Starting a project with PRINCE2

Starting a project with PRINCE2

How do you start a project using the PRINCE2® project management method? Mark Sutton, change manager and trainer, considers the steps:

Mark SuttonStarting up a project – according to PRINCE2 – is triggered by a mandate: a reason to do something or, in other words, a business justification.

In essence, it’s about responding to a perceived problem, dilemma or opportunity within or without an organization; this will probably mean the organization is moving in a new, strategic direction and that requires change.

You may be fortunate in receiving a mandate that is well-articulated; however, you might not be and will have to do some work to understand the conundrum you’ve been set. For example, when I was working with the UK’s national post and parcel delivery service, Royal Mail, we were tasked with automating the sorting process. As the solution wasn’t immediately clear, we reviewed the market as part of a technical feasibility exercise in order to assess possible solutions. The output of the feasibility exercise became the project mandate.

Using the PRINCE2 approach, you can quickly review the challenge and get a broad sense of what the project will entail. This helps you understand whether or not it’s worth investing in. It might not be and, in the context of your potential project, you want to be able to “fail fast”.

When starting a project, there are several things you should consider according to the PRINCE2 method:

  1. Agree who is accountable for the project if it goes forward, i.e. the executive. This senior person is likely to initiate the necessary investigative work with the project manager supporting.
     
  2. Ask: have we done this type of thing before? What useful lessons can we learn from that in terms of what went well or not? You’ll find this knowledge either in the organization or you’ll need to look elsewhere if you don’t have in-house experience to draw upon.
     
  3. Roles and responsibilities: if you progress the idea, what team, roles and responsibilities do you need to have in place? That might mean reviewing the people you’ve worked with before and choosing who to involve, or not. The identity of some team-members may still be unclear (e.g. supply partners who will join the team after a procurement exercise), so this may comprise broadly listing the roles and skills required.
     
  4. How much time will you invest in the planning and initiating process, who is the team involved and what will they do?
     
  5. You need to think what the project is going to build and how, and engage with those who will use it. What improvements/benefits will that bring to the organization and what will be the return on investment?
     
  6. With all of the above, you should now have all the information to enable a decision as to whether the project should move forward to the initiating and planning phase.
     

The business case

Whoever has overall responsibility for the project will want to ensure that the business investment continues to remain justified. This will mean controlling the evolution of the triggering mandate into an outline business case by the end of the starting up a project process and, ultimately, into the detailed business case itself (confirmed at the end of the planning and initiating work to come next). However, the business case is a dynamic document updated at least at the end of each stage of the project and serving always as your reference point.

If the project is going to progress, you need to secure funds for the work while identifying a team and writing a plan to initiate it. Funding the project initiation will need the project board to approve the funds, based on the project brief: what you’re building, the outline business case plus roles and responsibilities.

Overall when starting a project, you need to get clarity on what the organization needs, what it expects you to do and to confirm there’s a reasonable proposition that’s worth planning. If you’re working in a programme environment that thinking has probably been done already.

Remember, at the very beginning of the process of starting a project, someone might have only the beginning of an idea that there’s something pressuring the organization; once you get into the rhythm of the project, things usually become clearer.

Read Mark Sutton's previous AXELOS Blog Posts

Achieving the endgame: product-based planning in PRINCE2®

When Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) goes back to school

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