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The 7 principles of PRINCE2 Project Management

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All businesses go through change as they grow and develop and it will become likely that at some stage every business will take on a project of some sort, whether that’s the delivery of a new IT system, reducing wastage in the supply chain or developing a new website.

Many business projects can be complex and protracted affairs that go on for months and take up a lot of precious resources. An understanding of project management will therefore help business leaders to keep things on track and avoid lengthy and costly delays.

Whilst it falls upon the shoulders of a project manager to marshal the various individuals, expertise and resources in order to deliver the project, there will always be some predefined project management methodology that informs what they do and helps them keep track of all the disparate elements.

Project management methodologies bring structure and order to proceedings and one of the most recognised in the world today is the PRINCE2 project management methodology.

The seven principles that sit within this approach are flexible enough to be applied to projects of any size in any industry, and it’s these that we’ll examine in this short guide

1. Continuing business justification

All projects must be justified, not just at inception, but throughout their execution and implementation.

This might sound simple in principle, but when you consider the shifting influence of events, markets, management agendas and evolving corporate strategy, the reality of justifying a project over the long term becomes a little more challenging.

Another perennial problem that threatens business justification is scope creep. This often results from poorly defined goals leading to the misallocation of resources and wildly optimistic timescales.

Benefits and progress must be clearly defined throughout a project’s lifecycle by a steering committee to ensure sustained involvement and buy-in from corporate sponsors and stakeholders.

2. Learnings from prior projects

Precedent is an important principle in project management methodology as it is a powerful aid in risk assessment.

All project planning should therefore begin by examining the ‘learning logs’ of previous projects. These logs will highlight potential areas of difficulty and help set realistic timescales, assess risk and avoid the mistakes of the past.

All projects should in turn keep a log throughout and beyond the life of the project, creating an environment of consistent risk assessment and analysis.

3. Clear roles and responsibilities

It’s important that roles and responsibilities are set out in a clearly defined hierarchy from the start of the project.

Broadly speaking these roles will fall into one of four groups: corporate level (stakeholders and senior management), project board level (often referred to as a ‘steering committee’), project manager level, team level.

A better understanding of roles, will ensure information gets to the right people, there are no gaps or overlaps in day to day project work and that everyone understands who they are reporting to.

Properly defined hierarchy also creates the framework for a better utilisation of resources.

4. Manage in stages

Projects can be better understood, analysed and managed if they are broken down into clearly defined stages, which should be laid out in the planning phase. These will come together to create a sort of roadmap that gives the PM and the project steering committee a high level overview of the project’s progress and future direction of travel.

Big projects can involve very complex and protracted stages that could be seen as a project within the project. By maintaining this high level overview, the project manager (PM) can keep a handle of overall project progress and identify scope creep and slipping timelines in good time to take mitigating action.

5. Manage by exception

One of the founding principles of the PRINCE2 project methodology (and a core principle in any flexible approach to managing projects) is the idea of management by exception. This posits that interference from senior management is only necessary if the situation demands it.

If everyone on the project team knows what they are doing (see principle 3) and the project is properly planned out (see principle 4), then everyone can get on with their job without the need for regular interference and inevitable ‘micromanagement’.

This principle applies right up the chain of command from the PM to the project steering committee and corporate level stakeholders.

6. Product focus

When we talk about a ‘product’ in project management, what we really mean is the end result as compared to the work itself. With that in mind, project management should be product and not work focused.

Products should be clearly defined by their purpose, quality criteria, format and composition and the project should be focused on delivering the product to clearly defined quality criteria.

By focusing on end value, a project manager can then work backwards and define workflow and process in accordance with this end goal.

7. Tailor to your specific environment

A defining feature of the PRINCE2 project management methodology is that it is malleable and not rigid in its approach. This was a recent addition to the methodology after criticism that it was too dogmatic and unwieldy.

Whilst all projects should learn from past projects (see principle 2) there also needs to be an appreciation of the unique environment of each project.

So whilst previous projects can be used as a framework and benchmark, each project plan should be built around the specific requirements of that project.

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by David Baker. David has worked with PRINCE2 Training for many years delivering courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum and Lean Six Sigma. PRINCE2 Training delivers world-class accredited training solutions to thousands of organisations and individuals throughout the world.

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