One of the principles of PRINCE2 is that a project should be planned, monitored and controlled one stage at a time. This allows for management control without the need to be involved in the project day by day. It also stops the ‘we have started so we must finish’ mentality that many projects have.

How is this achieved? The Project will be broken up into a number of management stages. Stages provide a point where the key decision makers in the project – the project board can review the project and make a decision on whether the project should continue and resources committed to the next stage of work. The minimum number of stages in a PRINCE2 project is two – the initiation stage and least one delivery stage. The maximum – it depends on the project!

PRINCE2 does not set any rules for how long a stage should be. This will depend on a number of factors, some of which are listed below:

1) The planning horizon – just how sensible it is to plan ahead into the future without it becoming a complete guess. Stages quite simply should be manageable chunks of work.

2) How much direct control of the project the project board actually want. Projects with shorter stages mean more direct control for the project board but more of their time will be required. Longer stages, less control but less time needed.

3) The level of risk – The riskier the project is the shorter the management stages will be giving the project board more control.

The number of management stages needs to be agreed between the project board and the project manager. The project manager will be document this as part of the agreed project controls in the project initiation documentation (PID) during the Initiating a Project process.

So, help your project succeed by managing by stages!

Next up

Why do Projects Fail?

On the Monday morning of a PRINCE2 course one of the first questions I ask delegates are ‘why do projects fail’. It’s my favourite question of the week also! No matter how many times I ask the question it is always the same answers that I receive back from delegates.

Let’s take a look at the most common reasons and what PRINCE2 can do to help.

1) A lack of communication

How often can it be said about an organisation ‘that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing!’. Or possibly just that the project team don’t know who and how to communicate with other members of the team or the projects key stakeholders.

Communication in a project environment is crucial. A Project Manager should know who are the projects stakeholders and what information they require.

During the Initiation Stage in a PRINCE2 project a communication management approach will be produced. This allows the project manager to carry out stakeholder analysis and also document how and when stakeholders will be communicated and engaged with.

2) Lack of change control

Projects are all about change. Projects will change from the plans set out at the beginning. There is nothing wrong with that. PRINCE2 likes change. It just needs to be carried out in a controlled manner. A widely used term in project management is ‘scope creep’. We will all be aware of projects where timescales and costs have spiralled. This is quite often down to adding to the project without taking the time to look at the impact of the change. This allows costs and times to spiral out of control.

To help control change PRINCE2 provides a five step issue and change control procedure to follow when requests for change are raised. The PRINCE2 change theme provides this procedure and it allows us to make informed decisions on whether a request for change should be approved.

3) Roles and responsibilities are not properly defined

One of the PRINCE2 principles is that a project should have defined roles and responsibilities. People should know what their role in the project is and what their responsibilities are. This stops the hands being put up in the air and saying ‘nothing to do with me’ or ‘I thought such and such was dealing with that’ when something happens in the project.

The PRINCE2 organization theme discusses the roles in the project management team and the PRINCE2 manual provides generic role descriptions for each.

4) Lack of (or no!) planning

It’s amazing how many times organisations just jump in and start a project without asking basic questions about what the project needs to deliver, what will be required and how long or how much will it cost. From experience I’ve quite often found organisations say they don’t have the time to ask these questions and put plans in place but always seemed to find the time to fix things when they went wrong because they hadn’t planned in the first place.

In PRINCE2 a focus is put on taking some time up front to ask questions and document what the project is all about. The first couple of processes in PRINCE2 help support this – starting up a project where we look to see if we have a good idea on our hands and then initiating a project where we get to the detail before a decision is made to (or not) authorize the project.

So we’ve touched on a few of the common reasons for project failure (there are plenty more!) but hopefully you can to see how PRINCE2 can reduce the chances of project failure