My favourite element of PRINCE2® is its comprehensive, fluid and tailorable set of controls – adaptable to how much control people need to manage a project.
Therefore, rather than being a “sledgehammer” to “crack a nut”, PRINCE2 is rather a light and agile “rapier” to provide whatever is needed in context.
And the option to tailor is important as controls cost time and money. Equally, it avoids the risk of being either too lax when a project needs rigour or imposing more control than necessary. Maybe the phrase “governance” is less contentious than “control”; suggesting a level of oversight that’s appropriate, but no more.
In practice, within a PRINCE2 project, the project board controls the project manager by deciding on stage boundaries (parts of the project run by the project manager day to day on the project board’s behalf).
For example, managing an event (something that might be seen as either business as usual or, as assumed here, a small project) – the set-up, inviting people and delivering the event – would probably include a careful initiation stage. After that point, management are committing resources to the event before a second stage boundary where the project board gives final go-ahead. Management is by exception (i.e. within certain tolerance levels agreed) coupled with key decisions based on information provided.
However, compare this with a large scale, enterprise-wide software development project supporting a significant change initiative. For this, project board control might have six or more stage boundaries.
In PRINCE2 the controls set by the project board are, in reality, a more collaborative process with the project manager.
Taking time to discuss project ideas and adjustments creates a common understanding of the project shape before the board authorizes what happens next. Creating boundaries for the project using PRINCE2 tools gives assurance that the project will be run well.
Progress reporting and tolerance
When deciding how often to report progress, it depends on what is happening in the stage. For example, if a stage includes procurement with suppliers there could be long gaps without activity, so monthly reporting is probably enough.
In contrast, “tolerance” is not a progress report: it’s an early warning system that triggers engagement with the next level of management and makes the project board aware before a significant event. In a waterfall project, the normal variables – and areas that need agreed tolerance before instigating further conversation – are time and cost. For agile projects, tolerances relate to the scope and quality of work.
Project assurance – an audit and collaboration
The gaps in control between PRINCE2 project stages and reports/tolerances are where any board member can set up project assurance to review daily activity. This shouldn’t be used lightly as it is the most expensive control option.
In the real world, project assurance can be done by a third party which allows for the use of experts to evaluate and support specific areas of the project, e.g. the budget or the project management itself.
Applying project controls today
With the challenges that we face today, the correct level of control is more important than ever. Virtual working and rapidly changing circumstances mean that just enough control should be our goal.
Apply control intelligently and you will have sufficient governance over what’s happening but without over controlling and losing trust.