Getting to grips with PRINCE2

Author - 93digital

Posted By 93digital

Date posted 29th Apr 2020

Category Project Management


Last month I undertook a week long course to gain my certification in PRINCE2 at a foundation and practitioner level. Over the last 3 years working as a Digital Project Manager, I had seen the term PRINCE2 Project thrown around quite a lot, so when the opportunity arose for me to get certified I jumped at the chance. However, going back to a classroom setting and getting homework every night was definitely a strange experience!

PRINCE stands for Projects in a Controlled Environment, it was first created for use in IT projects, but after years of success, it was revised for use in projects of all types (hence PRINCE2). In its most basic form PRINCE is made up of 7 Principles, 7 Themes and 7 Processes. However, the 7th Principle (Tailoring) means that in order for a project to be a PRINCE2 project, the PRINCE2 framework must be tailored to suit that particular project.

One of the underlying themes that runs through all PRINCE2 projects is ‘Continued Business Justification’, meaning at all stages the project must be assessed to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs. Ensuring the viability of a project is always important but especially in the current, uncertain times the UK (and the rest of the world) finds itself in.

The PRINCE2 framework also gives clear guidance on how to manage risk (which in PRINCE2 can be threats OR opportunities). All our projects have varying levels of risk, both in form of opportunities and threats. PRINCE2 encourages you to create a risk register in the early phases of the project in order to identify and subsequently monitor all risks to help minimise any disruption to the project further down the line. It is not uncommon for clients to want/need the outputs of a project ‘yesterday’, therefore when working to tight timelines it is more important than ever to effectively identify and monitor risks, and this is something we would do during the Discovery & Definition phase at the start of the project.

What are some alternative project management methods?

There are many other project management methods such as Kanban and Scrum, but one that has commanded a lot of attention in recent years is Agile. Agile is a project management method that breaks the project down into ‘sprints’ which are then completed in order of importance. Our Project Director, Graham, is certified in Agile project management where recently, he gave us his thoughts on the agile approach in our January internal day. There are various courses in how to use Agile within PRINCE2, something I would be interested in looking into in the future. Our project manager Roz is also a certified Scrum Master and will be sharing her experiences on this soon!

So what is PRINCE2?

At first glance, PRINCE2 is a highly formal, paperwork heavy framework, with 26 different management products and 21 themes, processes and practices to follow. On the surface, it can be quite overwhelming, but one of the key elements of PRINCE2 is tailoring.

Tailoring allows you to amend the framework to suit the industry and project you are working on. The 26 management products may not all be applicable to your project, and it may not make sense for them to be formal documents, they can instead take the form of an email or even a phone call or face-to-face discussion. Every website project we work on, and indeed every project regardless of the industry, is vastly different from one another, therefore it is vital to use a framework that is adaptable.

PRINCE2 breaks projects down into 7 processes:

  1. Starting a project
  2. Initiating a project
  3. Directing a project
  4. Controlling a stage
  5. Managing product delivery
  6. Managing a stage boundary
  7. Closing a project
Source: Knowledge Train

Steps 4-6 are repeated until there are no more stages to be completed.

As a WordPress agency ourselves, step 1 is usually completed by a client in-house, before they get in contact with us, this involves laying out the business case for the project and setting a project manager internally. However, when considering a project we do our own internal version of ‘Starting up a project’ which involves the same steps.

Throughout the course of a project, the clients’ involvement is usually limited to step 3 (‘Directing a project’), which as you can see spans across the lifetime of the project. This is a high-level role that generally stays out of the project unless there is an issue that goes beyond the stage tolerances (e.g. stage 1 must be completed in 1 week +/- 1 day, therefore if stage 1 is predicted to take longer than 1 week and 1 day, it will need to be raised to the ‘directing a project’ level to ensure the project can continue).

Whilst the length of a project, and the number of stages, will vary, all projects will follow a similar structure to the diagram shown above. It’s likely that even if you do not formally adopt PRINCE2 in your projects, your way of working bears some resemblance to the above.

PRINCE2 is a great way to bring structure to your projects as long as you always remember: tailoring is key!

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