Critical Thinking for Writing a PRINCE2 Plan
The vital skills needed for either passing the PRINCE2 Practitioner or for in your real world, is creating the actual PRINCE2 Plan DOCUMENT. This article will address that concern, and show you how to complete the actual document itself with the correct critical information. If you are a project manager, then you need to ensure that the right information is recorded, since you will use the plan not just as part of approval to proceed, but also to manage, track and control your project.
You may be members of the Project Board, and need to review a PRINCE2 Plan, in which case, this article will act as a ‘quality check’ that the plan is complete, accurate and fit for purpose.
If you are preparing for your Practitioner exam, then several questions will test your critical thinking with regard to key management documents. I am referring of course, to the management products listed in Appendix A in the official PRINCE2 Manual Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2.
Be aware that there is only one ‘template’ in the Manual regarding a Plan, and this is used as a basis to create the Project Plan, A Stage Plan, An Exception Plan (if needed), and optionally, A Team Plan.
It is worth just quickly discussing why using the Plan template, the Team Plan may be created by an external organisation who use different planning standards and may not use PRINCE2. Also, for simple Team Plans, all that may be needed is a simple schedule of activities to accompany the Work Package, and so again, it would not be necessary to use the formal PRINCE2 Plan management product template.
What is a PRINCE2 Plan used for?
Put simply, it is there to illustrate the work effort needed to both create and deliver the project’s products, the timeframes for the work effort, and the resources required (think of resources as covering cost, people, materials, equipment, and so on).
In a PRINCE2 project, the total work effort is expended not just on the creation of the products, but also other work aspects such as:
- Quality checking the products to ensure their fitness for purpose
- Authorizing, hand over and acceptance activities
- Monitoring and controlling (such as reporting and corrective actions) activities
- Configuration management to document and track product status
- Risk management activity responses (both for threats and opportunities).
A typical PRINCE2 Plan will also contain narrative sections to include aspects such as:
- Plan prerequisites.
- Critical timing such as milestones or review/audit dates
- Plan assumptions
- Product Description for the products covered in the plan
- The project management and product scope
So what is in a typical PRINCE2 Plan?
The content of a typical PRINCE2 Plan is:
So it is no wonder that PRINCE2 exam delegates can get confused, and that creating an accurate PRINCE2 Plan in your real world takes careful and critical thinking!
PRINCE2 Plan creation sequence
In PRINCE2 all plans are DOCUMENTS. As such there is a recommended sequence to their creation:
The blue steps above, are covered in articles elsewhere, but what this article covers, is shown above in the yellow box. Note, that in the step labelled Define and analyze the products, is the where the PRINCE2 Product-based Planning technique is used and applied.
I am currently creating an extra Practitioner Exam paper to accompany my PRINCE2 Primer, and I have used a real scenario from when I recently visited a tropical island within the Philippines with my wife.
The scenario includes the creation of 6 beach-side luxury beach huts which are an ‘optional extra’ to the standard accommodation with the actual hotel itself.
I shall use the example of building and fitting out each of the 6 beach huts as an example of a Stage Plan, as I am sure that YOU will be familiar with the typical fittings within a hotel room, and the building requirements for a simple concrete, plaster, wood and palm roof:
Here then is your guide to keep as a constant reference, along with some examples of the typical information that should go in each section:
This should describe the type of plan (Project, Stage, or Exception Plan)
It should describe the scope of the work that is covered within this plan.
This Stage Plan covers the work and products to create and fit out 6 beach huts adjacent to the hotel. It covers the installation of water and electricity, the basic fittings including the en-suite bathroom, room furniture, and internal decoration.
This section should take care to encompass the scope of the plan, but be aware that the product description section later will describe the details. However, there may be general work activities that should be included here, such as close liaison with third parties or local authorities.
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The definition of a prerequisite is something that must be in place before the work of the plan can start and must remain in place for the plan to succeed. Be careful here. A prerequisite is a dependency, and can often be confused with a risk such as a certain resources not being available at some time point within the plan.
It may that certain activities are going on the same time such as refurbishing the hotel’s main lobby, but this would have no impact on the creation of the beach huts and is therefore NOT a dependency.
A further potential point of confusion could be (say) that the lobby refurbishment may eat into funds or the availability of planned resources for the beach huts. These should not be confused with a dependency, since they are both examples of a risk and should be managed accordingly.
Let me remind you of a few dependency examples:
Gaining planning permission would stop the plan from starting and is therefore a dependency example.
The signing of a contract for building the beach huts would also stop the plan and is another example of a dependency
Clearing the site (possibly done in a previous phase/stage of the project) is another example as this would prevent work from starting on the beach huts.
These describe products that will be needed for the work described within the plan, but they will be created outside the scope of the plan. This is another area of potential confusion, particularly when using a third party to create a product.
If the project manager delegates the work via a Work Package, then it is NOT an external dependency!
A product may be an external dependency because it already exists (it may even have been created in a previous stage of this project), but that the product is now required in this plan.
Another way of thinking about an external dependency is that the project manager has no control over the work to either create the product, or for it to be made available.
Here are some external dependency examples:
The pre-formed moulded shower unit is a standard unit available and procured from a third party supplier
The contract signed was also a pre-requisite, but the contract agreement and signature is outside the scope of this Stage Plan.
There are several companies that construct beach huts on the island and until, and unless they issue a response, aspects of the plan work cannot proceed. What if none were interested or did not have the resources available?
Can you see that although they are needed for this stage, the project manager will not manage the work of creating them?
Unlike a prerequisite, an external dependency may only affect some of the plans activities. An example here is the availability of certain decorative trees and shrubs surrounding each beach hut.
Much like prerequisites, external dependencies may represent risks and should be entered into the risk register and managed accordingly.
These are any planning assumptions that have been made when estimating and creating the plan.
Be careful about over-doing this part, and don’t try to use it as an excuse for poor risk management, or “I am assuming the boss will like my plan” type of assumptions!
Assumptions can cover a host of aspects, and rather than give you an example from the scenario, I will list some general example types:
- The daily hours for the specialist team (9 to 5 with one hour for lunch?)
- The work productivity of the specialist team (5 hours per day?)
- The hourly rate of the team and/or assumption of no overtime/premium rates
- The availability of certain resources to carry out scheduled activities
- The availability of tools and/or equipment
- Clear access to the site for resources
- Data or information being made available at key time points
As the title suggests, this is where you advise the reader that any appropriate previous lessons learned have been embedded within this plan document. Using the Beach Hut scenario as an example, you could include here:
- Include early copies of site and dwelling construction plans to the local authorities to minimize sign-off delays
- Include third party contract penalty clauses for delays in provision of human resources and key plant equipment.
- Provide lodging for the project manager in the hotel to improve daily communications
Monitoring and Control
There are two main reasons why a plan is required; the first is to determine whether or not there is a feasible and realistic approach to delivering the planned objectives, while the second reason is to use the plan as a baseline reference point against which to monitor progress and keep the remainder of the project or stage under control.
If the work is behind schedule or over budget, then the project manager will want to take some form of corrective action to bring the work and plan back on track.
Therefore, this section of the project plan lays out exactly how monitoring and control will take place within this particular plan.
I will not attempt to list all of the methods and techniques used to keep a project on track (for example the use of the earned value analysis), but rather to give you some general examples of the types of information that may be included in this section:
Progress of the beach hut construction will be reviewed end of each week and at the close of work each Wednesday evening. Schedule, work effort, and cost variances will be compared against their planned values and appropriate corrective action taken if required.
A Product Status Account (report) will be requested from project support at the end of each work week to direct the actual progress of the stages products.
Each team manager to create a weekly Highlight Report to the project manager to report work progress against their Work Packages.
With reference to the Communication Management Strategy document, a Highlight Report will be sent to the hotel management and members of the project board every 10 days.
Money has a time value, and so this section needs to describe how much and when. Some projects is used stage funding or even milestone payments, are so it is important when funding is required as well as how much.
The section should contain information that describes two aspects:
- The amount of money budgeted for the plans work
- Over what period of time this budget will be required for
There are two other amounts of money that may need to be allocated (typically at project level, but maybe at stage level)
The Change Budget
This is an amount of money set aside to fund changes to either the plans products or to its scope. Typically, the change budget will be an estimate based on the likely change within a project or stage, and will cover the management of such changes as well as the change costs themselves.
Risk countermeasures budget
This amount of money covers the response actions of those risks that may impact the plan.
There is an example from the Beach Hut scenario:
$200,000 has been budgeted for the builder of the six beach huts, which is estimated to take 10 weeks.
$15,000 is being budgeted to hire extra builders should the beach hut contractors forecast a time overrun.
A change budget of $5,000 has been set aside to fund small functionality changes in the beach hut internal facilities and decoration. Any change costing more than $200, should be escalated to the project board.
This section will describe the plus or minus tolerances to the plans schedule, cost or scope.
Time tolerance. The Beach Hut stage is to be delivered in 10 weeks with a tolerance of plus two weeks and minus four weeks
The cost of the stage is $200,000 with a budget tolerance of plus $15,000 and minus $30,000.
Scope tolerance is the allowable flexibility it delivered products within the plan. In the case of the beach hut project, an example might be:
A Microwave oven is to be included in each beach hut, but if there is neither time nor cost, this is seen as a non-essential fixture and feature.
You will recall that one of the steps in creating a plan was called ‘define and analyse the products’. This is the Product-Based planning step and includes the creation of a product description for each product.
This makes it clear about the products that will need to be created, and allows the identification of activities and resources that would be needed to create each product.
Each PRINCE2 Plan contains a Product Description for each product that will be delivered within the planned scope. As such they include the detailed and measurable specifications as well as how such specifications will be checked and there will be responsible for signing off each product.
PRINCE2 recommends that even external products could benefit from having a product description created as it will help agree a joint understanding of each products fitness for purpose.
In the example scenario of the six beach huts, the product descriptions to be created may include:
- The moulded shower units
- Each Beach Hut (there may be some differences)
- The decoration and furnishing of each beach hut
- Individual components such as the bed and dressing table
- The standard of external finishing and rendering of each Beach Hut
Each PRINCE2 Plan will contain the activities and their dependencies is needed to create each product, what resources will be needed for each activity, or will carry out the work of each activity, and the forecast start and finish dates for each activity.
A planning to all such as Microsoft Project may be used to help create the above, and as work progresses this section of the plan will be updated with the actual results.
Typical data to be captured should include plan, actual, variance and forecast information for each activity. Each activity will include not just start and finish dates, but also work effort hours for each individual on each task, as well as costs.
Typically, a Gantt chart would be used to portray the schedule information, although for smaller and similar projects it may be shown in a calendar view, or even just a list of activities with key status dates for each.
I have written a useful article describing value of using the PRINCE2 Product Checklist to capture and communicate the above information.
Also included within the schedule section of each plan will either be a diagram or a link to the PRINCE2 Product Breakdown Structure, and the Product Flow Diagram views.
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