PRINCE2 Project Management

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Of the many approaches to project management, the PRojects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2) methodology is one of the most versatile and widely implemented. This article provides an overview of PRINCE2 roles, principles, and methods, and describes how to apply them in different industries.

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What is PRINCE2?

PRINCE2 is a process-based project management methodology that involves dividing a project into manageable stages and tackling each stage with thorough planning, organization, and control. PRINCE2 is flexible enough for organizations to adapt it to various project types and sizes.

PRINCE2’s flexibility is one of its biggest benefits. It’s adaptable and integrates easily with other frameworks, such as Agile. Because of its global adoption over the last few decades, its terminology and methods are familiar and easily recognized across many industries.

A large group of collaborators developed PRINCE2 based on considerable practical knowledge and a proven track record of effectiveness. When implementing PRINCE2, clearly defined roles, careful planning, and strict viability standards improve risk management.

PRINCE2: Origins and principles.

The Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) in the United Kingdom developed PRINCE2’s predecessor, PRINCE, in 1989 to manage IT projects by the British government. In 1996, project management experts reviewed and modified the methodology for various industries and released it to the public as PRINCE2.

The following seven key principles lay the foundation for the methodology:

  1. Continually justify business: Projects must be viable. This means performing a cost assessment and clearly defining all benefits to justify the project’s viability. Organizations should discontinue nonviable projects and periodically reevaluate viable projects for continued justification.
  2. Learn from lessons: At the beginning of the project, gather and examine the information from previous project outcomes for lessons learned. As the project moves through the various stages, continue this examination as you learn new lessons.
  3. Define the organizational structure: Clearly define the organizational structure so everyone involved can see and understand their roles and responsibilities.
  4. Break down into stages: Break down the project into clearly defined stages, with each stage carefully planned and monitored. How stages break down may vary, but specific deliverables may indicate natural breaking points.
  5. Have an exception plan: The project manager generally does not intervene unless project metrics (cost, time, etc.) deviate outside of pre-established guidelines. This allows the team to operate autonomously and efficiently.
  6. Focus on quality: Emphasize the quality of deliverables or products instead of focusing on the process at the expense of the outcomes.
  7. Tailor to suit project needs: Because each project varies in scope and size, tailor the methodology to meet each project’s specific needs.

Major roles in PRINCE2 project management.

Implementing PRINCE2 successfully requires clearly defining roles and responsibilities. There are three major roles: the project board, the project manager, and the project team. Each tier plays a different part in the overall process:

Project board.

The representatives from three primary groups typically comprise the project board:

The project board collectively makes decisions about the initiation and implementation of the project, including selecting project managers. They are often responsible for project assurance and final decisions about how to resolve major issues.

Project manager.

The project manager is responsible for the overall project planning and overseeing the implementation of various project stages. They must assemble the teams needed for each stage, define roles within those teams, and work with the teams to set realistic goals and timelines.

Project managers ensure that projects stay within defined cost, time, and other metrics and report progress to the project board. They may also act as a change authority, considering and implementing changes to project plans as needed. However, they generally defer larger changes or decisions that will impact overall project goals to the project board.

Project team.

Individual project teams are responsible for carrying out tasks that generate the end product or deliverables. With the PRINCE2 methodology, teams operate with relative autonomy unless project metrics fall outside predetermined parameters and require manager intervention. Team managers provide regular updates to project managers and ensure assigned team members handle tasks smoothly.

The 7 key processes of PRINCE2.

PRINCE2 project implementation involves seven key processes outlining the work required for project completion. Breaking down the processes like this allows for better organization, planning, and project monitoring to elucidate intermediate goals and enable course correction as needed.

1—Starting the project.

Someone submits a project mandate, requesting the project and indicating project goals. Members of the project board and the project manager may gather information and prepare an initial plan outline.

For example, suppose a company’s IT department needs to replace companywide computers with more updated models. They may submit a project mandate describing why this is needed (to enable more streamlined work, reduce help tickets, and shore up IT security issues) and an initial cost estimate contrasted with costs associated with not performing the upgrade.

2—Directing the project.

The project board convenes to assess project justification. At this point, they may perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine the project’s viability. If deemed viable, the board then develops a more concrete project plan that the project manager further breaks down.

As an example, consider a toy company assessing the project of developing a new toy design. Part of assessing viability would include determining production costs, evaluating how moving resources toward the new product affects other product lines, and assessing potential market interest in the new product.

3—Initiating the project.

The process of project initiation is where the major project planning takes place. A project manager establishes project teams and team leaders, breaks down roles within each team, and specifies budgets and timelines to go along with each task. The project manager also establishes project metrics, procedures, and outcomes, and prepares necessary documentation. At the end of the project initiation, all project stages are well-defined and the project work is ready to begin.

For example, imagine a hospital initiates a project that involves a new streamlined check-in procedure. The project manager will need to determine which hospital departments these changes will affect, specify teams to design any necessary forms or tools for the new procedure, and pick teams to develop a plan for training employees on the new procedure. Indicate a timeline for rollout, considering how to smooth the transition, and specify metrics by which to assess outcomes.

4—Controlling stages.

At each project stage, the project manager assesses progress and intervenes as necessary if the project exceeds the predetermined tolerances. Team leaders may report problems or request changes to plans as needed, and the project manager is responsible for approving adjustments and bringing concerns to the attention of the project board.

Suppose an aerospace manufacturer has taken on the project of developing a new electronic component. Due to supply chain issues, they cannot easily source a part they planned on using in the design, and they have to start over. This gets reported to the project manager, who adjusts the timeline for that stage of development.

5—Managing delivery of the project.

While the project manager focuses on controlling project stages, team managers focus on direct execution of work and quality assurance of final project deliverables. They report results to the project manager, who consolidates information and reports to the project board.

As an example, imagine a food processing plant creates a new frozen vegetable medley as a product. Quality assurance of the product may involve focus group taste-testing and health and safety checks.

6—Managing stage boundaries.

After each stage, the organization assesses outcomes and product quality, extracts lessons learned, and adjusts plans as needed. Reviews occur at the team, project management, and project board levels. The board makes any final decisions about whether to move to the next stage or abandon or revise the project.

Imagine an electric company creating a department focused on setting up solar energy panels in a newly purchased plot of land. After completing a project stage where they evaluated panels from different suppliers, they discover that the overall cost-effectiveness of their venture is not likely to match initial hopes. They may abandon or put the plan on hold as a result.

7—Closing the project.

Once completing the project, the project manager ties up any loose ends. This may include creating documentation, including outcomes assessments or reports to plan and justify future project stages.

Putting PRINCE2 into practice.

The information presented in this article provides an overview of the PRINCE2 project methodology for professionals overseeing deliverables, including project management professionals or members of skillfully managed teams. Putting PRINCE2 into practice may involve an initial investment in training or adapting the overall ideas into your current practices as you see fit.