“Project Management” may be a term that only takes up two words, but the accumulated body of project management knowledge is enormous! So, What’s PRINCE2? Should you care? Our overview of PRINCE2 will give you the answer you’re looking for, as well as some ideas that you can adapt to your own projects.
What is it? PRINCE2 is a specific project management method, and those who are fully conversant with it will have undergone intensive training and received certification. But where does royalty enter the picture? “PRINCE” is an acronym that stands for “PRojects INControlled Environments.”
Why the number 2? PRINCE2 has a predecessor. It may not be as aristocratic sounding as PRINCE2, but it formed the basis for its development. PRINCE2 is an improvement on PROMPT II (Project Resource Organisation Management Planning Techniques), a systematic project management approach developed by Simpact Systems way back in 1972.
In 1989, the UK government adopted it as the standard it wanted information technology project managers to use. Because it was used by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), the UK government referred to it as “PROMPT II IN the CCTA Environment,” later amending the name to PRINCE2, the one we know today.
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Is it only for IT projects? The beauty of PRINCE2 is that it works for more than just IT-related projects. By the year 1996, project managers recognized it as a generic approach that could work for just about anything. The UK government later sold the rights to PRINCE2 to the private sector, and its use spread throughout the UK, Europe, and Australia. Today, you can find PRINCE2 training and certifications offered in just about any country in the world.
Meanwhile, PRINCE2 has kept up with the times with revisions aimed at addressing feedback from PRINCE2 practitioners and the changing needs of the business environment.
The Seven Principles of PRINCE2
Let’s get down the basics of what PRINCE2 consists of. First, we have seven overarching principles to bear in mind:
1. Continued Business Justification
As a business owner or project manager, you’re sure to agree that every project you embark on should be worth doing. More specifically, it needs a business case to support it. Simply put, this means that the benefits to be accrued from the project should exceed its costs. Determining and capturing the business case for a project is one of the first things a PRINCE2-trained project manager does.
2. Learn from Experience
There’s no point in reinventing every part of a project. Yes, certain of its elements will be one-of-a-kind, but there will always be elements that are very similar to those tackled by the same organization in the past. When the organization doesn’t have experience, it can learn from other organizations or individuals who are willing to share information and provide valuable insights. By reducing the number of unknowns, PRINCE2 project managers are able to reduce risk.
3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities
This principle might look as clear as daylight from its title. After all, you aren’t going to get anything done until everyone knows what to do and who does it. But there’s more to it than meet the eye. Stakeholder involvement is also key to this principle. Business sponsors, users, and suppliers all need to representation on the Project Management Team and its Board.
From this process, a project management structure can be developed, and this will inform each person involved in the project as to what they’re expected to do, what they can expect others to do, and who to turn to for decision-making.
4. Manage by Stages
We already know that the best way to handle complex projects is to split them up into stages, but PRINCE2 stipulates the need for management stages punctuated by “Control Points.” Control Points are times when the project board will evaluate the project so far and adjust future stages based on what’s happened to date. Thus, the project is based on a high-level overall plan, but each stage has its own, detailed plan.
5. Manage by Exception
There’s quite a complex framework for management by exception in PRINCE2. The simple explanation is that specific parameters are set, and variations in the project should only happen in very specific circumstances. The elements under consideration are time, cost, quality, scope, risk, and benefit. Essentially, management by exception means determining what variations from the plan are “small stuff” that shouldn’t be a problem, and what variations are serious enough to warrant management attention.
6. Focus on Products
Every project works towards a final product. Every stakeholder should have an extremely clear picture of the project will produce. So, before a project can begin, and throughout its execution, there has to be a strong definition of the product that guides how the project is tackled. The product description for the project defines both the product itself and the expected quality criteria to be met.
7. Tailor to Suit the Project Environment
You can adapt PRINCE2 to small or large projects in just about any context, but the way you use it will depend on the project’s environment. The environment is the one created by the organization that commissions the project, and the project management team must align the project to that as well as the complexity, scale, scope, and risk of the project. For example, if you’re handling a dinner event for ten executives, risk management isn’t as much of an issue as it would be if you were building a skyscraper.
The Seven Themes of PRINCE2
PRINCE2 themes are activities that your project team must attend to before the project can begin. They are extremely important because your project team will use them to monitor and maintain the project all the way up to completion and closure. In short, they are:
- The Business Case: Why does the project exist? Does this reason remain valid throughout the project?
- The Organization: Which job title does which step? What are they responsible for? Who makes the decisions?
- The Plans: What is the description of the product the project is to achieve? What is the high-level project plan? What stages are there and what are the detailed stage plans?
- The Quality Theme: What key quality characteristics do the stakeholders want? How will the project team know if it is on track in terms of delivery to expectation?
- Risks Theme: What elements of the project can’t be learned by experience? How can we manage these uncertainties to limit risk?
- The Change Theme: Projects can change as they develop. The change theme deals with how requests for change will be assessed, what actions will take place when there is a request for change, and how changes can be managed.
- The Progress Theme: This theme covers project controls, reporting, and ongoing progress tracking as well as well as how to control variations that exceed the agreed tolerances.
The Seven Processes of PRINCE2
So far, we have a lot of guiding principles and a set of “themes.” They all make excellent sense, but what is the process that PRINCE2 practitioners follow? Only once we understand the “what” can we decide how important PRINCE2 may or may not be and why it might matter to our projects. Once again, a quick and simple overview is in order.
- Starting a Project: The project team, including its manager, are appointed, and an initial brief is given.
- Initiating the Project: The business case is formulated, and the project initiation document is compiled.
- Directing the Project: A set of procedures that will be used to oversee the project is decided on and will be implemented
- Controlling a Project Stage: How each stage will be evaluated in order to determine whether it is satisfactorily completed.
- Management of Product Delivery: How the project manager interacts with team leaders and how they should go about receiving, completing, and finalizing project work.
- Managing Stage Boundaries: In this process, a project moves from one stage to the next. How and when does each stage end, and how and when will the new stage begin?
- Closing the Project: This indicates when the project will be closed including any follow-ups that will take place as well as a final evaluation of the project’s benefits.
Documentation or Management Products
If you follow the PRINCE2 manual, you will see that there are 26 different templates for project documentation. In PRINCE2 project management, these documents are called “management products.”
Without feeding you the whole manual, we can at least say that these documents cover every aspect of the PRINCE2 methodology we’ve discussed so far.
They include a benefits review plan, the business case documentation, checkpoint reports, a communications management strategy, daily logs, end project reports, issue registers, and even a lessons log for recording lessons learned.
The project brief document kicks off the initiation stage, and this evolves into the project initiation document. Other important documentation includes the quality register in which quality control activities are detailed, scheduled, and allocated to specific people, and finally, the risk register records all the risks that the project involves.
That’s not all, though. The 26 document types are only meant for the high-level management of the project. The PRINCE2 manual offers some suggestions for the documentation task managers could use but doesn’t lay down a hard-and-fast template or rule. Other documents it suggests include PERT charts, Gantt Charts, and critical path analysis.
Why PRINCE2 Matters
Even if you’ve never heard of PRINCE2 before, you can see that it provides a comprehensive framework for project management. Project managers who use PRINCE2 are qualified practitioners who have to undergo extensive training and assessment, so PRINCE2 certification shows competence in the methodology.
However, PRINCE2 is not the only way to achieve project management certification and manage projects. Project Management Professional (PMP) competes with PRINCE2 in the global marketplace. It is usually preferred in North America while PRINCE2 is widely used in the UK, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Together, PMP and PRINCE2 are the most widely used methods for managing projects. That, in itself, indicates the significance of PRINCE2. But what are its drawbacks? Most criticisms of PRINCE2 are directed at its complexity. There’s too much documentation, and there are too many reports, logs, and lists.
Some Project Managers are inclined to say that PRINCE2 isn’t suited to smaller projects, but the authors of PRINCE2 say it’s up to you to adjust the methodology to suit the project and its scale. They don’t expect you to follow it like a robot.
The advantages of PRINCE2 are that it offers a reasoned approach to projects, and although you might not be busy on anything as complex and risky as a multi-million-dollar development, you can still use its principles, themes, and processes. Since PRINCE2, is flexible, you can decide what to apply, and what you would rather omit. For a really small project, just knowing and following the basics of PRINCE2 could help you to achieve client satisfaction with an acceptable project outcome.