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The Focus on Products Principle 

 November 22, 2023

By  Dave Litten

The Focus on Products Principle

A PRINCE2 project focuses on the definition and delivery of products, in particular, their user quality expectations and requirements. A product is an input or output, whether tangible or intangible, that can be described in advance, created, and tested.

PRINCE2 includes four types of products:

Management products: are often documents or information needed to support the management of the project, such as a business case or a plan.

Specialist products: are the products that the user needs to realize the benefits required of the project.

The project product describes the total output from the project as defined in the project product description

External products: are products developed or provided outside of the project’s control but which the project is dependent on, for example, the publication of a new standard.

Specialist products will be referred to as simply ‘products’, except when a distinction between management and specialist products is needed.

‘Project products’ refers to the specialist and management products created during the project.

Projects that focus on what the project needs to produce are more likely to be efficient and avoid waste than projects that focus primarily on the work activity.

This is because the purpose of a project is to fulfil stakeholder expectations by the business justification. Therefore, there must be a common understanding of the products required and the user quality expectations.

The purpose of a project can be interpreted in many ways unless there is an explicit understanding of the products to be produced and the criteria against which they will be individually approved.

PRINCE2 requires projects to be output-oriented rather than work-oriented. PRINCE2 calls these outputs ‘products’.

This focus on products:

  • ensures that the project only performs work that directly contributes to the delivery of a product (that is, the project does no more work than it needs to deliver its agreed products)
  • helps manage uncontrolled change (‘scope creep’) by ensuring that all changes are decided in terms of how they will impact the project products and the business case for the project.
  • reduces the risk of user dissatisfaction and acceptance disputes by agreeing (at the start of the project) what will be produced by the project.
  • assists a pause or closure of the project. Agreements can be more easily met to pause or close a project after completing certain products. It also allows a more manageable and controlled resumption of the project.
  • An output-oriented project agrees and defines the project product before undertaking the activities required to produce it. The set of approved products establishes the scope of a project and provides the basis for planning and control.

A PRINCE2 project uses product descriptions that provide the means to determine effort estimates, resource requirements, dependencies, and activity schedules. The focus on products supports almost every aspect of PRINCE2: planning, responsibilities, progress reporting, quality, change control, acceptance, and risk management.

Below are examples of applying the ‘focus on products’ principle:

A single project product description might suffice in a small, simple project, such as publishing a new management book.

This description will determine, among other features, how many chapters will be required, the desired total number of pages, the language, and the number of graphics in colour versus black and white.

Product descriptions for projects using an iterative, incremental delivery method, such as agile, may include requirements, features, epics, and user stories.

For larger and more complex projects, the project product description will be divided into sub-products and then further subdivided to a level of detail to understand how each product will be sourced, developed, and approved.

The further the products are subdivided, the harder it will be for the project board to be able to decide whether product descriptions are correct. This is because the content becomes more technical and requires specialist knowledge.

In this case, it is essential that the supplier has the expertise to define the right products at each level, and the business establishes project assurance with the knowledge necessary to ensure that the product meets the specifications.

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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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