Achieving the endgame: product-based planning in PRINCE2

Achieving the endgame: product-based planning in PRINCE2

One element of PRINCE2® that I use on every project I’m involved with is product-based planning.

Mark SuttonThis PRINCE2 technique is especially useful for putting a plan together which comprises the “shopping list” of the things that my project team needs to create to deliver a final product. Not only does this technique help me to identify the constituent parts that will create the final, integrated product or output to hand over to the end user, but – equally – it encourages me to consider the sequence in which that needs to happen.

The product in question could be something such as a new process to help people do a particular task or, literally, a physical item. Ultimately, it’s about delivering what will enable people to do their job better.

The PRINCE2 difference

While product-based planning draws upon numerous planning concepts used elsewhere, PRINCE2’s application asks the vital question “what are we building?” before thinking about how to use the resources available. Where people can make the mistake of jumping into choosing what activities to do and how much time they’ll take, PRINCE2 considers what that time and resource has to generate.

And that has to connect with what the customer wants so as to enable them to do what they need to do. This is often tied in to benefits and realizing a measureable improvement in what customers are doing

For example, in a previous role with the UK’s Royal Mail service I was involved in a project to install a mail-sorting machine. The organization wanted to reduce operating costs and so needed a machine to automate the sorting process so it was faster and more accurate than sorting manually. These were the so-called characteristics of the product that would deliver benefits and reduce costs.

In another scenario where I was involved, a temporary school site required science equipment to teach the students until the permanent school site was opened in another location. This equipment needed certain characteristics: it had to be both functional for lessons and mobile, so it could be moved to the new site at a later stage.

Product-based planning in practice

What makes product-based planning successful, above all, is that it’s easy to do when you know how! It’s an excellent approach to use with a project team, being a fantastic team building exercise and also a good way to give everyone in the team a voice.

Using it effectively usually relies on having a workshop environment with someone who can facilitate the process. It moves people away from activity-centred thinking to what they are actually trying to deliver and gets them focused on what’s on the shopping list. This also leads to useful discussions about how that might need re-shaping in light of the resources and budget available.

Deploying this approach as a consultant, I have seen the exercise reveal a greater scope to the project than anyone had imagined. Going through the process gets this out into the open and – if there isn’t enough money in the budget – you can start to work through with the customer if they want to spend more on or de-scope certain aspects of their original request.

The relevant appendix in the PRINCE2 guidance instructs you to:

  • Write down as much as possible about the final deliverable
  • Record what you need to create to deliver this
  • Describe each deliverable as much as possible
  • Put each of the listed products into a logical sequence for delivery.

Once you start talking about products rather than activities you can track the process; it’s easier to do this in relation to a product than against the amount of hours people are burning!

Product-based planning goes to the heart of a successful project: the more time you put in at the start to identifying what needs to be built along the project journey, the more likely you are to ultimately give the customer what they want.

See our PRINCE2 section for more information.

Read Mark Sutton's previous blog post for AXELOS, When Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®) goes back to school.

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