Sign in

Sponsoring a PRINCE2 project White Paper

White Paper

Sponsoring a PRINCE2 project White Paper

White Paper

  • White Paper
  • Project management
  • Project sponsorship
  • Roles
  • PRINCE2

Author  Richard Rose

Accredited Trainer in MoP®, P3O®, MSP®, PRINCE2®, AgilePM® and Change Management

February 1, 2020 |

 16 min read

  • White Paper
  • Project management
  • Project sponsorship
  • Roles
  • PRINCE2

I have often heard the phrase ‘adapt or die’ when referring to the continuing lifespan of an organization, which may be apt for those in the private sector but I sense that it is less applicable to the public sector as their operational presence is generally required, regardless of the economic circumstances. In their case, the phrase should be ‘adapt to stay relevant’. 

1. Introduction

Introduction

...However, it matters not which phrase you use, as they both point to the same conclusion: standing still is not an option. Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said, ‘When you are finished changing, you’re finished.’ and this is underlined by the words of General (Retired) Eric Shinseki, ‘If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.’

Consider the fact that there is an ever-burgeoning technical advancement that is moving faster than we can comfortably accommodate. This technology brings both advantages and disadvantages. For example, the growth of e-commerce has benefitted those who have little time to ‘go shopping’ (in the old sense of the words) but has been partly to blame for the decline in the high street retailers, as described in the article The Death of the High Street?1. However, some have managed to change and adopt the new technologies as well as diversifying, which has led to a slow-down in the general decline, see High streets in the UK now have more businesses but fewer shops2.

The high street is learning to change and adapt in order to remain relevant to the customer. However, many organizations that didn’t innovate and find new ways of working, operate a culture of continuous improvement or upskill their workforce and are now languishing in our memories rather than flourishing in the present. Notable examples are Toys R Us, Kodak, Blockbuster, Woolworths, Polaroid and Thomas Cook.

2. What does the PRINCE2 sponsor do?

What does the PRINCE2 sponsor do?

It is my hope that your answer to this question is not ‘they sit back and let the project manager do all the work!’.

Taking the information found within Directing Successful Projects with PRINCE23, you find that the sponsor (or executive in PRINCE2® terms) is appointed by the corporate or programme level of the organization and that the role is vested in one individual, for the sole purpose of having a single point of accountability for the project. I have been an executive on many occasions and have taken my accountability very seriously, mainly because it comes with owning the business case against which I have obtained the funding for the project and being ultimately responsible for the welfare of the project team. This ownership comes with the territory of being the ultimate decision-maker within the project, albeit supported by the other members of the project board. Having obtained the funding, committing the financial resource to the project and ensuring it is being applied appropriately is one of the executive’s main concerns.

The executive must have the appropriate level of authority to make high-level decisions within the project and yet delegate the day-to-day work to the project manager without ‘micro-managing’ that work. However, if there are issues that the project manager either does not have the authority to resolve or that would take the work outside the tolerances set by the project board, then these situations must be raised to the board for decisions and authorizations. The executive, being the final arbiter, must be involved in those decisions.

Projects need to be divided into manageable ‘chunks’ at convenient and appropriate decision points. These decision points will require the executive and board members to authorize the continuation of the project based on business justification supported by transparent and timely progress control and reporting.

The work within most projects is cross-functional and it falls to the executive to encourage and support collaboration, where the project manager encounters resistance, by promoting effective communication across all parties to the project.

Most importantly, the executive must support the project manager by:

  • providing consistent direction
  • acting as a coach and mentor where required
  • being readily accessible for consultations
  • advice and guidance
  • responding promptly and constructively to escalations
  • participating in the project reviews.

3. What are projects?

What are projects?

The official PRINCE2 definition of a project found in Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE24 is ‘…a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case.

But what does that mean? Well, let’s break the above sentence down and explore the various elements:

  • ‘Temporary organization’ – a project should have a start and a finish and have a team (the organization) assigned to work throughout that period. Therefore, the team is put together for a particular purpose and is temporary for the life of the project at the end of which it is disbanded.
  • ‘Business products’ – anything that is purchased, created or produced by the team is deemed to be a product within PRINCE2. The accent on those products being ‘business products’ merely highlights the fact that they are being produced and paid for by the business or organization and therefore belong to the business.
  • ‘Agreed business case’ – the only products that should be purchased, created or produced by the team are those that satisfy the reason or justification for the project and ultimately provide business value by assisting in delivering the benefits described in the business case, which has been agreed by all parties to the project.

However, this is merely playing with words in a definition. A project is really all about people, planning, process and value. It is about planning to do things in a logical sequence whilst ensuring all the people involved are kept up-to-date with progress, priorities and dependencies as well as being motivated to do their best in order to deliver value to the organization.

Can business as usual (BAU) be run as a project? No. One of the best ways to differentiate a project from business as usual is to look for a clear start and end. Business as usual should be a continuum, whereas a project has a finite life. A project’s delivery dates may move (with authorization) but the project will have a defined end either because the project produces the defined product or deliverable, or because the project is agreed to be closed.

4. What is PRINCE2?

What is PRINCE2?

Let’s start by understanding where PRINCE2 derives its name and history. PRINCE is an acronym from the phrase PRojects IN Controlled Environments and is a process-based method for managing projects.

The key features of PRINCE2:

  • a focus on business justification and more importantly…continued business justification
  • a defined organization structure for the project management team
  • an approach to planning through the product-based planning technique
  • an emphasis on dividing the project into manageable and controllable stages
  • a flexibility that should be applied at a level appropriate to the project’s risk, complexity and profile.

PRINCE was established in 1989 by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) which has since been renamed the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and subsequently, in June 2010, the OGC Best Practice Management functions moved into the Cabinet Office. The Best Practice Management products were then subject to an acquisition by a joint venture company, AXELOS Limited, created in 2013 by the Cabinet Office on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and Capita plc, to manage, develop and grow the Global Best Practice portfolio.

PRINCE was originally born out of PROMPT, a project management method created by Simpact Systems Ltd in 1975 and adopted by CCTA in 1979 as the standard to be used for all Government Information Systems (IT) projects.

When PRINCE was launched in 1989, it effectively superseded PROMPT within Government projects. However, it was predominantly focused on IT projects and therefore when PRINCE2 was published in 1996, all traces of IT-centrism had been removed to leave a project management method that was inde- pendent of sector, market, industry or discipline. By then, its content had been scrutinised by a consortium of more than 150 European organizations and has been continually improved over time until the latest (6th) edition in 2017.

5. Why is PRINCE2 important and what is its appeal?

Why is PRINCE2 important and what is its appeal?

As the UK ‘de facto’ best management practice for managing traditional projects, PRINCE2 is well-known in project management circles, providing an accreditation system for the certification of practitioners. This is an invaluable asset to their career as well as providing the organization with a cohort of qualified project managers.

Using PRINCE2 provides the organization with greater control of its resources and the ability to manage business and project risk more effectively. This is particularly relevant in today’s VUCA* world where the next twist and turn will dictate any re-deployment of resources to the initiatives we may need to run.

Generally, PRINCE2 will benefit:

  • individuals seeking leading project management skills
  • programme and project managers
  • directors/sponsors/executives of projects
  • senior responsible owners of programmes.

There are other factors that make the method appealing to the organization and, in particular, the project community. For instance, a standardized project management language and terminology demystifies the project environment and brings clarity to the wider stakeholders. In addition, its common language and terminology helps to reduce communication and reporting issues.

*VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous – from the US Military War College, c.19876

6. How will PRINCE2 benefit my organization?

How will PRINCE2 benefit my organization?

For organizations, PRINCE2 asks six questions prior to starting the project and continues to ask those questions throughout in order to focus on delivering the required outputs:

  • Who?
    • There is a formal recognition of divisions of accountability and responsibility within a project.
  • What?
    • There is a true focus on the goal of a project and therefore what is to be delivered.
  • Why?
    • There is a focus on the business case which drives a project justification and demonstrates value to the organization.
  • When?
    • There are a set of plans to demonstrate when the products/outputs will be delivered.
  • How?
    • There is focus on the objectives of a project to help determine how a project can deliver the products/outputs within the parameters of time, cost, quality, risk, scope and benefits.
  • Where?
    • There is a recognition that projects are both cross-functional as well as being run across wide geographical areas, which brings a consciousness to communication and team management.

Apart from the above leading to delivering the right projects at the right time, the organization can enjoy the following benefits of using PRINCE2:

  • a common, consistent structured approach to delivering the components of change
  • a defined structure of accountability, delegation, authority and communication
  • a controlled start, middle and end to their projects
  • regular reviews and assessments of progress against the different levels of plan
  • assurance that the projects have continued business justification
  • an invaluable diagnostic tool, facilitating assurance and assessment of project work, troubleshooting and audits.

7. How do I adopt PRINCE2 into my organization?

How do I adopt PRINCE2 into my organization?

Adoption versus adaption – what’s the difference?

  • Adoption is all about the organization deciding on a particular project management method and then promoting it to increase skills, learning and continual improvement.
  • Adaption is taking the prescribed project management method (in this case PRINCE2) and tailoring it so that it is used effectively for any type of project.

7.1 ADOPTION

Considerations for organizational adoption (chapter 21 in the manual) details the guidance for those organizations that want to adopt PRINCE2 and the areas they need to consider.

There will be certain drivers that have put the adoption on the radar but the overriding objective for adopting PRINCE2 should be to improve business performance, whether it is the more predictable delivery of business change components or the need to comply with external standards.

Increasing skill levels can be shown by measuring business effectiveness through a maturity model such as P3M3® (Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Maturity Model), taking a current view of the level of maturity and then re-assessing it once the training and embedding of the new method has been executed.

Introducing a new method brings with it a degree of uncertainty and confusion, especially as regards to terminology and language. It is useful to put together a glossary that will act as the basis of the adoption. This glossary will grow and change as time progresses, so don’t forget to keep it up to date!

Providing basic process maps for the method that show where tailoring is not only permitted but encouraged, as well as some form of ‘pocketbook’ and an online library of help screens.

7.2 ADAPTION

Taking the basic method and using the glossary, help aids, experience and the coaches will enable the practitioners to make the adopted method come to life for each project by tailoring it to the needs of the project and its project team.
Too many times I have heard the phrase ‘PRINCE2 is too bureaucratic’ to which I tend to reply, ‘Either you are not tailoring the method, or you are using this as an excuse to do your own thing and ‘go rogue’’. The PRINCE2 method is distilled from globally-recognised best practice, but the practitioner still needs to apply sense, interpretation and pragmatism to its application. Sports referees and umpires do this all the time, but they still start with the fundamental principles in their respective rulebooks.

Adoption is the start, but adaption is the crowning glory.

8. What is a PRINCE2 champion and why is it important?

What is a PRINCE2 champion and why is it important?

At this point, I am going to differentiate between an executive and a champion. This is so that the distinction between the two roles and their respective responsibilities is clear.

three prince2 project managers


The champion is a senior manager (most likely a main board member) who proposes and campaigns for the adoption of PRINCE2 into the organization. They will promote PRINCE2 across the organization as the agreed approach to delivering projects. They will review progress as to the adoption and report back to the organization on the progress of the deployment.

Their role should not stop there, as they must continue to support and advance the adoption by engaging with coaches to ensure deployment as well as charging executives and project board members to understand their role and how the PRINCE2 method works.

They should also encourage project managers, team managers and team members to become qualified.

Finally, they should be reviewing the use of PRINCE2 to ensure it is still appropriate and if so, if it has been adapted and tailored for the various projects so that its continued use will still bring business benefit and value.

9. Your PRINCE2 journey as an executive

Your PRINCE2 journey as an executive

9.1 KNOW YOUR PROJECT ENVIRONMENT

As an executive, your role is to be ultimately responsible for the project and to ensure that the project is focused throughout its life on achieving its objectives and benefits. Throughout, the executive must be aware of value for money and to ensure this happens, they own the project business case.

The project board is not a democracy run on votes and it is the executive that will have the final say, supported by the other project board members.

The executive should understand the PRINCE2 method and that it needs to be adapted to their project. In this sense, they must discuss the tailoring options with the rest of the project board and project manager to ensure an appropriate amount of control is applied as well as the right level of information on which to make informed decisions.

1.2 BE PREPARED

How do you prepare for the role of executive?

  • know your role
  • know your project
  • champion your project
  • own the benefits
  • try to anticipate changes
  • be available
  • provide support for the project manager
  • be prepared to make difficult decisions.

10. How is your PRINCE2 journey progressing?

How is your PRINCE2 journey progressing?

The directing a project process is a major control for the executive and project board where they should be able to decide whether the project has continued business justification or not. These decisions will be taken during the process activities where the executive should ask the following questions:

  • Authorizing initiation
    • Do we have a project? This is based on the content of the project brief and the project team’s assessment of the project viability.
  • Authorizing the project
    • Do we have a viable and worthwhile business case, and can we achieve the objectives in a given timescale? This is based on the content of the project initiation documentation of which the business case and project plan are components.
  • Authorizing a stage or exception plan
    • How has the project been progressing so far; what are we going to deliver next; do we have continued business justification? These questions are based on the report of the outgoing stage, the next stage plan and an up-to-date business case, project plan and risk & issue situation.
  • Giving ad hoc direction
    • What’s going on? This is based on periodic highlight reports, escalated risks and issues, exception reports as well as the odd chat with the project manager.
  • Authorizing project closure
    • Have we delivered everything? This is based on an end project report, sign-offs, fully completed project information and a recommendation from the project manager that we are now in a position to close the project.

11. Conclusion

Conclusion

Bringing in a new project management method is a cultural change programme and has its difficulties. However, it is better to have a method that is understood by all than to have none and a free for all. It requires a sympathetic touch backed up by a strong will to succeed at main board level and promoted by executives who want their projects delivered appropriately so that the organization derives the benefits it richly deserves. Therefore, being an executive requires both leadership and management abilities.

  • Leadership, as cultural change needs leaders to clarify the ‘what’ and ‘why’ so that they can influence and persuade stakeholders to commit to the beneficial future of using a stated method
  • Management, to engage the operational stakeholders, such as the project teams, and focus on evolutionary and continual improvement by focusing on the ‘how’ and ‘when’.

Most organizations send their project managers on courses to learn PRINCE2 and then expect them to deliver more effectively to time and budget but do nothing to bring their middle/senior managers along with the change. Because these managers continue working the way they have always worked, nothing changes, and the organization wonders why it spent good training budget on what it thinks are ‘useless’ courses.

I believe it is the executive that holds the key to this conundrum. If they are not educated alongside their project managers, how can they support their project managers when they don’t understand the method? Moreover, how on earth can they promote and support the dissemination of the method?

My conclusion is that the investment made in training project delivery teams in PRINCE2 is only fully returned if the whole project team, which includes the project board members, are educated in the method and supported by a champion at main board level. Only then will you see a dramatic and positive change in project delivery and only then will the organization reap the benefits.

12. References

References

1 The Death of the High Street. [PDF] Sanderson: IT Software & Services. Available at: https://www. sanderson.com/hs-fs/hub/164674/file-337659615-pdf/docs/the-death-of-the-high-street.pdf [Accessed 9 Jan. 2020].

2 Economy. (2019). High streets in the UK now have more businesses but fewer shops. [online] Available at: https://www.ecnmy.org/engage/high-streets-in-the-uk-now-have-more-businesses-but-fewer-shops/ [Accessed 9 Jan. 2020].

3 AXELOS (2018) Directing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. London, TSO (The Stationery Office)

4 AXELOS (2017) Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. London, TSO (The Stationery Office)

5 Stakeholdermap. (2008). Project management, project planning, templates and advice. [online]
Available at: https://www.stakeholdermap.com/project-management/what-is-a-project.html [Accessed 9 Jan. 2020].

Owens, M. (2001). Marines Turned Soldiers. National Review Online.

PRINCE2® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

PRINCE® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

P3M3® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

13. About the author

About the Author

Richard Rose started his career in finance but found the more dynamic IT world more compelling and transferred his skillset to a Systems Quality Assurance role at the start of a huge four-year change initiative. Thereafter, he moved into Change Control and Problem Management, Project Management, and then Programme Management, where he found his calling.

In these roles, he has become an experienced manager and consultant over thirty-seven years, with areas of expertise in Business Strategy, Change Management and Client Account Management. Richard has reported at board level for the past nineteen years and has provided valuable change management input and support to many executives and senior managers over that time.

This depth of experience in programme, project, and change management led him to become a successful Accredited Trainer in MoP®, P3O®, MSP®, PRINCE2®, AgilePM® and Change Management™. He has delivered training and consultancy to public, private, and third sectors for the past fifteen years and has gained a broad, deep view of the world of change management.

14. Download

Sponsoring a PRINCE2 project