PRINCE2 Themes

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PRINCE2® states that PRINCE2 themes are the parts of the project that need to be continually addressed throughout the project. Another way to explain is by saying that PRINCE2 Themes are knowledge areas, so each theme provides knowledge (how to do) on a specific area of project management, such as the Business Case, Planning, Risk, Quality, etc. Consider the following question for a moment:

Question: What activities will you do at the start of the project to set it up, define it and use to monitor and maintain the project throughout its lifecycle?

The answer to this question will be the PRINCE2 themes:

  • Each project needs a Business Case to define the reason for doing the project and to check to see if this reason is still valid during the project. This is covered in the Business Case Theme.
  • We need to know who is who, what they are doing, their responsibilities,.. This is covered in the Organisation Theme.
  • We need to create the Product Descriptions and then create a Project Plan and Stage Plans to guide the project and produce the products. This is covered in the Plans Theme.
  • We need to monitor how the intended products will match users expectations so the products can be used as expected. This is covered in the Quality Theme.
  • We also need a way to evaluate and manage uncertainties. This is covered in the Risks Theme.

Remember that PRINCE2 Themes are activities done at the start of the project to set it up, and that then they are used to monitor and maintain the project until it is closed.

PRINCE2 Themes should also be tailored to suit each particular project. This will depend on the project and the environment you are working in. For example, if you are building a lunar module, you have only one chance to get it right, so the Quality and Risks themes would be used in much detail.

Business Case Theme

PRINCE2 Themes: The Business Case helps to answer questions like:

  • Why are we doing this project?
  • What are the business reasons?
  • What are the benefits for the organisation?

It is necessary to see if there is a valid Business Case at the start of the project and how to check if the Business Case is still has value throughout the project. The Executive is responsible for creating the Business Case, but it can get help from others. For example, the Executive might involve a person from the financial department to assist with all financial information.

The project mandate document usually contains some Business Case information. It the startup process, this is expanded into the outline Business Case and will become part of the Project Brief. It is then further expanded to a separate Business Case document, which becomes part of the PID.

Business Case documents during a PRINCE2 project

Startup: The outline Business Case is written by the Executive and becomes part of the Project Brief

Planning: The Business Case document is created during the Initiation Stage from outline Business Case. The cost details for the project comes from the Project Plan document

The Benefits Review Plan (BRP) is a plan to review the benefits and benefits can be reviewed during or after the project (project depending). Most of the expected benefits objectives come from the Senior User

business case theme

Stage Boundary: The Business Case is a living document so it changes during the project. E.g. If the project is 50% behind schedule then the ROI value will change. During each Stage Boundary, the Project Manager updates the Business Case and it will be reviewed by the Project Board to check that the project is still worth doing.

Benefits Review Plan: In some projects, products may be delivered to the clients during the project, so will be possible to check if the products deliver the expected benefits and these can be measured. e.g. Software projects. The Project Manager will add the results to the BRP file and will also mention these reports in the End Stage Report.

Closing a Project: The Business Case is last updated just before the project is closed and the Project Manager is also able to add the final projects costs. The Project Manager will normally update the ROI and will also use information from the Benefits Review Plan. The Project Board will later compare the updated Business Case with the Business Case from the Initiation stage and will use this to evaluate the project and see how the Business Case has changed.

Benefits Review Plan: The Project Manager will leave the project once the project is closed, so they need to plan the next Benefit reviews that will take place after the project is closed. e.g. each 6 months for the next 4 years. These meetings will normally take place between the Senior User and somebody from the Corporate or Program Management. The Project Manager will also include benefits information from the last delivery stages. (End of PRINCE2 Themes : Business Case)

Organization Theme

PRINCE2 Themes: The Organization Theme helps to answer the following questions:

  • Who is who in the project?
  • Who is sponsoring the project?
  • Who is responsible for the Business Case?
  • Who represents the Users and Suppliers?
  • What are the exact roles and responsibilities?
  • Who is the Project Manager?

A PRINCE2 project is based on a customer/supplier environment. One party is the customer, who will specify the result and most likely pay for the project. The other party is the supplier, who will provide the resources, do the work and deliver the results. The Organization Theme provides information on the Project Management Team, and its structure and accountability.

PRINCE2 states that a successful Project [Management] Team should:

  • Have Business, User and Supplier representation.
  • Have defined responsibilities for directing, managing, and delivering the project.
  • Have an effective strategy to manage communication flows to and from stakeholders.

Organization documents during a PRINCE2 project

Startup: The upper layers of the Project Management Team are appointed (e.g. Senior User, Executive, Senior Supplier, Project Manager, Change Authority. The Senior User and Senior Supplier maybe one of more persons).

organisation theme

Planning: The Communication Management Strategy document (template) is updated and the main effort goes into the Stakeholder Analysis and deciding how and when to communicate with the different stakeholders during the project.

The Project Management Team roles are updated to suit the project and this document becomes part of the Project Brief. Many projects use the project roles that are defined in the official PRINCE2 manual and customize an necessary.

Stage Boundary: It is not always possible to keep working with the same people in a project, so PRINCE2 recommends that changes should be made to the Project Management Team during the Stage Boundary Process and these changes should be reported in the End Stage Report. (End of PRINCE2 Themes : Organization)

Quality Theme

PRINCE2 Themes: The Quality Theme helps to answer the questions:

  • What quality level must the product be at by the end of the project so that it can be correctly used as intended, or in other words, be fit for use?
  • What can we do to check the quality during the project and make sure the project delivers the required level of quality?

This theme helps to uncover the quality requirements. The PRINCE2 approach to quality is to focus on products as early as possible, question the level of quality expected of each product produced in the project, and then document this in the Product Descriptions.

The Quality Management Strategy document is used to define how quality will work in the project, such as standards to be applied and the various responsibilities for achieving the required quality levels during the project.

Quality documents during a PRINCE2 project

Startup: The Project Product Description (PPD) is the main product description and it provides a vision of the end product and lists the product features (acceptance criteria) that must be provided for the customer to accept the final product.

Planning: The Quality Management Strategy is normal provided by the company and is slightly customized to suit the project; it provides an overview on how quality is planned, controlled and reported.

The Product Description contains the quality information for each product so the development team knows what they have to do to deliver the product. e.g. Quality criteria for GSM Battery: recharge 80% in < 20 minutes.

quality theme

Quality Register: The quality criteria can then be added to the Quality Register with information about who will test it, who will approve these test, and the expected date for delivery and tests (when known) .

Stage Boundary: New Project Descriptions can be created and updated when planning a next stage and these product descriptions, which include quality criteria, are part of the Next Stage Plan.

Controlling a Stage: These Product Descriptions are given in Work Packages to the delivery team and the team delivers the products to the required level of quality. The products are then inspected after delivery and the results are added to the Quality Register

Closing a Project: At the end of the project the final product will be handed over to the client. The client will use the Acceptance Criteria (check list), which was defined in the Project Product Description to confirm that the product meets their expectations and the project can be closed. (End of PRINCE2 Themes : Quality)

Plans Theme

PRINCE2 Themes: This Theme helps to answer questions such as:

  • How to go about creating the project product
  • What will be the steps involved?
  • How to do product based planning?
  • What quality has to be attained
  • How much will it cost?
  • What will be the level of detail required for each plan?
  • Who from the Organization is involved and what is their responsibility?
  • When will certain things be done?
  • Who needs to receive a copy of the plans?

A PRINCE2 plan is not just a Gantt chart; it is a lot more comprehensive than that. It is a document that describes how, when and by whom a specific target or set of targets is to be achieved. These targets will include the project’s products, timescales, costs, quality and benefits. There is a lot of text in a plan to help explain what will happen.

The Project Plan is updated at the end of each stage to show what has been done, the products developed so far, and the plan for the next stage. The project plan gives an updated picture of the status of the project that can be compared against the baselined Project Plan to see how well the project is going when compared to the original plan.

You will learn about the different levels of plans: (a) the Project Plan, which is a high-level plan and is mostly used by the Project Board; (b) the Stage Plan, which acts as a day-to-day plan for the Project Manager; and (c) the Team Plan, which is used by the Team Manager.

Plans documents in a PRINCE2 project

Startup: The Project Product Description (PPD) is the main product description and it provides a vision of the end product. It is a high-level document and should be no more that 1 to 3 pages.

The first plan to be created by the Project Manager is a plan for the Initiation Stage, which defines the expected deliverables, resources, schedule for the planning (Initiation) stage.

Initiation Stage: The Product Based Planning technique is used to create the Product Breakdown Structure, the Product Descriptions and the Product Flow Diagram. The majority of the effort goes into writing the Product Descriptions and the Project Manager will work closely with the client and Team Managers. These Product Descriptions form the majority of the Project Plan. The Project Manger will also include a high level schedule for the whole project.

plans theme

Stage Boundary: The Stage Plans are created in the Stage Boundary processes to plan for the next stage. This may also involve updating existing Product Descriptions or creating new ones. Exception Plans are only created when the existing stage has gone out of tolerance.

The Project Plan should also be updated during each Stage Boundary process to show what has been delivered and to update the forecast for the end of the project, which will also impact the cost of the project.

Managing Product Delivery: The Team Manager creates Team Plans and they can use any technique they prefer. The Project Manager is only interested that the expected products are delivered to the required level of quality.

Closing a Project: At the end of the project, the Project Plan should be updated to show: 1) What has to be delivered, 2) What was not delivered, 3) Delivery dates, 4) The final cost of the project. (End of PRINCE2 Themes : Plans)

Risk Theme

PRINCE2 Themes: Each project is unique, as it tries to do something new. There is always a certain amount of risk attached to each project. This Theme helps to uncover the following information:

  • What are the risks?
  • What if the risks happen?
  • How can risks be identified, analyzed and documented?
  • How can the possibility of risk be reduced?
  • How can risk be managed and monitored throughout the project?

Risk is an uncertain event or set of events that if they should occur, would have a positive or negative effect on the project. The word Threat is used to describe a risk that would have a negative impact on the project’s objectives. The word Opportunity is used to describe a risk that would have a favorable impact on the project’s objectives.

See Risk as having an impact on the project’s objective rather than on the project itself. In other words, a risk can impact what the project wishes to achieve. Risk Management refers to the procedure to follow to identify and assess risk. Moreover, it refers to planning and how to respond to these risks. The Risk Management Strategy document describes the specific Risk Management techniques.

Risk documents during a PRINCE2 project

Startup: Some of the major risks can be added to the outline Business Case section of the Project Brief but this is usually very brief. The majority of the known risks are added to the Daily Log for the moment and they will be transfered to the Risk Register in the Initiation Stage.

Initiation Stage: The risks are added to the Risk Register and the Project Managers facilitates the gathering of risks from all project stakeholders. Only a summary of the major risks will be added to the Business Case document so they will be available to the Project Board.

The Risk Management Strategy document will be slightly tailored if necessary for the project and will it will describe how Risk Management should be carried out in the project.

risk theme

Stage Boundary: The risk information in the Business Case can be updated if the Project Board needs to be made aware of this.

Controlling a Stage: The Highlight Report is also use to report risk information to the Project Board during a stage. The Risk Register is constantly being updated during the Controlling a Stage process as risks are being removed; new risks are added and known risks are being updated. (End of PRINCE2 Themes: Risk)

Change Theme

PRINCE2 Themes: All projects will have issues and most projects will have requests for change, as in new requirements. This Change Theme deals with the question: “What is the impact of this issue?”

Therefore, this theme describes (1) how the project can assess these issues and requests, (2) how to act upon and (3) how to manage them. All of these issues and changes can have a direct impact on the original Project Plan. Any proposed change must be correctly dealt with. All projects need a good Issue and Change Management approach from identification, assessment and control of issues.

Issues and Change Control happen during the full lifecycle of the project. Remember, the objective is not to prevent changes but to get changes agreed upon and approved before they can take place. The Change Theme also covers Configuration Management. Each project requires a Configuration Management System, which tracks products, issues and changes. The Configuration Management Strategy document describes how issues and changes will be handled in the project. It will answer questions such as:

  • How should products be planned, identified, controlled and verified?
  • How should issues and changes be handled?
  • What tools will be used (e.g., SharePoint, Niku Clarity, Shared Drive)?
  • What data should be kept for each product (e.g., Product Description, Configuration Item Records, etc.)?

Change documents during a PRINCE2 project

Initiation Stage: The Configuration Management Strategy document is slightly tailored for the project and this describes the process for managing change and configuration management in the project. The Issue Register is created and known issues are added.

Configuration Item Records can be created for each of the products defined in the Product Breakdown Structure or when the Product Descriptions are first created.

Stage Boundary: Product Status Accounts are simple reports about the status of products at the end of a stage and can be the result of a query on a CMDB or a spreadsheet filter.

change theme

Controlling a Stage: The Issue Report is used to alert the Project Board if a certain issue is forecasted to bring the stage out of tolerance. The Project Board will offer advise to the Project Manager. The Issue Register is constantly being updated as new issues are arising and information about existing issues can change.

Configuration Item Records: The meta data of the products change as products change status: e.g. Product Description complete, to develop in stage X, under development, quality tested, approved…

Closing a Project: A last Product Status Accounts is created to show the current status of all products at the end of the project. This report is given to the people who will maintain the main product after the projects ends.

The Configuration Item Records are also updated for the last time and handed over to the people who will maintain the main product after the projects ends. (End of PRINCE2 Themes : Change)

Progress Theme

PRINCE2 Themes: During the project lifecycle, the project needs to be monitored. Highlight and Stage reports have to be written to show how the project is progressing in relation to the agreed plan. Checks must be done to ensure that the escalation process is working correctly. It is necessary to continually evaluate throughout the project lifecycle whether the project should be continued or not.

This theme, therefore, addresses the following concerns:

  • How the project will be controlled;
  • When reporting will be done;
  • Where we are now compared to the plan; and
  • Is the project still viable?

The purpose of the Progress Theme can be explained in three parts:

  • To establish how to monitor and compare actual achievements against those that have been planned.
  • To provide a forecast for the project objectives and the project’s continued viability.
  • To be able to control any unacceptable deviations.

In other words, Progress is about checking development of the project when compared to the plan, checking the project viability, and controlling any deviations. Control is all about decision-making and is central to project management, so as to ensure that the project remain viable against its approved Business Case.

Progress documents during a PRINCE2 project

Initiation Stage: Progress Controls is a section or document in the PID that shows how the project will be control and covers such things as: tolerances, # of stages, lengths of stages, frequency and type of reports etc. Product Descriptions contain the information of the level of quality that must be reached for each product to be accepted. Project Plan contains the tolerance information for: Time, Cost, Quality, Scope, Benefits and Risk. Benefits Review Plan contains that expected benefits and become an important gauge the continuous value of the project.

progress theme

Stage Boundary: The End Stage Report is use to report on the status of progress at the end of a stage.

Controlling a Stage: Tolerances (Time, Cost, Quality, Risk) are set by the Project Manager in Work Packages that are handed to the Team Managers. Highlight Reports are used to report on progress to the Project Board and an Exception Report is used to report if the current stage is forecasted to go out of tolerance

Managing Product Delivery: Checkpoint Reports are used by the Team Manager to report on progress to the Project Manager.

Closing a Project: The End Project Report is used to report on the performance of the whole project. This report is created by the Project Manager for the Project Board. (End of PRINCE2 Themes : Project)


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