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Progress is all about how to control the project and know where you are against the current plan. Each company and Project Manager will have different ideas on how best to do this. If you are Project Manager in a company the one good question to ask your Project Board is “How do I best keep you informed of the progress of the project?" The answer to this question will tell you a lot about the maturity of project control in the organization.

The most important points that a Project Manager has to keep in mind are:

  • The format of reports used to provide information to the Project Board.
  • How best to keep track of issues, changes and risks.
  • How to check that the Business Case is still valid etc.
  • Constantly check the current progress compared to the current plan.

Most poor Project Managers make the following mistakes:

  • Don’t have a good system in place to track progress.
  • Feel responsible for issues that arise and they try to solve them and, thus, end up firefighting and not managing the project (very dangerous).
  • Are afraid to escalate issues, as they may work in a “shoot the messenger” environment or work for a Project Board that does not understand their role.

You will find this chapter on PRINCE2 easy to read and understand, and you will also learn how tolerances are used to help each management layer manage the layer below. The last point is that the Project Manager should make sure they have time during the project to manage progress and control the project.


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

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

Progress is about checking progress compared to the plan, checking project viability and controlling any deviations.

Three of the seven principles are represented in the Progress Theme; they are:



Progress is checking and controlling where you are compared to the plan. This is done for the Project Plan, Stage Plan and Work Package.


One layer to monitor the progress of the layer below it uses progress Controls. For instance, the Project Board wants to monitor the progress of Project Manager or Project Manager wants to monitor the progress of the Teams that create the products. The layer above can do the following:

  • Monitor actual progress against plans
  • Review plans with forecast
  • Detect problems and identify risks
  • Initiate corrective action to fix issues (the Project Board will give advice)
  • Authorize further work to be done. Example: The Project Board can authorize a next stage and a Project Manager can authorize a new Work Package

Exceptions and Tolerances

An Exception is a situation where it can be forecast that there will be a deviation beyond the agreed tolerance levels.

Tolerances are the deviation above and below a plan’s target. For example, the project should take 6 months, with a tolerance of ±1 month. Tolerance levels could also be set for all six tolerance areas, i.e., Time, Cost, Quality, Scope, Benefits and Risk. These are also known as the project variables.


What do you think would be the result if Tolerances were not used in a project between the Project Board and the Project Manager levels?

In that case, the Project Manager would escalate each issue to the Project Board and they would end up working on the project 8 hours a day and therefore would be doing a lot of work or all the work for the Project Manager.

Remember the Project Board are busy people and we don't want the project to take up much of their time. Setting tolerances allows the Project Manager to handle smaller issues and only bother the Project Board for bigger issues (more efficient use of time for Project Board).

Tolerance Example: A 6-month project with a tolerance of ±1 months. If the project is forecast to be 1 week late, the Project Manager would deal with this and not escalate it. But if the project is forecast to be two months late, then they would escalate it to the Project Board. This is a more efficient use of the Project Boards time.

PRINCE2 Approach to Progress

Progress is about checking actual progress against the performance targets of Time, Cost, Quality, Scope, Benefits and Risk.

PRINCE2 provides control through four main ways:

  • Delegating Authority from one level to the next (e.g., from Project Board-Project Manager)
  • Dividing the project into management stages and authorizing one stage at a time.
  • Time-driven and event-driven progress reports (e.g., Highlight Reports)
  • Raising Exceptions: Use exceptions to alert above layer if a big issue occurs (out of tolerance)

How these controls will be used in the project is decided early in the project and documented in the Project Initiation Documentation under the Progress heading.

Delegating Authority

Corporate or Program Management

The Corporate or Program Management is outside the project. They set the overall requirements and tolerance levels for the project (they set the project tolerances). If project tolerances are exceeded, then escalate to Corp/Program Management.

Tip: Remember the Project Tolerances are set by Corporate or Program Management.


The Project Board

The Project Board sets the tolerances for the stages. Therefore the Project Manager will escalate issues as soon as it is identified that they will go out of tolerance on any of the project tolerance targets.

If this exception affects the project’s tolerance, then the Project Board has to escalate this to Corporate and Program Management.

The Project Manager

The Project Managers have day-to-day control over the stage and they work within the tolerances set by the Project Board. They also set and agree to the tolerances in the Work Packages.

The Team Manager

The Team Manager has control for a Work Package and works within the tolerances agreed with the Project Manager.

The 3 Project Board Controls

The Project Board has three main controls available to them to manage the levels below.

  • Authorizations: i.e., they can authorize next stage to start.
  • Progress Updates: They get regular reports from the Project Manager.
  • Exceptions & Changes: They can receive Exception Reports and Issue Reports.


An article on Authorization of projects is also available in Italian.

  • 1st Authorize Initiation: To allow the Initiation stage to start and to create the PID.
  • 2nd Authorize the project: The Project Initiation Documentation is approved so that the first stage of the project can start after the initiation stage.
  • 3rd Authorize each stage: This happens after each SB process.
  • And lastly, authorize project closure.

Progress Updates

  • Highlight Reports: The Highlight Reports are sent regularly from the Project Manager to the Project Board during the Controlling a Stage process. They provide information on how well the stage is running according to the Stage Plan.
  • End Stage Reports: The Project Board will review this report at the end of all delivery stages except the last one.
  • End Project Report: The Project Board will review this report at the end of the project and before they authorize project closure.

Exceptions and Changes

This includes Exception Reports and Issue Reports.

Exception Reports advise the Project Board that the stage is out of tolerance, allowing the Project Board to control the next move.

Issue Reports provide a way to gather information on an issue (request for change, an Off-Specification or a problem/concern) and send it to the Project Board.

The 3 Project Manager Controls

These have the same names as the Project Board but are at the level of the Project Manager. The three controls are: (1) Authorizations, (2) Progress Updates, and (3) Exception & Change.

  • Authorizations: The Project Manager authorizes Work Packages to the Team Manager (CS process).
  • Progress Updates: They receive Checkpoint Reports from the Team Manager or Team Members.
  • Exceptions and Changes: They use the project registers and logs to review progress and identify issues that may need to be resolved. Changes will be handled through the Issue and Change Control procedure.

Use of Management Stages for Control

Management stages are partitions of the project with decisions points for the Project Board between each stage. A management stage is a collection of activities to produce products and is managed by the Project Manager.

Why are Management Stages important for the Project Board?

  • They provide review and decision points at the end of each stage and before the next stage.
  • They can check the viability of the project.
  • They can authorize one stage at a time or choose to stop the project.
  • They review the End Stage Report of the last stage and Review plan for next stage.
  • Then can check project progress compared with the Project Plan at the end of each stage.

As you can see, stages are important for the Project Board. Also, with the help of tolerance, the Project Board can give the day-to-day authority of running the stage to the Project Manager.

Minimum stages in a Project

The minimum number of stages in a project is two:

  • The Initiation Stage: To define and agree what needs to be done,
  • One Delivery stage: At least one other stage to produce the products.

So even for a 2-day project, you may spend one hour the first morning deciding what will be done, how you are going to do it, who is responsible for what, and other such details. The rest of the time will be creating the products in the 2nd stage.

How to decide on the number of stages?

This depends on a number of items and as you can see, it’s a bit of a balancing act. Start by considering the following:

  • How far ahead is it sensible to plan? (I know one IT development company that does not like to plan any more than 6 weeks ahead if they are working on new applications).
  • Where do key decision points have to be made in the project? (Example: Maybe after creating a prototype or after completion of a major part of the product).
  • The amount of risk in a project. (If similar to another project, then there will be less risk).
  • Think of the control required by the Project Board. Do they require little or lots of control? Decide between too many short management stages compared to few lengthy management stages.
  • How confident are the Project Board and Project Manager at proceeding? (For instance, if this is a similar project with minor changes, then they would be very confident.)

How long should a stage be in PRINCE2?

The main consideration is the level of risk or complexity. If there is a lot of risk and complexity, then it is best to keep the stages short. If there is less risk and complexity and you have done a similar project before, then stages could be much longer.

PRINCE2 mentions the following points to consider when deciding the length of stage:

  • The planning horizon at any point in the project (i.e., How far can you safely plan ahead?).
  • The Technical Stages within a project.
  • The level of risk and complexity.

Technical Stages

Technical stages are how most companies and teams work. The best way to understand this is to look at how they differ from Management Stages, and use the following diagrams:

  • Technical stages can overlap, but management stages do not.
  • Technical stages are usually linked to skills (e.g., Requirements Analyses, Design Product), while Management Stages are focused on business justification and authority).
  • A technical stage can span a management stage boundary.

Event-Driven and Time-Driven Controls

All controls can be divided into two parts in PRINCE2:

  • Event-driven controls take place when something happens, in other words when an event happens in the project – for instance, at the end of a stage, at complementation of the PID, when a stage goes out of tolerance, at the end of project and change request. All of these events produce documents like an End Stage Report, Exception Report and Issue Report.
  • Time-driven controls take place at pre-defined periodic intervals. For example, the Project Board will agree with the Project Manager to send a Highlight Report every 2 weeks to the Project Board, and the Project Manager can agree with the Team Manager to send a Checkpoint Report each week. And so, time-driven controls don't have to wait for an event to happen.

Capturing and reporting lessons

One of the principles in PRINCE2 is that the project team must learn from experience. Lessons have to be sought, recorded and executed during the project. PRINCE2 uses the word “sought” to ensure that everyone in the project checks for previous lessons. Any useful experiences are then recorded into a Lessons Log.

Lessons can be about anything that could help the project. These include how best to communicate, how to deal with a supplier, how certain documents should be tailored for this kind of project and which product specialists to get help from when doing the product breakdown structure. The Project Manager continues to add new lessons to the Lesson Log during the project.

Lessons Report: The Lessons Learned report is used to document lessons that might be of value to future projects. A Lessons Learned report has to be created at the end of the project during the Closing a Project process. In larger projects, a Lessons Learned report might be created during the project, for example, during the Managing a Stage Boundary process.


Checkpoint Reports

The Team Manager uses the Checkpoint Report to report to the Project Manager. Information on the progress of the work done compared to the agreed Team Plan is also included in it. The Project Manager will agree on the frequency for these reports with the Team Manager when they are accepting the Work Package.

The Highlight Report

The Highlight Report is used by the Project Manager to report on the status of the current stage compared to the Stage Plan. The important word here is ‘highlight’ as a 1- to 2-page report should be sufficient. Tip: Think of tip of an iceberg.

The Highlight Report allows the Project Board to manage by exception between each stage end, as they are aware of the tolerances agreed with the Project Manager in the Stage Plan, so the Highlight Report should report the current status of tolerances of Time, Cost, Quality, Scope, Benefits and Risk.

The End Stage Report

The End Stage Report is created by the Project Manager towards the end of the stage and compares the performance of the stage compared to the Stage Plan. It is used by the Project Board to decide whether to modify the project scope or shut down the project.

The End Project Report

The End Project Report is produced by the Project Manager towards the end of the project during the Closing a Project process and is used by the Project Board to evaluate the project before they take the decision to authorize closure.

Raising Exceptions

This is quite easy to understand and it is linked to the principle “Manage by Exception.” The best way to explain this is with a question, i.e., “When is an exception raised and by whom?”

An exception is raised when an agreed tolerance is exceeded or is forecast to be exceeded. You raise an exception by alerting the level above you.

  • The Team Manager raises an issue if they forecast to go out of Work Package tolerance.
  • The Project Manager raises an exception if they forecast to go out of Stage tolerance.
  • The Project Board raises an exception if they forecast to go out of Project tolerance.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Corp/Program
    • Provide the project tolerances in the project mandate.
    • Make decisions on the project Exception Plans.
  • Executive
    • Provides stage tolerances.
    • Makes decisions on the stage Exception Plans.
    • Ensuring that progress remains consistent from a business point of view.
  • Senior Supplier
    • Ensures that progress remains consistent from their point of view.
  • Project Manager
    • Authorizes Work Packages and monitors progress of Stage Plans.
    • Produces Reports: Highlight, End Stage, Lessons and End Project Reports.
    • Produces Exception Reports / Exception Plans for the Project Board.
    • Maintains the project registers and logs.
  • Team Manager
    • Produces Checkpoint Reports.
    • Escalates issues to the Project Manager if any forecasted deviation from the Work Package tolerances.
  • Project Assurance
    • Verifies the Business Case against external events and project progress.
    • Assures stage and project progress (double check).
  • Project Support
    • Assists with the compilation of reports.
    • Maintains Issue Register, Risk Register and Quality Register.


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