Wednesday, 23 March 2016 06:37

Business Rules for Ending A Stage: Part 1

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In the ECPM Framework, once a cycle begins it continues without change until the time-box expires.

By comparison, PRINCE2 focuses on completion of the Work Package as planned for that stage and allows for movable end dates for a stage. Cycle and Stage are synonyms.

The ECPM Framework identifies three situations regarding the end of a cycle:

  • Normal End of Cycle when the timebox expires
  • Abnormal End of a Cycle before the time-box expires
  • Major Change in the Environment

The ECPM Framework ending strategies can apply with equal effectiveness in PRINCE2 in the Controlling a Stage Phase.


In the ECPM Framework cycles can be of varying lengths but usually not more than 6 weeks duration. Within that timebox, the project team identifies the tasks that they have estimated can be delivered. Those tasks are of two types: Tasks associated with Probative Swim Lanes and tasks associated with additions to the evolving solution through Integrative Swim Lanes. In most cases priority would be given to completing an Integrative Swim Lane before completing a Probative Swim Lane. The reason is that an Integrative Swim Lanes delivers business value whereas a Probative Swim Lane delivers knowledge (i.e., learning and discovery).


There are three situations that can result in the decision to end a cycle. They are described below.

1. Normal End of Cycle when the Timebox Expires

When the timebox expires, the cycle ends - no exceptions. Any Work Packages (WPs) that were planned for that cycle and had not yet been completed are returned to the Scope Bank for prioritization in future swim lanes and cycles. There are no situations where the timebox is extended for even one day. To do so is not at all in keeping with the lean properties characteristic of the ECPM Framework.

This gives us a strategy for planning the balance between Probative and Integrative Swim Lanes in a cycle. There are two strategies to apply for the scheduling of WPs within a cycle:

Prioritize the contents when scheduling WPs within each swim lane

If the tasks are scheduled according to their priority, then any tasks not completed will be of low priority. Because of the learning and discovery that takes place in the cycle, the lowest priority tasks may never receive a high enough priority to be included in the cycle plan.

Integrative Swim Lanes are of a higher priority than Probative Swim Lanes

Integrative Swim Lane tasks deliver an updated solution and incremental business value. Probative Swim Lanes have the potential for identifying business value but not yet.

2. Abnormal End of a Cycle Before the Timebox Expires

There will be situations that arise where all of the planned WPs were completed in less time than was estimated. WPs should be finished as soon as possible resulting in cycles completed sooner than was estimated. Do not create work just to fill the timebox duration. End the cycle and proceed to the Client Checkpoint Step.

3. Major Change in the Environment

This situation can arise independently of the cycle and outside the control of anyone. The internal and external environments are in a constant state of flux. Just like risks, changes might be expected but when they will arise cannot. If the change is so disruptive as to render the cycle WPs compromised, it might not make business sense to continue the cycle. End the cycle immediately, save the time and resources, and begin planning the next cycle armed with the new information.


In PRINCE2, just as in the ECPM Framework, the Stage is where it all happens. Both frameworks have planned the specific deliverables to be built within a time and cost constraint. Whenever either of these constraints is challenged, some corrective action is required. The two frameworks are very different in these situations. For the ECPM Cycle, we have discussed the actions above. For the PRINCE2 project, the following is specified.


Taking into account:

  • learning and discovery from the just ended stage
  • incomplete WPs from the just ended stage

it is clear that the ECPM Framework design has two basic tenants:

  • decision making is contained within the roles and responsibilities of the co-managers whenever possible
  • the number of hand-offs has been minimized to reduce non-value added work time.

PRINCE2 processes are not clear on how these decisions are taken but seem to leave open how the project manager and team managers choose to proceed. Within Stage boundaries, the decisions can be taken without outside input or intervention. When Stage boundaries are threatened or exceeded, the decisions are taken outside of the project team. That often requires the sharing of information (written or verbal) to the outside decision makers. That process adds non-value work due to the handoff time required. On the other hand, the ECPM Framework processes minimize non-value work time.

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Robert Wysocki

Robert K. Wysocki, Ph.D. President EII Publications, LLC, has over 45 years experience as a project management consultant and trainer, information systems manager, systems and management consultant, author and public speaker. He has written 24 books on project management and business analysis. His materials are used in over 350 colleges and universities worldwide.

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