An introduction to the PRINCE2 processes
A PRINCE2 process consists of tasks structured to attain particular goals, in order to deliver aproject successfully, and they are crucial components of effective management and direction of a project. There are seven, interconnected PRINCE2 processes:
The PRINCE2 process model (below) shows the seven processes. Each process is triggered by a decision or an event (e.g., the project mandate triggers the process starting up a project). The diagram illustrates the chronological order in which the processes are carried out and shows which level of the project management team is responsible.
Starting up a project
The first PRINCE2 process is starting up a project, which takes place prior to the project, is designed to assure the key stakeholders that it will be a reasonable and rewarding undertaking.
The trigger for starting up a project is the project mandate, a document provided by the commissioning organization (often corporate or programme management) to explain the reasons and objectives for the project, as well as, in some cases, high-level estimations of time and cost.
The starting up a project process is carried out once on each project and is oriented towards gaining the authorization necessary for initiating the project. This authorization constitutes the trigger for initiating a project, which is the second PRINCE2 process.
There are six activities involved in starting up a project:
1. Appoint the executive and the project manager
The very first project activity is the appointment of both an executive, who will be responsible for continued business justification on the project and for representing the interests of the business stakeholder on the project board, and a project manager, to whom the executive delegates day-to-day management of the project.
2. Capture previous lessons
A lessons log contains lessons learned on this and other projects. It is crucial to produce a pertinent lessons log, and to keep it up to date throughout the project, in order to facilitate the success of the project. During starting up a project it is populated with lessons we can apply on this project from previous projects.
3. Design and appoint the project management team
To ensure that every necessary role on the project management team is appropriately filled, and that everybody knows who is responsible for each role, it is important to design role descriptions for the project management team. This is chiefly the responsibility of the project manager, while the selection of individuals to fulfil each role is carried out by the executive.
4. Prepare the outline business case
The executive is responsible for creating an outline business case, which contains the explanation for why the project is necessary or useful. The sources used when creating this are the project mandate and the lessons log. After developing the outline business case, a project product description is written which documents the customers quality expectations about what should be delivered from the project i.e. what products must be delivered. Where possible, acceptance criteria are documented i.e. the measurable characteristics of the project (end) product which would make it acceptable to the customer.
5. Select the project approach and assemble the project brief
It is the project manager’s responsibility to create the project approach and the project brief, and to submit these to the project board for approval. The project approach articulates how the project will be carried out (e.g., whether products will be built from scratch or bought off the shelf, etc.).
The project brief details the purpose, constraints, and requirements relevant to the project, and includes the outline business case (provided by the executive), the project product description (created by the project manager, with input from the senior user), and the project approach (with input from the senior supplier).
6. Plan the initiation stage
Before the project can be initiated, the project manager must develop an Initiation stage plan, to be sent, together with the project brief, to the project board. Once these management products have received authorization from the project board, the initiating a project process can begin.
Initiating a project
Every project has at least two management stages: an initiation stage, and at least one stage in which the specialist product(s) are created. The initiating a project process is carried out during the initiation stage, to ensure that the following points are clear to the project management team and the external stakeholders:
- Project tasks
- what will be done
- why it must be done, and what the benefits will be
- how it will be done
- how risks and issues will be kept under control
- how the expected quality will be achieved
- The controls required to monitor and control progress
- Roles and responsibilities
Nine activities form the initiating a project process. These are centered around the development of management products that provide information about the points outlined above, in order to enable the project board to evaluate the project’s viability.
Agree the tailoring requirements
The project manager needs to tailor PRINCE2 to suit the needs of the project and how this will be done will be documented. If this deviates from any corporate guidelines, a justification should be given.
Prepare the risk management approach
Two management products are involved in managing project risks. The risk management approach describes the procedure, roles and responsibilities, and guidelines for managing risks, including the standards for assessing risk impact. The risk register which is setup and will be used to maintain the status of all risks on the project.
Prepare the change control approach
Change control is about how the project management team shall manage and take decisions about changes to baseline products on the project. Closely connected to change control is configuration management which involves maintaining up-to-date records for all products created within a project.
The change management approach describes how changes and configuration management will be carried out within a project. During this activity, the project manager also creates the issue register which will be used to maintain the status of all formal issues throughout the project. An initial set of configuration item records are also set up to keep track of the baseline management products.
Prepare the quality management approach
To facilitate the needs of the users, it is important that their quality expectations be clearly stated, agreed upon, and upheld for the duration of the project. The quality management approach contributes to this, by specifying techniques, standards, and responsibilities for maintaining quality on the project.
A quality register is also set up during this activity. This will maintain the status of all the quality control activities which will be performed throughout the project.
Prepare the communication management approach
Defining the content and frequency of communication activities within the project management team and with external stakeholders is essential to ensuring that everybody knows what is expected of each other and of themselves. The communication management approach defines these communication requirements.
Set up the project controls
In order to enable the project board to effectively delegate everyday project activities to the project manager, it is important to set appropriate levels and mechanisms of control. This includes the following reporting requirements:
- the number and length of management stages
- issue, exception, and change management (capture, analysis, escalation to a higher level of management)
- methods used for monitoring by the different management levels.
Create the project plan
The project plan covering the overall project is created by the project manager in consultation with both the user(s) and supplier(s).
Refine the business case
An outline business case is developed by the executive as part of starting up a project. During the initiating a project process, the project manager expands upon the outline business case with more detailed information, e.g., estimates of cost and time; newly identified (major) risks; expected benefits.
The updated business case contributes to the project board’s decision over whether to authorize the project. It will then be updated at the end of every stage with new forecasts for the project’s time, costs and benefits.
This activity is where the project manager creates a benefits management approach which defines how and when benefits shall be measured, either during the project, or (more likely) after the project closes. The benefits management approach also covers the performance of the project’s products in their operational life, and who is responsible.
Assemble the project initiation documentation
A number of management products are developed during the initiating a project process. Several of these are collected into a single body of documentation, the project initiation documentation (PID), which is presented to the project board, together with the next stage plan, in order to elicit authorization of the next management stage.
Directing a project
The directing a project process enables the project board to delegate day-to-day responsibility of the project to a project manager, while taking important decisions and exercising ultimate control over the project. This is because the project board is accountable for the success or failure of the project.
PRINCE2 describes 5 activities for directing a project. These are chiefly to do with authorizing, advising, and specific instances of direction. For example, the project board might grant formal approval to a baseline document, authorize commitment of resources, or respond to an exception situation.
1. Authorize initiation
Once the project brief and the initiation stage plan have been developed (as part of the starting up a project process), the authorization from the project board is required for the project manager to proceed to the initiation stage.
2. Authorize the project
The project board bases its decision over whether to continue with the project on an evaluation of the project initiation documentation, taking into account the following key points:
- the project’s overall viability
- whether the project plan will deliver the business case satisfactorily
- the strategies (e.g., risk management strategy) and controls (e.g. reporting requirements) are adequate and in place to facilitate the implementation of the project plan
- the existence of a benefits management approach, which enables the measurement and evaluation of the project’s anticipated benefits.
3. Authorize a stage or exception plan
Management stages are a key tool for the project board in exercising high-level control over a project. Authorization must be granted at every stage boundary, and the project board must evaluate project and stage progress to date and review the next stage plan and the updated project plan and business case, in order to decide whether the project remains viable. If not, then the project board should not authorize the next stage.
Authorization is also important if a project requires an exception plan. This happens when a project or stage is forecast to exceed its tolerances. Following its review of the exception report, the project board may instruct the project manager to create an exception plan. This must then be approved, based on similar considerations to those involved in a stage boundary, and subsequently replaces the baseline plan.
4. Giving ad hoc direction
Situations in which the project board might offer ad hoc direction to the project manager include the following:
- requests for advice (e.g., confirming available options for dealing with a project issue)
- delivery of a report (e.g., an exception report, highlight report or issue report)
- alteration of the project environment
- concerns raised by the project board itself, or one of its members
- corporate/programme management decisions
- identification of a risk.
5. Authorize project closure
When all the work on a project has been completed and the project product delivered to the users, the project manager recommends that the project board authorizes closure of the project.
This is the final activity that the project board undertakes, and in order to do so, it must confirm whether the project has achieved its objectives, and that the project has no further contribution to make. Once project closure has been authorized, the project board notifies corporate/programme management.
It is important to note that the project does not need to have achieved its objectives in order for the project board to authorize closure. If the project becomes unviable, then the project board may decide upon its premature closure.
Controlling a stage
Within a PRINCE2 project, as we have seen, the project board retains responsibility for the overall success of the project but delegates the day-to-day management to the project manager. The controlling a stage process describes the activities of the project manager within each management stage of a project (following the initiation stage), including authorizing project work, reviewing stage progress, and submitting the appropriate reports to the project board.
There are eight activities in the controlling a stage process:
1. Authorize a work package
The project manager and the team manager must come to an agreement on the work that will be performed by the team. This is presented as a work package, which will detail the following information:
- what must be produced
- how much it will cost
- how long it will take
- the tolerances for its targets of cost and time etc.
- when reports must be submitted
- configuration management requirements
- who will approve the finished products.
2. Review work package status
While the team is conducting the work needed to complete the work package, the team manager should submit checkpoint reports to the project manager at regular intervals, determined in the work package. The project manager reviews these reports to update the stage plan with information about work completed and adjustment to forecasts for the work remaining in the current stage.
3. Review completed work package
Once the team has fulfilled all of the requirements in the work package and products have been approved, the project manager updates the stage plan to indicate that the work package has been completed
4. Review stage status
The project manager must regularly review the status of the stage in order to ensure control over the progress being made. Mechanisms for enabling this control include reviewing management products such as checkpoint reports (submitted by team managers), the current stage plan, the various registers and logs (i.e. the quality register, issue register, risk register and the daily log), the product status account, and the benefits management approach.
5. Report highlights
In addition to monitoring the stage themselves, project managers should keep the project board appropriately informed. This entails creating the time-driven highlight report, which presents the current achievements and actual progress of the project, and also describes any corrective actions that the project manager may be intended to carry out, as well as forecasts for the remainder of the stage and the project.
6. Capture and examine issues and risks
The project manager must make sure that the various logs and registers employed on a project are kept up to date, in order to provide the framework for referring issues and risks to the appropriate authority and making decisions about the most desirable response. This activity includes two procedures that the project manager must also perform: the risk management procedure, and the issue and change control procedure.
7. Escalate issues and risks
In some cases the project manager will have the authority to handle a risk or issue, but in other cases it is necessary to refer the situation to the project board. This happens when an issue or risk threatens to (or actually does) exceed tolerance levels. This is also known as an exception, and triggers an exception report, which is written by the project manager and submitted to the project board.
8. Take corrective action
In the cases when an issue or risk is not anticipated to exceed tolerance levels, the project manager does not submit an exception report. However, it may still be necessary to take corrective action.
The trigger for this activity is the review stage status activity, and the consequence of this activity is the authorize a work package activity. Thus, the various activities of the controlling a stage process feed into one another in iterative cycles until the stage is complete.
Managing product delivery
The PRINCE2 project management methodology operates on the assumption that the project is based upon a customer/supplier environment. The process managing product delivery describes the tasks and responsibilities of the team manager in their role as supplier, that is, in accomplishing the goals of a work package.
The managing product delivery process involves three steps, which are carried out once for each work package:
1. Accept a work package
It is vital that the team manager and the project manager reach an agreement about the contents of the work package, i.e., what the team will deliver, and what their constraints, tolerances, and resources will be.
Once agreement has been obtained, the team manager creates a team plan, which details what must be done in order to deliver the required products and ensure that appropriate quality activities are carried out.
2. Execute a work package
The team manager is responsible for the work done by the team, within the limits specified within the work package. This includes assigning tasks, monitoring progress, and updating the team plan with information about actuals and new forecasts.
If this new information seems at any point to threaten the agreed tolerance levels, then this constitutes a project issue that must be referred to the project manager.
Although, as mentioned above, responsibility for the work package is delegated to the team manager, it is important that the project manager remains informed of ongoing progress. The team manager should therefore submit regular checkpoint reports at intervals specified within the work package.
3. Deliver a work package
Once the products described by the work package have been created, the team manager must ensure that each product is approved by the appropriate individual, and that all the necessary quality activities have been performed. This is done by checking the configuration item records, which maintain the current status of the products, and the quality register.
Once each product satisfies its approval criteria, it can be handed over. The team manager then updates the team plan to indicate the completion of the work package, and notifies the project manager.
Managing a stage boundary
In order to create regular control points for the project board, a PRINCE2 project must be divided into management stages, at the boundaries of which the project board reviews project progress and decides whether or not to commit further resources to the project.
The purpose of the managing a stage boundary process is for the project manager to prepare for the next management stage, by providing the project board with relevant and accurate information for making a decision about the project’s continued viability. This includes creating a stage plan (or an exception plan), and updating the project initiation documentation.
The managing a stage boundary process involves six activities, which the project manager must perform once during each stage. As noted above, these activities are also carried out when the project goes into exception and an exception plan is required.
1. Plan the next stage
In order to prepare a next stage plan with the appropriate level of detail, the project manager must discuss any alterations to the project approach or acceptance criteria and review the project initiation documentation (created during the initiation stage).
2. Update the project plan
In addition to the creation of a stage plan or exception plan, the project plan must also be kept up to date, through inclusion of the actual results of the existing stage and new forecasts for time and cost for the remainder of the project.
3. Update the business case
It is essential that the business case represent the current anticipated duration and cost of the project, so that the project board is able to make a sound decision regarding the project’s viability.
As part of this activity, the project manager also consults the risk register, to check whether the project’s aggregated risk exposure is acceptable, according to the pre-determined risk tolerance level. If necessary, then the risk register and issue register should also be updated.
Finally, the project manager also assesses the project benefits, by reviewing any benefits reviews carried out during the stage.
4. Report stage end
To obtain authorization to begin the next stage plan, the project manager needs to create a comprehensive end stage report. This document describes the following:
- The performance of the stage that is just finishing
- The general progress of the project to date
- The project’s current risk situation and any project issues
- Current project forecasts
- Alterations to the business case
- If applicable, the results of any benefit reviews.
5. Produce an exception plan
If the managing a stage boundary process is performed in response to an exception, then the project manager is responsible for writing an exception plan (rather than a stage plan). The exception plan is composed in the same way as the stage plan and covers the period from the exception to the end of the stage that it replaces. An exception plan must be approved by the project board before it can be implemented.
Closing a project
A PRINCE2 project does not simply end upon fulfilment of the project objectives (described in the project initiation documentation). The project manager is also responsible for making sure of the following:
- Project products are delivered and approved
- Necessary ongoing maintenance is in place for the products that the project has created
- Benefits reviews have been either satisfactorily conducted or planned
- Preparations have been carried out to deal with unresolved issues and risks following the project.
The closing a project process thus entails five activities, which are carried out by the project manager, according to the circumstances of project closure:
1. Prepare planned closure
Before requesting the project board’s approval to notify the project board of the release of project resources, the project manager must confirm that the expected products have indeed been delivered
This is achieved by entering information about actual products, time, cost etc. into the project plan, reviewing the product status account, and checking the project product description to ensure that the project product meets its agreed criteria.
This activity is performed when coming to the end of the final stage.
2. Prepare premature closure
In some cases, the project board may order premature closure of the project. When this occurs, the project manager must still seek authorization to release project resources, but before doing so must obtain agreement on how any uncompleted products are to be recovered.
The project manager must also enter the appropriate information about the request for project closure into the issue register, update the project plan with final information about the current actuals, and ascertain the status of the project’s products, by reviewing the product status account.
3. Hand over products
Handing over products to customers/users can take various forms. In some cases, all products are transferred as a single release at project closure; in other cases, there may be a phased delivery period. In all cases however, the project product cannot occur without the agreed acceptance criteria being met. This therefore requires that the appropriate acceptance methods are performed.
Before handing over any product, however, the project manager must ensure that adequate preparations for follow-on actions are in place and confirm that the benefits management approach contains planned reviews for any benefits that cannot be assessed until the product is already in use.
4. Evaluate the project
The PRINCE2 methodology is not just about the success or failure of a single project. Continuous improvement of project management methodology and techniques and learning effectively from past lessons both require that the project manager evaluate how a project has been conducted, by measuring project actuals against initial expectations. This evaluation, together with a lessons report, is recorded in an end project report.
5. Recommend project closure
The project board is responsible for recommending that the project board closes the project. Upon approval of this recommendation, project resources are released and the project closes. Once this occurs, no further work is carried out on this project.