Controlling a Stage in PRINCE2

Manage projects like a Meerkat

You’re the Project Manager and the next Stage of your PRINCE2 project has just been approved.  Your Stage Plan has the green light, your Team is ready to go…

What happens next?

In PRINCE2 this is the trigger for the Controlling a Stage process.   This process covers the “what and when” of the Project Manager’s work during a delivery stage.  Controlling a Stage in PRINCE2 is about managing the work of the Team Managers using Work Packages.  It’s about reporting stage status to the Project Board, dealing with and escalating issues and risks and generally keeping a sharp eye on things.

If you come from a technical background there’s a real temptation to get involved in the detail.

But stay detached: good Project Managers act like Meerkats.  If you’ve ever watched Meerkats you’ll have noticed that, while the others are

running around doing the day to day busy work (the Team Managers), one of them is always standing on its back legs; watching, checking, scanning the horizon for signs of danger.

This is the Meerkat using PRINCE2: they’re present and available, but not involved in the detail.  They’re focusing on the wider picture.

Control the Stage, don’t deliver it

So, the Controlling a Stage process in PRINCE2 can be successful, the Project Manager needs to step back and away from the detail to look at the bigger picture and decide if the stage is still on track.  Or, in PRINCE2 terms, to ask: “are we still within tolerance and can I continue to manage this stage without escalation?” PRINCE2’s Controlling a Stage process provides a list of activities, inputs and outputs to do this successfully.

Once we have had stage authorization from the Project Board we can start to hand out work to the Team Managers.  We do this by authorizing Work Packages for the Team Managers.  In PRINCE2, the Project Manager creates Work Packages to provide Team Managers with the information and authorization to build and test the project’s products.  The Project Manager does not need to be involved in the day to day delivery of the products; they delegate limits and then stand back. It’s a key part of PRINCE2’s Manage by Exception Principle.

Managing the day to day work

A Work Package includes information such as the joint agreements on timescales and costs, the tolerances set by the Project Manager, reporting arrangements, problem handling and escalation procedures, as well as copies of the relevant Product Descriptions.

The Work Package is the responsibility of the Team Manager to carry out the work and provide progress reports to the Project Manager in regular Checkpoint Reports.  The format and frequency of the Checkpoint is documented in the Work Package.

Every so often the Project Manager will need to report stage progress to the Project Board.  This is done by the Project Manager creating a Highlight Report for the Project Board.  The frequency of the Highlight Report will be documented in the Communications Management Strategy.  And Highlight Report should be just that – giving a high-level view of the stage.  It’s not a detailed report – it shouldn’t take a week to write!

Dealing with stuff that happens

Now if a project goes exactly to plan then the issue and receipt of work packages makes it all sound simple.  But, as we know, life is not like that.  No plan survives implementation and as a Project Manager you will have to deal with issues and risks as they occur.

You may have to escalate them if they exceed your level of authority.  This is where PRINCE2 uses controls such as the Issue Report, Exception Reports and Exception Plans to control situations as the arise and PRINCE2 has well defined activities to capture, analyze and, if required, escalate the unplanned to the next level of management.

Remember: Meerkats control stages better – they’re away from the detail and able to see and think in a wider context from the team at ground level.