Are you yet to get your hands on PRINCE2 books and wondering whether PRINCE2 project  methodology  is all it is cracked up to be? If so I hope my PRINCE2 overview will shed some light on the subject.

Managing projects successfully in business and government can make the difference between profit or loss, money well spent or money wasted. Using a recognized  methodology  to help control and manage projects has now become standard practice and PRINCE2 seems to have become the  methodology  of choice, in the UK public sector, in the private sector and in many countries around the world.

The UK Office of Government Commerce spent over a decade refining the PRINCE2  methodology  and in 2009 published a revised version of the PRINCE2 project  methodology . The official PRINCE2 books are:

Managing successful projects with PRINCE2 (2009 edition) — the evolution of the method.

Directing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 — a new core publication for the project executive and the project board.

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 (2009 edition) is the most commonly purchased book. It is the book that is used in training people in PRINCE2 project  methodology . There are two levels of qualification: PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner.

PRINCE2 Foundation covers PRINCE2 principles and terminology. It equips people that hold the qualification with the knowledge and skills to provide project support and work in an informed way as a member of a project management team on projects that are being run using the PRINCE2 project  methodology .

PRINCE2 Practitioner is the highest level of PRINCE2 qualification. It covers how to apply and use PRINCE2 project  methodology  to managing and running a project. Those people that hold this qualification should be able to work competently using the PRINCE2 project  methodology .

The  methodology  covers the key characteristics of project management, outlines seven project delivery themes and identifies eight processes or stages from idea through execution to completion and evaluation.

The key characteristics of a project:

— Continued business justification.

— Learning from experience.

— Defined roles and responsibilities.

— Managed by stages.

— Managed by exception.

— Focuses on products and their quality.

— Tailored to suit the particular product environment.

Seven Project Delivery Themes

The approach to delivering a project is divided into seven management themes. These themes run right through the project, they are applicable at all stages. The subject matter of each theme must be actively controlled if the project is to be successfully delivered. The seven themes are:

1) Business case: give justification for the project and drives the entire project.

2) Organization: how a project is organized, including interest groups and management.

3) Quality: focuses on delivering outcomes that are ‘fit for purpose’.

4) Plans: how, when and by whom project products and outcomes will be delivered, it includes communications and controls.

5) Risks: threats or opportunities that must be controlled to increase the potential for a successful outcome.

6) Changes: management and control of unexpected issues and changes that emerge during project delivery.

7) Progress: monitoring arrangements to track progress against plans by proactively managing potential variations.

The above seven themes run through and are relevant to eight processes.

Eight Processes

1) Starting up a project: developing a brief for what the project is going to do and identifying a team to deliver it.

2) Planning a project: analyzing what is going to be delivered (products) and planning activities to complete delivery.

3) Initiating a project: bringing together the first two stages to make the business case and getting authority to proceed.

4) Directing a project: designing and implementing project controls through a Project Board, for example when and how stage plans or project close down will be authorised.

5) Controlling a stage: breaking down a project into stages and work packages, managing issues and reporting on progress.

6) Managing product delivery: designing and implementing processes for accepting, developing and delivering work packages.

7) Managing stage boundaries: managing the transition from one stage to the next and end stage reporting.

8) Closing a project: decommissioning and evaluating a project.

Right so now we can deliver perfect projects — or can we?

Experience tells us that adopting a  methodology  does not guarantee a great project. There are still lots of reasons why things go wrong. A few of them are set out below.

— There is a temptation to go straight into things so the PRINCE2 business case gets forgotten, instead of having a nice PRINCE2 business case the start-up phase is rushed, or completely ignored and the organization goes straight into the project initiation stage.

— Projects are often badly planned so they go off track, over spend, or are unable to deliver the intended outcomes.

— Organizing a project using the PRINCE2 project  methodology  requires a strong Project Board but often Project Boards are not strong and do not function well. They may ignore issues, or avoid taking the key decisions they are there to make and so the project goes off track.

— Instead of having clear stages projects are set up with too few stages, so it becomes difficult to monitor or review progress, which means the project can easily go off track.

— The right skills are not identified to ensure the project goes smoothly, or there is no management commitment, so the project just flounders or lacks sufficient resources.

There are hundreds of reasons why a project might fail, but on balance a project is less likely to fail if everyone is working to a common  methodology  and guiding principles — this is why the UK Office of Government Commerce developed PRINCE2.

Every project needs a sound  methodology , whether it is to be PRINCE2, as set out in the PRINCE2 books, or another  methodology , you will have to decide for yourself. However it is probably unwise to ignore PRINCE2. A working knowledge of the PRINCE2 project  methodology  must surely be a good thing.

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