PRINCE2 Methodology

PRINCE2 - A Structured Project Management Methodology

PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a process-based method for effective project management. PRINCE2 is a de facto standard used extensively by the UK Government and is widely recognised and used in the private sector, both in the UK and internationally.

Before we go into the specifics of PRINCE2, there are some general points about the subject of project management which should help put everything into context.

Whenever we decide we want to do something, go somewhere, build something, or achieve something, we need to know the answer to some questions:

  • What are we trying to do?
  • When will we start?
  • What do we need?
  • Can we do it alone, or do we need help?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost?

These are the usual questions asked at the start of any project, and the answers are the building blocks of project management - defining what we want to do and working out the best way we can do it.

Structured project management means managing the project in a logical, organised way, following defined steps. A structured project management method like PRINCE2 is the written description of this logical, organised approach.

We know from experience that projects which aren't organised and controlled properly usually go disastrously wrong. London Ambulance and Channel Tunnel, for example, both experienced very public problems of systems not working properly and huge overspend. Structured project management methods have been developed to try to prevent such disasters.

The PRINCE2 Methodology says that a project should have:

  • An organised and controlled start ie. organise and plan things properly before leaping in
  • An organised and controlled middle ie. when the project has started, make sure it continues to be organised and controlled
  • An organised and controlled end ie. when you've got what you want and the project has finished, tidy up the loose ends.

In order to describe what a project should do and when, PRINCE2 has a series of processes which cover all the activities needed on a project, from starting up to closing down.

PRINCE2 Project Management Roles

Project Manager

Organising and controlling a project means that we need to have someone responsible for doing the organising and controlling. This person is called the Project Manager.

The Project Manager will select people to do the work on the project and will be responsible for making sure the work is done properly and on time.

The Project Manager draws up the project plans that describe what the project team will actually be doing and when they expect to finish.

Customer, user and supplier

The person who is paying for the project is called the customer or executive.

The person who is going to use the results or outcome of the project, or who will be impacted by the outcome of a project, is called the user.

On some projects, the customer and user may be the same person. The person who provides the expertise to do the actual work on the project (ie. will be designing and building the outcome) is called the supplier or specialist.

All of these people need to be organised and co-ordinated so that the project delivers the required outcome within budget, on time and to the appropriate quality.

Project board

Each PRINCE2 project will have a project board made up of the customer (or executive), someone representing the user side, and someone representing the supplier or specialist input.

In PRINCE2, these people are called customer, senior user and senior supplier respectively.

The Project Manager reports regularly to the project board, keeping them informed of progress and highlighting any problems he/she can foresee.

The project board is responsible for providing the Project Manager with the necessary decisions for the project to proceed and to overcome any problems.

PRINCE2 Project Management Techniques

Project assurance

Providing an independent view of how the project is progressing is the job of project assurance. In PRINCE2, there are three views of assurance:business, user and specialist. Each view reflects the interests of the three project board members.

Assurance is about checking that the project remains viable in terms of costs and benefits (business assurance), checking that the users' requirements are being met (user assurance), and that the project is delivering a suitable solution (specialist or technical assurance). On some projects, the assurance is done by a separate team of people called the project assurance team, but the assurance job can be done by the individual members of the project board themselves. 

Project support

On most projects there is a lot of administrative work needed: keeping everyone informed, arranging meetings, keeping plans up-to-date, chasing things up, keeping files, etc. Project Managers often do all this work themselves, particularly on smaller projects, but if there are a number of projects going on at the same time a Project Support Office can be setup to help the Project Managers with this work.

PRINCE2 Scope

In today's projects, there are often different groups of people involved, including the customer, one or more suppliers, and of course the user. PRINCE2 is designed to provide a common language across all the interested parties. Bringing customers and suppliers together generally involves contracts and contract management. Although these aspects are outside of PRINCE2, the method recognises the need to provide projects with the necessary controls and breakpoints to work successfully within a contractual framework.

Controlling Change

Apart from describing the different people involved on a PRINCE2 project, and what they are each responsible for, the method also explains how to manage risk, how to manage quality, and how to control change on the project. Risk management is about working out what could go wrong and planning what to do if it does. Quality Management is about checking the quality of work done on the project, either by testing it or reviewing the work in some way.

There are always lots of changes during the life of a project, people change their minds, other things happen which affect what the project is doing. PRINCE2 has a technique of controlling the way changes impact the project in order to prevent the project going off in the wrong direction.

So, PRINCE2 is a method for managing projects. It helps you work out who should be involved and what they will be responsible for. It gives you a set of processes to work through and explains what information you should be gathering along the way. But PRINCE2 doesn't do the work for you, it cannot guarantee that your projects will be successful. Good projects, which deliver quality results, on-time and within budget are dependent on the quality of people involved from Project Board down to individual team members.

Having read this brief introduction to project management and PRINCE2, the next thing to do is go on a training course and find out more!

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