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Throughout my career, most of the projects I’ve done where based upon the Prince2 project management methodology. I say based upon, because Prince2 is so vast that it’s best to use it as a framework, and use the parts that are relevant to your projects. I’ve done projects that take a week’s time, and projects that take multiple years. Both those extremes can be managed using the Prince2 methodology, but of course in the first example you only use a few of the parts from the method while in the later example it makes sense to have a more strict approach. But let me give you a short introduction to how Prince2 actually works:

But First, What is a Project?

According to Wikipedia:

A project consists of a concrete and organized effort motivated by a perceived opportunity when facing a problem, a need, a desire or a source of discomfort. It seeks the realization of a unique and innovative deliverable, such as a product, a service, a process, or in some cases, a scientific research. Each project has a beginning and an end, and as such is considered a closed dynamic system.

So basically, it’s something that has to happen (fix something, create something) within a certain pre-defined time (a beginning and an end)


It All Starts With a New Idea

A project always starts with an idea. Somebody (mostly with some authority) thinks that it could be good to bring some change to the organization. These idea’s typically come from either Corporate (Senior management), Programme (Program Management) or Customer (a customer requests something from you). Prince2 calls this Corporate/Programme/Customer construction the CPC.

The Idea could be a software that is used in the company and about to reach End Of Life, so an upgrade is needed, or an event that somebody wishes to organize, like the launch of new product, or a new building to benefit the organization’s need. Let’s say that maybe 1 or 2 out of 10 idea’s actually happen. So what happens to those Idea’s, and how is the idea validated against the needs of the organization and the money available? That’s the next step.

CPC Appoints an Executive

The Executive is the person who owns the Business Case. In small projects this Executive can easily be the CPC itself, but in larger constructs this is delegated to somebody with authority and autonomy to oversee the project. The Executive is not the person who does the daily tasks in the project, but he is the “Boss” of the projects. The Executive has to appoint three other roles to continue the project:

  1. The Project Manager
  2. The Senior User(s)
  3. The Senior Supplier(s)

Before I get to the Project Manager, let me first describe the other two: The Senior User(s) and Senior Supplier(s). Since these together with the Executive form the Project Board (also known as the Steering Comity). The project board is the organ which directs and makes informed discissions. That is why one or more Senior Users are needed. Senior users represent the people who will in the end actually use the product or service. So they need to thoroughly understand the requirements and protect that all the needs of the project are fulfilled. The Senior Users can typically be the head of sales with one or two colleagues when the project is used to create a new Sales application. While the Senior Supplier(s) are the people responsible for actually making the product or service. It is their job to make sure that all promises are possible within scope and budget.

The project manager is the person who actually runs the project. He first receives the Project Mandate, also known as the initial idea. This mandate can be in the form of a note on a post-it, a discussion during a meeting or an actual written document describing the idea. It’s his job to figure out, with input from other people, whether the Project Mandate is viable to initiate a project. He will turn the Project Mandate into a Project Brief, I’ll tell you later what exactly that is. The project manager is expected to be a good communicator and listener. He can figure out the exact needs while turning them into scope and understanding the implications of the budget needed for all that. He or she also has to be good at managing people and understanding the needs of every component or person within the project.

I did not yet tell you that in Prince2 a project is run in stages: The project is cut into smaller pieces to be able to swallow each stage instead of doing it all at once. Well, at the end of each of those stages, according to Prince2, it is the idea that the Project Manager sits together with the Project Board to decide if the project is still running according to plan, and if adjustments are needed or the Project can even be killed of completely. There the Project Manager will represent a report of the progress made and the plan for the next stage.

The Project Brief

I mentioned the Project Brief already earlier. It is a document that describes the why, what, who and how much. It’s not expected to be hundreds of pages, but it has to be clear for the Project Board to understand what will happen.

Let’s start with the Why. This comes from the Project Mandate (you know, the Initial Idea on a note). The Project Manager will use this together with input from the Senior User(s) to formally describe why the project is a good idea.

Then the What. This is the longer part of the document. It can typically be one or a few pages, describing the scope, quality and risks expected within the project.

Followed by Who. Here the Project Manager describes his own name, together with all the members of the Project Board. These people are also know as the Project Team.

And then an estimate of the cost: the How Much. A calculation of the budget needed to run this project.

First Discission of the Project Board

Now it’s time for the Project Manager to present his report (the Project Brief) to the Project Board. He does this with a detailed plan of the next stage of the project (Initiation, more about that later). It is the responsibility of the Project Board to make a well-informed decision if it is worth moving on with the project. Because as you might remember from the beginning, not every Idea is a good one to execute.