Introduction: The PRINCE2 Foundation Training Manual

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The official PRINCE2 manual for the Project Manager is called “Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2”; this is an excellent reference manual. The manual is designed for:

  • Experienced Project Managers who want to learn PRINCE2.
  • Project Managers who want to have a reference manual for PRINCE2.

This PRINCE2 Foundation Training Manual is different from the official PRINCE2 manual in the following ways:

  • It is focused on the Foundation Exam syllabus.
  • It is much more of a training manual and less of a reference manual.
  • PRINCE2 terms are explained with examples, which make it easier to understand.
  • The Manual is written in plain English so that you understand it the first time you read it.
  • We have provided a lot of management documents examples.
  • A project timeline overview has been provided to help understand how a project is divided.
  • Questions at the end of each chapter provide a good way to test your knowledge.
  • Available in PDF format (easier to search and find the information you are looking for).

To summarize, if you want to learn PRINCE2 and prepare for the PRINCE2 Foundation Exam, then use this PRINCE2 Foundation training manual. If you want a very good reference manual, then use the official PRINCE2 manual “Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2”.

What are Projects?

Projects are seen as a way to introduce change, hence they are unique by nature, i.e., two identical projects are never done. Now, some of you may be thinking that in your company the same projects keep repeating. Well, if they are exactly the same, then these are referred to as processes; and processes that repeat are referred to as “business as usual” or operations. Let us start with a more general definition of a project. I got this from Wikipedia:

A project is a unique series of actions designed to accomplish a unique goal within specific time and cost limitations. I like this definition, as it is concise and easy to understand. It mentions terms like “series of actions,” “unique goal” and “within the constraints of time and money.”

Another definition of a project is as follows:

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service.

This might sound like something from Star Trek, but it is actually from the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK®). Now let us hear what PRINCE2 says about what a project is. This is a quote from the manual:

A project is a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case.

You may not have understood this, as you need to know a little more about PRINCE2 first. It should start to make more sense in a few minutes after I explain what is meant by words such as temporary organization and business case, which appear in the definition.

The word organization refers to the project team, the persons involved in the project, and how they relate to each other. Each project has a definite start and end, so it is temporary. Remember, projects that go on indefinitely are referred to as “operations” or “business as usual” and are not projects (e.g., maintenance of a software application). Business Case is one of the documents that exist in a PRINCE2 project. It includes information such as the reasons for the project, the benefits, costs and time information and ROI (Return On Investment) calculation.

Why a Project Management Method?

Project Management deals with planning, delegating, monitoring and controlling the project; in other words, the administration of the project. The role of the Project Manager is to achieve project objectives within the targets set for time, cost, quality, scope, benefits and risk.

Let us look at some typical things that can go wrong in a project:

  • Sample Project: A new house
  • Background information
    • Individual subcontractor firms are used to do the different specialist work (heating, electricity, fittings, etc…).
    • As you can imagine, these subcontractors may need to be managed.
  • Scenario 1:
    • You find out just one week before the plumbers are due to arrive that they may be delayed for one month.
  • Result of this scenario
    • Most of the planned work will be affected.
    • It will be difficult to reschedule other contractors.
    • You may still have to pay part of their costs (current contract conditions).
  • Scenario 2:
    • During the installation of the new window frames, you may find that the allocated space is too small.
  • Result
    • Again, this may affect the rest of the project and throw it off track.

Here you can see that a person (i.e. a Project Manager) is needed to plan the work, monitor the work, do numerous checks and signoffs, deal with risk, deal with issues as they arise, identify areas to cut costs, and so on.

Some other common project failures are:

  • Insufficient product definitions at the start, resulting in the wrong product being developed.
  • Lack of communication, which may cause a black cloud over the project.
  • Poor estimation of time and cost, which may cause the project to run out of money.

And so, I hope you see there is a need for a good Project Management method.

Five characteristics of a project

Projects have a number of characteristics, which is how projects differ from business as usual or a repeating process.

  • Change: Projects are a way to introduce change. Example: A new sales website will change how clients will purchase items.
  • Temporary: There should always be a definite start and end to a project, and it should stop once the required products are created. Ongoing maintenance of a product occurs after the project and is not considered part of the project.
  • Cross-Functional: A project involves people from different business departments and seniority that work together for the duration of the project.
  • Unique: Every project is unique, as there is always something different in each project. Example: Building a 4th house may be different in the following ways: the location is different, there’s a slight difference in the design, there are different owners, and owners want to change some fittings.
  • Uncertainty: As parts of the project are unique, this brings uncertainty, as you are not 100% sure how this is going to work out. Using the above example, the owners might keep changing their mind, some of their chosen house fittings may not arrive in time, temperatures may fall to below zero, etc.

These are the five characteristics of the project.

What is PRINCE2?

PRINCE2 is a generic method for Project Management, so it can be used for any project, from running a 1 to 2 day project for the TV Programme such as “The Apprentice” (a popular TV Programme in the UK and US) to a company acquisition or even to the construction of the main stadium for the London 2012 Olympic games.

PRINCE2 separates the management layer from the work to create the required products that the project has to produce (specialist work). This means that the same management layer can be used for different types of projects. The Management Layer refers to the organization of the project, such as Project Board, Project Manager and Teams. You will see this more clearly when we discuss the process model later.

A PRINCE2 project should include all 7 principles; these will be discussed and explained in the next chapter. The 7 principles are:

(Note: Don’t worry if you don’t understand what these mean for the moment.)

  1. Continued business justification
  2. Learn from experience
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities
  4. Manage by stages
  5. Manage by exception
  6. Focus on products
  7. Tailor to suit the project environment

Six variables / six performance targets

The 6 variables / performance targets are: Timescales, Costs, Quality, Scope, Benefits and Risk. You could also say that these are the six aspects of project performance to be managed during a project.

An easy way to remember them is to use the words TeCQuila SoBeR with Tequila spelled with TeCQ. This will give you Timescales, Costs, Quality, Scope, Benefits and Risks. Or you can use the memory aid BC QRST.

See the following Project Manager dashboard example. It has a dial for each of the 6 performance targets and the Project Manager will keep monitoring them during the project.

project variables

Variable Description
Timescales The question to ask for timescales is, “When will the project be finished?”
Cost Projects have to give a return on investment; therefore, the questions to ask are: Are the costs being controlled? and are we within a budget?
Quality Will the product be usable at the end of the project (in other words, fit for purpose) and are products passing their quality checks?
Scope Is the scope well defined and clear to all stakeholders? Care must be taken by the Project Manager to avoid scope creep, which is to allow new requirements to be added during the project.
Benefits Why are we doing this project and what are the benefits? Benefits must be known, clear, and measurable, and the benefits need to be delivered.
Risk All projects are unique and therefore have risk. How much risk can we take on and how can risk be managed? For example, in a project concerned with building a house, what happens if one of the subcontractors does not show up?

project variables

PRINCE2 deals with the planning, delegation, monitoring and control of all six project variables (performance targets). The PMBoK uses the term “6 competing Project Constraints”

PRINCE2 Structure (Elements)

The PRINCE2 manual says that the PRINCE2 method consists of 4 main parts and PRINCE2 has chosen the word Elements (or Integrated Elements) to represent these 4 parts. These elements are: Principles, Themes, Processes and Tailoring. You can use the structure of this manual to help you remember. First, you have the Principles, then Themes, then Processes and finally, the last chapter, which is Tailoring.

prince2 elements

PRINCE2 Structure

  • Principles: PRINCE2 says that each project should consist of the 7 PRINCE2 principles (in other words, “best practices” or good project characteristics).
  • Themes: Themes answer the question regarding what items must continually be addressed during each project, e.g., Business Case, Organization, Quality, and Change.
  • Processes: Processes provide information on the activities that are carried out during the project and by whom. Processes also answers “What products are to be created and when?”
  • Tailoring: Tailoring answers one of the most common questions from a Project Manager, “How do I best apply PRINCE2 to my project or my environment?”

Benefits of using PRINCE2

As you might possibly imagine, there are many advantages to using a Project Management method; this also applies to PRINCE2. I will list a few of them below. You don’t need to remember these, but it is good to be aware of them. I will also include some examples where necessary.

  • Benefit 1: Best Practice: PRINCE2 has been used for more than 30 years in many thousands of projects, and PRINCE2 keeps learning from these projects. So all the feedback, suggestions, learning from other methods, and discussions have helped PRINCE2 to become a best practice.
  • Benefit 2: PRINCE2 can be applied to any kind of project. This means that PRINCE2 can be used for projects as small as organizing a meeting, to huge projects the size of running an election, organizing a conference, constructing a bridge, or develop an IT System.
  • Benefit 3: PRINCE2 provides a structure for roles and accountability (also referred to as “Roles and Responsibility”). All persons on the Project Team should know what is expected of them. This is even more important for the Project Managers, as they have the duty of checking that tasks are completed as agreed.
  • Benefit 4: PRINCE2 is product-focused; meaning that the product is well-defined at the start of the project and is made known to all stakeholders. As a result, everybody has the same idea of what they are working on and the expected end-product.
  • Benefit 5: PRINCE2 uses Management by Exception. This allows the Project Manager to handle certain project issues, but once an issue goes beyond a certain tolerance, it becomes an exception. It should then be escalated to the next higher management layer. We could say that Management by Exception allows the above-management layer to manage a lower-management layer.
  • Benefit 6: PRINCE2 continues to assess the viability of the project from a Business Case point of view, and this happens throughout the project lifecycle. If, for example, the expected return on investment is no longer probable at any point in the project, then the project should be stopped.

You will see other benefits as you continue with this course.

What does a Project Manager do?

You might already have a good idea about what a Project Manager does, but very often the Project Managers find themselves doing a lot of tasks as they try to keep the project on track. This might seem like a good idea at first, but they will end up not managing the project in the long run.

Let us start at the very beginning. There is a project to do and, therefore, a Project Plan must be created. This is usually one of the first tasks for the Project Manager when the project starts up. They create the plan with help from specialists and it includes tasks such as leading a planning workshop, defining products, activities and dependencies, estimating resources required, scheduling these activities, and defining roles and responsibilities.

The main objective for the Project Manager is to see that the project goes according to the plan. They review the completed tasks, get signoffs, confirm that the following tasks can start, and so on. In other words, the Project Manager monitors how well the work is going according to the Project Plan. I will repeat this line in case you are in an elevator someday and somebody asks what you do. You can say “I monitor how well the work is going according to the project plan.”

Monitor the 6 variables / performance targets

The Project Manager will also constantly monitor the 6 variables we just discussed, and they are part of any project. These are Timescales, Costs, Quality, Scope, Benefits and Risk.

Dealing with Issues

The Project Manager also has to deal with issues as they arise. In the case of small issues, they might choose to handle these themselves (e.g. getting a supplier to work an extra day to solve the issue and get the project back on track). If an issue arises which could force the stage to go beyond the set tolerances, the Project Manager can escalate it to the Project Board.

Speed up the project

Another task of the Project Manager that is sometimes forgotten is to look for opportunities to speed the project up and reduce the costs.

Lastly, I recommend that Project Managers spend the necessary amount of time defining and agreeing on Roles and Responsibilities at the start of the project. Depending on your company, you might need good soft skills to do this. This will benefit the project and could also prevent some stakeholders from passing their work and responsibility back to the Project Manager.

PRINCE2 Foundation Exam & Syllabus

Here is some information on the PRINCE2 Foundation Exam.

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Questions: 75 questions
  • Type: Multiple choice
  • Pass Rate: 50% pass mark
  • Book: You cannot use the PRINCE2 manual during the Foundation Exam

The PRINCE2 Foundation level is aiming to measure whether a candidate could act as an informed member of a project management team on a project using the PRINCE2 method within an environment supporting PRINCE2. Therefore, the candidate must show they understand the structure and key terminology of the method.

This PRINCE2 Foundation Training manual is in line with the PRINCE2 Foundation Syllabus. If you wish to have extra background information, refer to the PRINCE2 Practitioner Training Manual or the official PRINCE2 manual.