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Planning Lifecycle in PRINCE2

~ By Nader Khorrami Rad

Businessman finding the solution to a maze

PRINCE2, along with the PMBOK Guide, are the two most important project management standards today. Both of them have lots of guidelines, recommendations, and processes for the planning of the projects. The main goal of project management is reaching project goals with an optimal use of resources. This is not possible without appropriate controls, and control is not possible unless we plan the project ahead.

I have explained the planning lifecycle of the PMBOK Guide in this article, and I am going to explain the same concept in terms of PRINCE2. Planning is different in these two standards, but not incompatible.

What PRINCE2 Says About Planning

There are three main parts of the PRINCE2 manual which define the planning lifecycle for the standard:

  • One of the core principle called "manage by stages"
  • One of the themes called "plans"
  • Three out of seven processes, that is "initiating a project", "managing a stage boundary", and "starting up a project"

These three parts define most of the explanations of this article. Now let’s have a quick review of these three.

Manage by Stages

It is usually not realistic and practical to prepare a detailed plan for the whole life of a project, because activities in the far future are not predictable and determined enough in the beginning. PRINCE2 recommends we prepare a high-level plan in the beginning for 100% of the scope of the project, divide the project into appropriate, sequential management stages, and then prepare a detailed plan of each stage before its start. This is called "management by stages".

Meanwhile, you are free to limit your stages to the minimum, and consequently prepare a detailed plan for the whole project at the beginning. In this case, the whole project will be executed in stage 1. The initiating stage, or stage 0, is where you are planning the project. That makes the minimum number of stages two instead of one.

Simplified view of the plans

The image above is an over-simplified and schematic view of the plans.

Plans Theme

Plans theme explains the types and characteristics of plans in a PRINCE2 project. There is a "project plan", which is the high-level plan we prepare at the beginning of the project, a number of "stage plans", which are the detailed plans we prepare for each management stage before its start, and finally "team plans", which are optional plans prepared by the project team to manage each of their deliverables, which themselves are derived from the stage plan. As a result, team plans are even more detailed than the stage plans.

Plans are revised all the way, whenever an exception arises. We will prepare an "exception plan" to implement the changes required.

The levels of project planning

The image above shows the levels of planning. There is a higher level of corporate and programme plans which governs the whole project, and is outside the project. This plan shapes the project plan, the project plan shapes the stage plans, then the stage plans shape team plans, and finally the team plans are used to execute the work of the project.

Planning Processes

Planning is mainly done in the "initiating a project" and "managing a stage boundary" processes. There are a number of activities in each process and the planning activities are as follows:

  • The "plan the initiation stage" activity within the "starting up a project" process
  • The "create the project plan" activity within the "initiating a project" process
  • The "plan the next stage" activity within the "managing a stage boundary" process

The Planning Lifecycle

The following figure shows the planning lifecycle of a project with four management stages:

The planning lifecycle of a project with four management stages

This may seem a little complicated at first sight, but the concept is simple, rational, and practical.

The figure is divided into five columns, a pre-project column and four management stages. It is also divided into four rows, for the three types of plan (project plan, stage plan, team plan), and one for the executing.

The project plan is prepared in the initiation stage, and the detailed planning and executing are done in the remaining management stages. So, we are going to spend a lot of time preparing the project plan. Is it fine to do all of that work without any prior plans? Of course it is not. That’s why we have a "pre-project" column with a "planning the initiation stage" activity. Here we will prepare a simple, yet useful plan for the next stage; a plan for planning. This plan, like any other plan, will be the subject of revision in it's subject period (initiation stage).

Planning the initiation stage activity

We should never start a stage, unless its stage plan is prepared and approved in advance.

When the plan of the initiation stage is ready, we can start the stage. The main goal of this stage is preparing the project plan, which is a high-level plan of the project. This plan will be revised later based on approved change requests.

Preparing the first stage plan

There is one more thing we should do in this stage: preparing the detailed plan (aka stage plan) of the next stage. This plan will be compatible to the project plan (high-level plan).

This pattern is repeated in every stage; the detailed plan of the next stage is prepared before its start and will govern the whole work of the stage.

Timing of each stage plan

In order to be up to date and realistic, each stage plan will be revised in the duration of its stage.

Revising the stage plans

Sometimes the stage plans are considered enough for executing, and some other times, it’s preferred to prepare even more detailed plans, which are called team plans. In this case, a number of detailed plans will be created in each stage and will govern the work of that very stage.

Preparing detailed team plans

Each team plan will be based on its stage plan. They will be also revised the whole time.

Revising detailed team plans

The most detailed plans (team plans, if they are created, and stage plans otherwise) will govern the executing of the work of the stages.

Executing work of the stages

That’s all. This is our complete planning lifecycle:

The planning lifecycle of a project with four management stages

Planning with a Minimum Number of Stages

We can reduce the number of management stages to its minimum and prepare the detailed plan of the whole project in the beginning. The following figure shows the lifecycle.

Planning with a minimum number of stages

Can you locate the detailed planning of the whole project in the above figure?

Here it is:

Detailed planning for the project

In case of minimum number of stages, the detailed planning happens in the beginning of the project. However, there are a couple of things to be done before preparing it.

Initiation and stage planning

Those two activities are as follows:

  • High-level planning: we should first prepare a high-level plan and then start detailing it
  • Planning the planning stage: we should plan the whole planning stage before starting it

The Planning Rules

Some of the most important planning rules of PRINCE2, reviewed in this article, are as follows:

  • Even planning needs a plan
  • All plans need revising
  • Don’t force yourself to prepare a detailed plan for the whole project; you can do it stage-by-stage
  • You should prepare a complete plan covering the 100% of the scope of the project in the beginning, no matter if you would detail it the same time, or later
  • You should not start a stage, unless its detailed plan is ready

Let’s hope you could get a clear and coherent image of the PRINCE2 planning through this article, which could increase the level of success in your projects. Stay tuned for a future article here, comparing the planning methods of PRINCE2 and the PMBOK Guide soon.

Nader Khorrami Rad is a project management expert with 12 years of experience. A PMP, CSM, and PSM-I certified civil engineer with a Philosophy of Science master's degree. He is the author of 38 books in Persian and 3 ebooks in English. His latest publication is a free ebook titled "Understanding the PMBOK Guide", which you can download from his website PMarchy. Connect with him on Twitter @KhorramiRad.


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