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Author: Susan Weese

Looking for a Project Management Methodology? Take a Look at PRINCE2.

LookingForAProject1For folks looking for a project management approach that successfully navigates them through the project life cycle while focusing on the project manager’s role in delivering a successful project, let me recommend PRINCE2. PRINCE2 (Projects in  Controlled Environments) is a structured, non-proprietary project management method. It is a generic, widely accepted approach to managing projects which can be applied to any project regardless of project size or type. 

Based upon proven principles, PRINCE2 isolates the project management aspects of the project work from the technical (or specialist) aspects of the project work.  This enables organizations and individuals to integrate the PRINCE2 method with their particular types of projects to build a flexible framework for successfully performing project work. PRINCE2 focuses on controlling the six key variables found on any project: costs, timescales, quality, scope, risk and benefits. This control is achieved across the project life cycle using an integrated framework of elements for successful project management: principles, themes, processes and tailoring the method to the project environment. 

In my opinion, PRINCE2 offers the best project management “road map” for getting a project through a successful and controlled start, middle and end.  There are five reasons why I think PRINCE2 is the best project management road map.

Reason 1.

PRINCE2 is based on a set of common-sense principles.  In order to say that you are working on a PRINCE2 project, all seven principles must be applied in that project. These principles driving why and how we manage this project are:

  1. Continued Business Justification:  This means that there is a justifiable reason to start a project, that this reason remains valid throughout the life of the project and the justification is documented and approved.   In PRINCE2, this justification is documented in the Business Case, driving decision-making and ensuring the project stays aligned to business objectives and benefits. 
  2. Learn from Experience: PRINCE2 project teams are expected to learn from previous experience.  Lessons learned are sought, recorded and acted upon throughout the project life cycle.  Lessons are also applied from previous projects in order to learn from others and improve the way projects are done.  In PRINCE2, these lessons are documented in the Lessons Log and become the contents of the Lessons Report created by the Project Manager at the end of each stage and at the end of the overall project.  
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities: PRINCE2 projects have defined and agreed-upon roles and responsibilities that engage all aspects of the involved internal or external organizations: business, user and supplier.  All three stakeholder interests must be represented on the project management team in order to be successful.  The project management team structure and roles must be defined to answer the question for everyone: “What is expected of me?”
  4. Manage by Stages: PRINCE2 projects are planned in management stages that create control points throughout the project. This approach allows projects to be monitored and controlled on a stage-by-stage basis.  At the end of each management stage, the project is reviewed to see if it will still deliver its Business Case.  This is done using two levels of plans and a ‘rolling wave’ approach to planning with an overall Project Plan and a detailed Stage Plan for the current stage, where work is being performed.
  5. Manage by Exception: PRINCE2 projects define tolerances for time, cost, quality, scope, risk and benefits, to establish limits of delegated authority across the levels of management.  This allows clearly defined accountability and decision-making, and implements the concept of “management by exception”.   If these tolerances are exceeded or forecast to be exceeded, they must be escalated to the next level of management for a decision on how to proceed.
  6. Focus on Products: PRINCE2 targets defining and delivering products that meet their stated quality criteria.  This includes the final product of the project as well as other significant management and specialist products produced across the project life cycle. This “output oriented” approach to projects results in defining a set of agreed-upon products and then planning the work to accomplish them.    .
  7. Tailor to Suit the Project Environment: PRINCE2 should be tailored to work for the project’s environment, size, complexity, importance, capabilities and risks.  When tailoring the PRINCE2 method, it is important not to omit any elements since they are designed as a web of interlinked parts.  The goal is to adapt the method for your organization and environment and avoid creating a ‘template-driven’ project management method where everything is done fully without question. 

Reason 2.

PRINCE2 defines the seven critical aspects of project management that must be successfully juggled throughout any project.  Each theme focuses on a key part of the project management discipline.  Defining and managing all themes across the project life cycle is critical to achieving a successful project outcome.   The themes being juggled and addressed across the project life cycle are:

  1. Business Case.  Created at the start of a project and updated and maintained throughout the project life cycle, the Business Case justifies initial and continuing investment in a project and drives all decision making for the project.  It allows the PRINCE2 project management team to judge if a project is desirable, viable and achievable at any point in time.  
  2. Organization. This theme defines and establishes project roles and responsibilities for a PRINCE2 project.  It clearly addresses the three project interests: business, user and supplier.  The levels of management in the project are defined across four levels: Corporate or Program Management, the Project Board, the Project Manager and the Team Managers.
  3. 3.    Quality. The focus is on ensuring that the project’s products are fit for purpose.  The approach, defined in the project’s Quality Management Strategy, requires that there be an explicit understanding of project scope and the quality criteria against which the products will be assessed.  In other words, the focus of quality is on each product’s ability to meet its requirements. 
  4. Plans. Plans facilitate effective communication and control and define how, where and by whom the project’s products will be delivered.  They are aligned with the Business Case and require both approval and commitment from all levels of the project management team.  There are three levels of plan in a PRINCE2 project: Project Plan, Stage Plan and optional Team Plans.  
  5. Risk. Risks are looked at relative to the project’s objectives.  These risks are uncertainties, and can be either threats (negative risks) or opportunities (positive risks). Risk management targets the proactive identification, assessment and control of project risks in order to improve the chances of success.   The strategy for approaching risk management in a project is defined in the project’s Risk Management Strategy.
  6. Change. This theme encompasses configuration management, issue management and change control.   Project controls are established and maintained throughout the project to address these three areas.  Configuration management creates, maintains and controls the configuration throughout the life of a product.  Issues are any event that has happened on a PRINCE2 project that was not planned and requires management action.  
  7. Progress. Progress refers to the mechanisms used to monitor and compare the actual project progress and performance against the planned values.   These mechanisms also allow the Project Manager to proactively forecast future performance based upon current trends relative to project objectives and make decisions to address potential variations. 

Reason 3.

PRINCE2 uses processes to define a road map with activities allowing the project manager to direct, manage and deliver a successful project outcome.  Processes provide the project manager and the project team with a step-wise progression through the project life cycle from a controlled start through a controlled middle and on to a controlled end.   Each process comes complete with recommended activities, products and the related responsibilities for “who does what when”. The processes driving the PRINCE2 road map are:

  1. Starting Up a Project (SU). The SU process answers the question: “Do we have a viable and worthwhile project?”  This process ensures that all prerequisites are in place in order to make an informed decision about commencing a project.  The pre-project activities found in this process are not intended to be lengthy or time-consuming. 
  2. Initiating a Project (IP).  The IP process establishes a firm foundation for achieving a successful project.  The Initiation Stage allows the Project Manager to create a suite of management products that control, define and plan the scope of work required to deliver the project’s products.   This process allows the Project Board to take the provided information and decide if the project is sufficiently aligned with corporate or programme objectives to authorize its continuation.
  3. Directing a Project (DP). The DP process is active throughout the project life cycle, enabling the project board to make key decisions and exercise overall project control.  The Project Board manages by exception, monitoring via reports and controls through a small number of decision points and providing direction and guidance to the Project Manager.      
  4. Controlling a Stage (CS). The CS process drives the project manager’s “day job” activities when they are managing, monitoring and controlling project work.  The activities focus on three areas as the products for a management stage are being delivered: (1) authorizing the work to be done, (2) monitoring, reviewing and reporting stage status and (3) dealing with project issues and risks, and taking corrective action.  
  5. Managing Stage Boundaries (SB). The SB process allows the Project Manager to provide the Project Board with sufficient information so they can review the success of the current stage and make key decisions at or near the end of each management stage of the project.  
  6. Managing Product Delivery (MP). The MP process controls the link between the Project Manager and the Team Managers by placing formal requirements on accepting, executing and delivering project work.   This process ensures that the team is working on products that are authorized and agreed upon.  These products must be clearly specified, understood and delivered to expectations and within tolerance.  
  7. Closing a Project (CP). The CP process provides an orderly end to a project, recognizing that the objectives in the PID have been achieved.   When the project successfully completes, user acceptance of the project’s products are confirmed, project performance is evaluated and benefits achieved to date are assessed.   Activities in this process may also be performed when a project has been prematurely terminated for some reason.

Reason 4.

PRINCE2 clearly defines specific project management roles and responsibilities.  All projects require an organizational structure that enables effective project governance and decision making.  This is done by defining responsibilities for directing, managing, and delivering the project along with clear accountability for each level of management.  In PRINCE2, a role is an associated set of responsibilities, not necessarily a job title. There are four levels of management in a PRINCE project management structure: Corporate or program management (not part of the project management team), the Project Board (directing and guiding), the Project Manager (managing day-to-day) and the Team Managers (delivering the specialist products).   In PRINCE2, the project management team is a temporary structure for successfully managing the project from start to finish.

Reason 5.

PRINCE2 stays out of the weeds. The PRINCE2 method is generally light on the detailed tools and techniques we use for managing people and projects, so many of those need to come from elsewhere.   For instance, PRINCE2 does not address detailed planning and control techniques that organizations may want to use, such as critical path or earned value analysis.    Leadership, motivational and other interpersonal skills are also not specified in the method. Organizations will need to define and add these “nuts and bolts” aspects of managing projects into their project management approach.  The good news is that there are numerous sources for this information, and it is quite simple to add them in.   

A copy of the PRINCE2 method is required reference material in any project manager’s bookshelf!  The method is documented in the OGC publication Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2” which is officially published by TSO

I have implemented several customized PRINCE2-based project management methodologies for numerous clients over the past five years.  All of these methods are still being used, and they are quite healthy, improving over time and working very well.  PRINCE2 focuses on information and decisions rather than on documents and meetings!  I believe that a PRINCE2 road map tailored to address the way you do business is an excellent step towards a practical project management method focused on achieving consistent and successful project outcomes.

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Susan Weese is a PRINCE2 assessor for the APMG based in Colorado.  She is also a consultant, curriculum designer and master instructor specializing in project management and requirements development process definition, deployment, implementation and validation.  Susan founded Colorado-based Rhyming Planet Inc. to motivate, lead and enable technical and business professionals to accomplish focused project and program goals.  She can be reached at [email protected].