PRINCE2 processes

When I have gone through PRINCE2 with people (team members, user reps) who haven’t used the approach I have always found that they get confused over the structure. Yes, the book covers what to do in some depth but there is no overview of how it all fits together.


PRINCE2 comprises four linked elements:

Principles. These are best practices that should be applied to any project that is using PRINCE2.
Themes. These represent the project management disciplines and explain why they are needed. These will be applied across all of the processes.
Processes. These show the time-frame sequence that will be followed through a project lifecycle. Each process includes activity checklists.
Tailoring. PRINCE2 is a flexible framework and can be tailored to any type of project. In my experience, most tailoring is for smaller projects and I have posts on small projects (< 1 person month) and medium projects (1 – 2 person months).


The Principles of PRINCE2 are covered in my post on PRINCE2 best practices.


The themes of PRINCE2 are also covered in another post, PRINCE2 themes.


PRINCE2 has seven processes, each with a set of activities to direct, manage and deliver a project successfully.
These processes are not applied in a simple sequence, but should be seen as a set of seven ‘toolkits’ that are replied at key time-frame points throughout a project. The following diagram illustrates how they may be used:


Starting up a project

This occurs pre-project and is triggered by the project mandate provided by senior management.

This process is there to appoint the executive and PM who then design and appoint the project management team. These include the senior user, the senior supplier and project assurance.

A daily log is created by the project manager which acts as his/her diary, but doubles as a receptacle to capture and work any known issues or risks. In addition, the lessons log is set up for the project manager to capture any known lessons from previous similar projects. This is used throughout the project on an ongoing basis, and is the source for lessons reports. The next step is to assemble the project brief.

The project brief along with the project approach are created and the project manager goes on to prepare the outline business case and the project product description. In addition the plan is created for the first stage (the initiation stage), and this is done in the activity plan the initiation stage. This information is put before the newly formed project board for them to make a decision about whether or not to invest in the initiation stage.

Directing a project

This process is used for the first time at the end of the starting up a project process, and continues until the project closes. This process is used by the project board who are accountable for project success by making key decisions and exercising overall control while delegating day to day management to the project manager.

In order to do this, there are various activities providing key decision points, and these include, authorise initiation, authorise the project activity, authorise a stage or exception plan, give ad hoc direction, and authorise project closure.

Initiating a project

This process is used within the initiation stage which is the first stage used in every PRINCE2 project. The main product becomes out of this process is the Project Initiation Document (PID), and therefore all of the activities are focused on contributing to that document. Before any planning can take place, the project must first determine how key aspects are to be delivered, and to this end there are four key documents that need to be created first.

They are the risk management strategy, the quality management strategy, the configuration management strategy, and the communication management strategy.

In parallel with these activities the risk register is set up to populate and manage all risks within the project, configuration item records are generated, the issue register is set up to manage any issues, problems, and concerns along with requested changes, and the quality register is set up to record all activities relevant to product quality management.

The next key activities are to create the project plan and set up the project controls. Because these controls are embedded within the project plan and contain such aspects as end stage assessments and reports, then these two activities occur in tandem. An important control for the project board is the number and timing of management stages within the project. The PRINCE2 project specifies those controls used by the project board and those used by the project manager.
The next logical step is to refine the business case. The outline business case formed part of the project brief but since the project plan has now been created, time scale and cost information can be used to refine the business case into becoming the PRINCE2 detailed business case.

Since the business case contains in essence the balance between cost, risk and time verses the business benefits to be eventually realized, then an important related document called the business review plan also needs to be created (this is kept separate from the PID), it outlines when benefits can be realized and how they will be measured.
All of this information is brought together in the activity called assemble the project initiation documentation, and is used by the project board to authorise the project.

Managing a stage boundary

This process is used to prepare the relevant information at the end of the stage at an event called the end stage assessment (ESA), for the project board to make a decision on what to do next with the project. If needed it is also used to prepare for an exception assessment by the project board when either stage and/or project tolerance is forecast to be exceeded. For these reasons, the only use of this process is to plan the next stage or create an exception plan. The event to determine whether to approve the exception plan is called an exception assessment (EXA). There are no other uses for this process.

Managing a stage boundary consists of the following activities:

Plan the next stage, update the project plan with the latest actual and forecast information, update the business case and report the stage end. This process therefore, will only be used at the end of each management stage, or if triggered by an exception situation.

The next stage plan is created (or updated), as well as the various strategies and plans within the PID, the issue register, the risk register, and the quality register. The project plan is now updated to reflect actual progress and future forecast along with the business case. Because products may be handed over to the operational environment during the stage then the business review plan will also be updated if this is appropriate.

The results of the stage should be reported back to the project board via a stage end report, along with an optional lessons learned report and follow-on action recommendations (if any products have been passed on to the operational environment).

If the managing a stage boundary process is triggered due to an exception situation, then in place of the next stage plan, an exception plan will be created.

Controlling a stage

This PRINCE2 process is used by the project manager, and the main purpose is to assign and monitor work that needs to be done, deal with risks and issues, take corrective action where needed to ensure that the stage remains within tolerance, and report progress to the project board. Controlling a stage means that the project should complete within plan tolerances and deliver products that satisfy their quality requirements.

Controlling a stage is normally used within any delivery management stage, ie. any stage where products are being created. This process drives the managing product delivery process which is where the specialist products are created.
This process would start by the project manager using the activity authorise a work package to give a work package to the specialist team within the process. The project manager will then use the review work package status activity to read, and if necessary take action on the regular checkpoint reports which are created at the frequency stated within the work package.

This progress, or otherwise, is then an input to the review the stage status activity to enable the project manager to take a view on the progress or otherwise of the management stage as a whole. Based on this information the project manager may use the activity, take corrective action to ensure that the stage remains on track.

On a regular basis issues and risks may arise or change, and the project manager uses the activity capture and examine issues and risks, for this purpose.

When each work package has been finished, the project manager uses the activity received completed work packages to verify delivery.

All issues, risks and corrective actions are viewed in the light of the overall stage status, and if at any point the project manager forecasts that stage tolerance is to be exceeded, this situation must be escalated to the project board via the activity escalate issues and risks in the form of an exception report.
On a regular basis as requested by the PRINCE2 project board at each end stage or exception assessment, the project manager will create regular highlight reports during a stage via the activity report highlights, and these are sent to the project board and other stakeholders. Once the end of the current stage is reached, this will trigger the project manager to use the PRINCE2 managing a stage boundary process.

Managing product delivery

This PRINCE2 process is used by a team leader, and is where all PRINCE2 specialist products are created.
This process is triggered by the project manager in authorise a work package. An optional management product is the team plan, that may be created by the team manager to demonstrate (and to use for monitoring and control ), that the work package can be delivered within the project constraints. Once that has happened, the specialist team creates the specialist products contained within the work package as described within the product descriptions and their quality criteria.

The team manager or the team themselves will create regular checkpoint reports for the project manager to determine progress made on the creation of the specialist products until such time as the specialist products within a work package had been created, quality checked, and authorised. This triggers the final activity within managing product delivery, called deliver a work package, and it is when the work package completion is communicated back to the project manager to await his or her acknowledgement that this is so.

As part of agreeing that the work package is indeed complete, the relevant configuration item records must be updated and approval records obtained to show that the products within the work package are complete.

Closing a project

This PRINCE2 process is used either within the final management stage to bring the project to a controlled close, or it may be used to prematurely close the project should that be necessary.

The PRINCE2 closing a project process is used to obtain acceptance for the project product and to recognise that the project initiation documentation objectives have been achieved. It also verifies user acceptance, that maintenance and support services are in place, to assess any benefits that have been realized, to review the project performance, and to ensure that any unfinished issues have been addressed with appropriate actions.

This process starts with the activity prepare planned closure within the project plan is updated with the final actual results and a product status account requested from project support. The activity and over products ensures that these are passed to an operational and maintenance group and the follow-on action recommendations for any unfinished work, issues and risks is documented and that the benefits review plan is updated to reflect any benefits that have yet to be realized.

The next activity is to evaluate the project and prepare an end project report which contains the lessons report. The project manager will then recommend closure to the project board to take the appropriate action. If the project board request that the project be brought to a premature close, then the activity prepare premature closure is used instead of the activity prepare planned closure.

The project is now complete.