of a management stage is “Management stages equates to commitment of resources and authority to spend”

What this means in practice is that the project board releases resources and budget to the project manager on a management stage by a management stage basis.

The PRINCE2 Initiation Management Stage

In any PRINCE2 Project, the first management stage is called the initiation management stage.
This is where the project manager manages the work to create the Project Initiation Documentation. Every management stage after the initiation stage is a delivery management stage where the project manager will be managing the work to create specialist products.

PRINCE2 Stages explained – the technical stages

Let me explain. You could argue that the term technical stage is confusing as they are not really stages at all. They are really a group of activities that are carried out by people with the same type of skills. That group of activities may take place across one or more management stages.

As an example, consider the design work that needs to be carried out on the project, followed by the building work to be done and then the testing work to be carried out. Using PRINCE2 terminology, there will be a designing technical stage, a build technical stage, and a test technical stage.

The PRINCE2 definition of a technical stage is “technical stages are typified by the use of a particular set of specialist skills”

PRINCE2 Stages explained – management stages

In order to make sure you get PRINCE2 stages explained, the following set of diagrams will help explain the difference between management stages and technical stages in more detail and how they relate to each other. I’m sure this next section will give you a clear and unambiguous understanding of the differences between technical and management stages.

Consider the diagram below:

technical stages 800x386
technical stages 800×386

This diagram shows a high-level project plan put together at the beginning of a project. You can see that the project team that the project would involve five Major pieces of work: Specifying, designing, Testing, upgrading, and acceptance testing.

This is typical usually at the outset of the project, That the project team can only give a high-level forecast of the work to be done. So, the challenge at the beginning of the project during initiation is how to divide this high-level project plan into various PRINCE2 management stages.

You are now getting closer to having the PRINCE2 stages explained because the diagram below shows the first stage involves doing the specifying work and the first part of the design and development work.

management stages
management stages

But there is a problem with the above diagram.

The main benefit of PRINCE2 management stages is that they Provide a review and decision points for the project board, but as you can see from above, at the end of the first management stage, it may be difficult to review any of the PRINCE2 technical stages that traverse the stage boundary since it would only be partially completed.

Reviewing progress part way through is prone to errors of actual progress and future forecast because you are asking the team to make a percentage complete guess. This one problem alone is responsible for the final year of many projects.

One of the many powerful benefits of using the PRINCE2 Method, is the application of product based planning. This technique allows the project manager to report true progress and accurate forecasts based on the 100% complete situation for each product.

In short, using percentage complete is often quite subjective.

People are overly optimistic about the work that remains or they forget about all the little things that need to be done at the end, which, when they are added together, give rise to large errors. Compare this with reviewing the progress of the specifying work at the end of the first PRINCE2 stage. The specifying work has either finished or not finished and the project team can be completely objective when they report on the progress of this work.

The same can be done for all remaining management stages.

A solution to the problem above of reviewing work the spans multiple management stages is shown in the diagram below. Here, the large pieces of work have been split up so they fit into the PRINCE2 management stages.

As an example, the designing piece of work is now done in three parts; the overall design is done in management stage one, the detailed design is done in management stage two, and screen layout design is done in management stage three:

management technical stages 800x500
management technical stages 800×500

Now it is easier to be more objective when the progress of the designing work is reviewed at the end of stages one, two, and three. At the end of management stage two for example, the project manager can hopefully report to the project board that the detailed designs have been finished.

So, what does this have to do with technical stages you may I ask? It can be confusing when PRINCE2 refers to the word stages when talking about technical stages as they are just large pieces of work that involve people would the same set of skills. You can see this happening above in design. The designers are working on a large piece of work that includes top level and detailed design, as well as designing a screen layout.

In PRINCE2 terms, the challenges to work out how to divide the technical stages into the management stages, that there is another PRINCE2 technique that can help here – the product based planning technique.

The mindset here is to think “whole products”, so when considering or of the design work as an example, think through the actual products that will result from this design work, such as the top-level design document. This will give you the clues to help see how you can divide the project into sensible management stages yet at the same time have clearly defined end management stage boundaries.

The reason for this is clear, each management stage will contain a small number of products if you follow my advice above. You will not have, say, 2 ½ products in one stage, it will either be two or three products.

As a summary, here are some faults captured from the above diagrams:

  • Technical stages and management stages do not normally end of the same point in time
  • Management stages never overlap
  • Technical stages can overlap (there is no reason that all that some of the specialist team are working on designing at the same point when other members of the team are working on building products)
  • You can have more than one technical stage running over each management stage
  • You can have more than one management stage running over one technical stage

What stage are you at in your quest to become a PRINCE2 Practitioner?

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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