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 by the UK Government, widely recognised and practised in the private sector in the UK and internationally.
Before getting specific about PRINCE2, these are some general points about project management. They should help put everything into context.
Whenever we want to do something, build something, achieve something or go somewhere, we need to answer 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. They define what we want to do and the best way we can do it.
Structured project management is ordering the project into defined steps to make it logical and organised. PRINCE2 is the written description of this approach.
We know from experience that unorganised, poorly controlled projects usually go disastrously wrong. London Ambulance and Channel Tunnel publically experienced system failures and huge overspend. Structured project management methods exist to prevent such disasters.
The PRINCE2 framework says that a project should have:
- An organised and controlled start, i.e. organise and plan before leaping in.
- An organised and controlled middle, i.e. keeping projects organised and controlled.
- An organised and controlled end, i.e. when you've got what you want and the project has finished, tidy up the loose ends.
To describe what a project should do and when, PRINCE2 has a series of processes. These cover all the activities needed on a project, from starting up to closing down.
PRINCE2 Project Management Roles
The Project Manager takes on the responsibility of organising and controlling.
The Project Manager will select people to do the project work and ensure it's done properly and on time.
The Project Manager draws up the project plans that describe what the project team will be doing and when they expect to finish.
Customer, user and supplier
The customer or executive pays for the project.
The user is 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.
On some projects, the customer and user may be the same person. The supplier or specialist provides the expertise needed to do the project work (i.e. designing and building the outcome).
They all need organising and co-ordinating so that the project delivers the required outcome on time, on budget and up to quality.
Each PRINCE2 project has a project board. It’s made up of the customer (or executive), someone representing the user side and someone representing the supplier or specialist input.
In PRINCE2, they are the customer, senior user and senior supplier respectively.
The Project Manager reports regularly to the project board. The board is informed of progress and any foreseeable problems.
The project board provides the Project Manager with a set of necessary decisions. They determine how the project will proceed and overcome its problems.
PRINCE2 Project Management Techniques
Project assurance provides an independent view of how the project is progressing. In PRINCE2, there are three views of assurance: business, user and specialist. Each view reflects the interests of the three project board members.
Business assurance is checking that the project remains viable in costs and benefits. User assurance is checking that the users' requirements are being met. Specialist or technical assurance ensures the project is delivering a suitable solution.
On some projects, assurance is done by a dedicated project assurance team. Otherwise, individual members of the project board can do the assurance job.
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. If many projects are going at the same time, a Project Support Office can be setup to take on some work.
In today's projects, there are often different groups of people involved. They include the customer, one or more suppliers, and of course the user. In project management, scope means working out what the project should achieve and how to do it. That's not always easy with all these different groups involved.
PRINCE2 provides a common language across all the interested parties. Bringing customers and suppliers together generally involves contracts and contract management. These aspects are outside of PRINCE2. However, the method recognises the need for a project's controls and breakpoints. That allows projects to succeed in a contractual framework.
PRINCE2 does more than describe the different people involved in a project, and what they're 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 checking the quality of work done on the project. This is either by testing it or by reviewing the work in some way.
There are always changes during the life of a project. People change their minds and other things happen which affect what the project is doing. PRINCE2 has a technique of controlling the impact of changes. This is to prevent the project going off in the wrong direction. PRINCE2 Agile goes even further. It integrates methodologies that make projects more flexible and responsive.
So, PRINCE2 is a method for managing projects. It helps you work out who to involve and what their responsibilities are. It gives you a set of processes to work through and explains what information to gather 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 within budget, depend on the quality of people involved. This includes everyone from Project Board down to individual team members.
After reading this brief introduction to PRINCE2, the next step is to go on a training course and find out more!