What is PRINCE2®?
PRINCE2 is a project management methodology, which means that it tells you everything you need to know about the overall steps of work, and necessary or recommended roles and responsibilities, and artifacts. It’s a great help, as you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
It’s great to have a method like PRINCE2, but you should note the following:
- PRINCE2 must be tailored to the project: The fact that you have access to a documented method for managing projects doesn’t mean that you can follow that word by word and have successful projects. You need to understand what it means and customize it to the scale and environment of your project. The same approach cannot be used in every project.
- PRINCE2 is high-level: You still need to figure out a lot of details.
- PRINCE2 is not about techniques: There are a few techniques in PRINCE2, but that’s not the main subject, and you need to add more techniques to your project. For example, it tells you about the plans you need, and the way they should work, but it’s up to you to find proper planning techniques for your project.
Scope of PRINCE2
The following are the main elements in PRINCE2. Most links are to the PRINCE2 wiki.
- Core Principles: Each PRINCE2 project should follow seven principles, and if even one of these are not satisfied, chances of success will decrease significantly. It’s not exaggeration to claim that everything else in the PRINCE2 methodology is a way of satisfying these principles.
- Themes: These are seven concepts you need to address continuously (risk, change, etc.). PRINCE2 gives you a lot of information on how to do that generically. As mentioned before, it’s up to you to tailor them to your project.
- Processes: PRINCE2 has seven processes (yes, they all come in groups of seven!) which provide you with the steps of work needed in every project; starting up with some basic preparation, then an overall planning, and then running the stages, which include detailed planning, monitoring, and execution.
- Roles and Responsibilities: PRINCE2 suggests many roles, and gives you default responsibilities for all of them. There’s great flexibility here; e.g., you can change the name of roles, merge/split them, and more. However, there are some constraints too. For example, the roles of project manager and executive may not be played by one person, because one is about the day-to-day management whereas the other is about the high-level aspects, and most people cannot pay enough attention to two such different aspects.
- Management Products: These are the artifacts. PRINCE2 doesn’t call them documents, because they can have any form depending on the nature of the project. For example, there’s a “checkpoint report” that team managers regularly send to project managers. It may be best to have this as a written report in large projects, but in a small project, a simple email, phone call, or conversation over mid-day coffee would suffice. PRINCE2 also gives product descriptions for all artifacts, which can be translated into templates.
How does it work?
Let’s have a quick look at the way a PRINCE2 project is run!
First, there’s a pre-project, where we check to see if the project makes sense, and prepare for the first stage. We also need to have clear roles and responsibilities in the project (it’s one of the principles), therefore, at this point, we must assign a few key roles such as project management and executive.
If we get a green light at the end of pre-project, we will proceed to the first stage, called initiation. That’s when we create a high-level plan for the project. This high-level plan includes our decision for the number of stages we are going to have in the project. Each stage will produce some of the deliverables in a certain time, with a certain budget, and so on (this is the plan).
Note that we don’t plan the whole project in detail at the beginning; we just create a high-level plan for the whole project, and each stage will be planned in detail when we approach that stage. When initiation (the first stage in the project) is done, we will run a new stage, and therefore, when approaching the end of initiation, we should also create a detailed plan for the next stage.
We will probably appoint more people for the remaining roles in the project too. As usual, each person needs to have clear responsibilities.
The most important output of this stage is information about the justification of the project: Why are we going to run this project? Why is it beneficial for us to do so? What are the options? What’s the chosen option and what would the output look like? This information is packages in a business case.
At the end, the information will be sent to the project board (a group of people, including the executive), and they will decide if it’s a good idea to go to the next stage and start working on the project.
After initiation, there are cycles of stages. In each stage, the project manager hands out work packages to team managers and receives completed deliverables. We will have frequent monitoring, where we compare our forecasts with the targets set for the stage and the project.
When approaching the end of the stage, we will create a new detailed plan for the next stage, update the business case, and create a report for the project board. The information will be sent to them, and they decide if it’s still fine to continue the project.
While monitoring the project, the decision making process will be governed by the manage by exception principle: Each person has the authority to make decisions that have consequences in a certain range (called tolerances). If something is within the range, people in the higher levels of management may not get involved (unless they are asked to!), and if it exceeds the range, the person must escalate the decision to the higher level.
At the end of the last stage, where the product is completely built, or whenever the project board decides to cancel the project, a closing process will be run, to tie up the loose ends and officially finish the project.
The following are the certification programs for PRINCE2: