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Author  Brad Bigelow – co-author, PRINCE2 7

co-author, PRINCE2 7

October 12, 2023 |

 8 min read

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The need for plans in projects may seem obvious but there has been an ongoing question about how well this practice is deployed and, therefore, how it should be addressed in PRINCE2 7.

There are two primary sources of problems. First, people and communications. This is the initial thing that goes wrong with planning in projects, as preparing the document becomes a substitute for communication. In essence, you get documentation rather than engagement with stakeholders. And this is where conflict arises because the project manager fails to elicit unstated expectations, i.e., “I thought you were going to do…xyz,” in addition to formal requirements.

Second, there can be a rush to get through planning and proceed into execution. This is understandable, as planning is the activity least visibly related to value delivery from the customer’s perspective. The temptation to get the delivery process started – jumping into execution without clarity and focus on the business case – means projects can end up going in circles.  

To be clear from the outset, the plans practice in PRINCE2 7 is not about creating documentation, but about establishing and maintaining a social contract.

Changing the order of Plans among the PRINCE2 7 practices

In PRINCE2 6th edition, the Plans practice (previously a “theme”) comes after Quality and before Risk. In PRINCE2 7, we decided this had to change. Why?

When a project manager and team start work, their first task is to put together the project initiation documentation. This is a planning activity. The project quality elements are part of this documentation, but so are costs, schedule, risks, and management controls. That’s why we put it ahead of Quality and Risks in this edition. Plans are integral to all the practices that follow.

Planning in PRINCE2 7 as consensus

Overall, there was a need for greater coherence and a more pragmatic approach in this section of the new PRINCE2 7 guidance.

The definition – and development – of a plan uses language which demonstrates the activity of planning as a consensus and relationship building tool.

The explanation of planning [EJ1] reflects more accurately how most plans are put together: you get consensus on “what” and “how”, then develop the schedule and estimates. For example, where labour or long-lead materials are a major cost, you may need to plan the supply of materials from a cost/delivery perspective.

The project initiation documentation is first major deliverable that goes to the board for approval. In many projects, the initiation stage has the smallest workforce and the least cost compared to execution. It’s when changes can be addressed with the least impact, which is why consensus-building is so important in this stage. Conflicts over unstated expectations later can have significant cost and schedule impacts.

A flexible hierarchy of plans

PRINCE2 stresses the importance of working within planning horizons. There’s only so far anyone can look into the future. Therefore, crucially, planning is an activity and not a document creation exercise. It continues throughout the project implementation, not just during initiation.

The value of the hierarchical approach to plans is shown in the new scenarios contained in PRINCE2 7. In a multi-year project, for example, you don’t have to prepare a detailed team plan far in advance of team activity; on the other hand, with an agile approach, you can adapt scope and estimates in short stage plans throughout implementation.

Other notable changes to the plans practice in PRINCE2 7

  • Project managers will see a more coherent and logical structure of information, streamlined with fewer blocks of text, to lead the practitioner efficiently through the process.

  • The description of the PRINCE2 technique for planning is better aligned with the process followed in most projects.
  • The context section is where tailoring of PRINCE2 planning is addressed, enabling you to adapt the methodology to your project or organisational context.

We’ve ensured that this part of PRINCE2 7 is much more practicable: it’s designed for use by real project teams facing real-world challenges.