Here is a summary of the main products in use when using the PRINCE2 Controlling a Stage process:
Benefits Review Plan
Checked by the Project Manager to determine what reviews of benefits if any, to do in the stage to quantify benefits that have already come on stream. Sometimes benefits can come on-stream during the project, not just at the end of it. The Benefits Review Plan sets down when benefits should be measured, who should do it, and when.
The Project Manager must check that the project is still on track to deliver benefits, and they may also update the Business Case with new cost and time information. The Project Manager will also check the Business Case when determining the impact of any issues and risks.
The Business Case is the justification for the project, and the Project Board refer to it at all key decision points to ensure that the project remains viable and worth continuing with.
These are received from the team managers, and are progress reports on individual work packages providing information to determine how the whole stage is progressing. Each individual Work Package specifies the frequency and exact content of this report, allowing the Project Manager to vary it from one work Package to another.
Configuration Item Record (CIR)
These are a record for version control of a particular product.
The Project Manager uses this report to advise the project board if the whole stage will breach a stage tolerance. The report could be verbal, or maybe a phone call.
The Project Manager gives this report, which highlights progress on the whole stage, to the project board. It may also include a Lessons Report. The report may go to other interested parties, and its contents and frequency are set down inside the Communication Management Plan.
The project manager (or Project Support – on behalf of the project manager), uses this register to record the existence and progress of issues under formal control. The Issue Register records information such as who submitted each issue and its current status.
The Project Manager formally records an issue on this report on receipt of an issue.
The Project Manager uses this checklist to monitor delivery of products during the stage. It is a simple and powerful progress monitoring tool providing unambiguous milestones during each stage and records what products will be produced in the stage together with their target and actual delivery dates.
The Product Checklist can also be used at team level to monitor progress on building the products in a Work Package.
The Quality Log records the planned quality actions, such as tests, and is normally completed by the people doing those tests. The Project Manager keeps an eye on the register to ensure that the quality actions are being taken.
This provides a simple audit trail to ensure that no planned test is left out, by inspecting to see if the register entry has been signed off,
This register is used as a reference when managing risks during the stage, but also to enter any new risks or any changes to existing risks. The register contains information such as the probability and impact of each risk, and is also used at the end of each stage by the Project Board to see the latest situation on all risks and used as a basis to decide whether or not to authorize the next stage.
Using this plan helps the Project Manager to check progress and act as a reference for the controls that are in force in the stage. Stage Plans are created at the end of the previous stage.
A Team Plan may be created by a Team Manager on receipt of a Work Package. If so, the plan will need to be agreed by the Project Manager.
This is a unit of work that the Project Manager gives to a Team Manager. The Work Package is in the form of an instruction pack and authority to the Team Manager to build one or more products.
I’m sure if you’ve referred to the PRINCE2 Manual, that the process “Controlling a Stage” is a key part of understanding the method. Reading through the detail, it is fairly clear that this is a well thought-through and structured process. As you dive into the detail of each activity again, the thinking is clear and the details make good sense.
The problem may be however, in the diagram of the Controlling a Stage process. It is obviously drawn to fit on the page and does not give a clear understanding of how the activities work together. It occurred to me, that since controlling a stage is obviously all about the day-to-day management of a stage, then the flow and sequence of the sub processes could be better understood when starting from the perspective of a project manager.
In essence, the project manager needs gather information to determine what has actually been done (or not done!) – and then to consider what yet remains to be done. In summary – gathering data and forecasting, and this is a key part of controlling a stage.
The next action of the project manager in controlling a stage, is to capture actual data, a completed Work Package as one example. Of course, it is never as simple as this in the real world, other information that will help project manager determine the true status so far such as, the Risk Log, the Quality Log, Checkpoint Reports,etc.
The project Manager will want to refer to the main plans and the Business Case also for efficient implementation of controlling a stage…
Of special interest, are the arrival of issues. These can arrive from anyone at any time, and it is important that they are logged, categorized and an analysis carried out of their impact. The result of this impact analysis will almost certainly change ” the road ahead”. The act of determining and acting upon issue actions within your PRINCE2 project is a good example of controlling a stage.
The project manager enters all actual information into the PRINCE2 Stage Plan, and will almost certainly be some form of planning tool to assist with this (for example MS Project 2010), and to help forecast the remainder of the stage work to be carried out, and the products yet to be created and approved.
The next step is to look at the remainder of the stage, and of the project. This will help determine what actions must be implemented for controlling a stage. As above, information from the Logs, Stage Plan, Project Plan, and Business Case, will assist in determining what remains to be done and checking that appropriate plans, products, resources, and activities are in place.
That summarises the ” thinking” part of a project managers control – now it is time to take action. If everything is going well, then the project manager has the option of ” doing nothing”!
But life is not normally like that…
When the project board approve the next stage plan, they will set the Tolerance for the stage and tell the project manager how often they wish to receive the regular Highlight Reports. Therefore, a regular job of the project manager is to gather sufficient information, then create and send the highlight report to the project board, all as part of controlling a stage.
Work packages should be sent on a regular basis as needed during the PRINCE2 stage, to the specialist team or team manager. These need to be first agreed with the specialist team concerned before work can start. Once underway, regular Checkpoint Reports are given to the project manager to help determine the status of product creation and approval.
It is rare that progress nor controlling a stage during the stage ever goes exactly to plan, and it is quite normal for a project manager needing to take some form of corrective action. This may be done as a simple verbal instruction to issue a new or modified work package to the team. Such corrective actions will only ever be taken when the stage is forecast to remain within Tolerance.
As part of the stage day-to-day management, the PRINCE2 project manager will be constantly ensuring that tolerance will not be exceeded. However, the first moment that tolerance is forecast to be exceeded, the project manager must create an Exception Report and send it to the project board for their consideration and future action.
This last step is using the “Management By Exception” element of PRINCE2.
Well, that sums up controlling a stage, when you now refer to the detail in the PRINCE2 Manual – hopefully it will make better sense!
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David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of project-related downloadable video training products under the Primer and PM Mastery System brand names. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.