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PRINCE2 Processes and ThemesProcesses and Themes – how do they work together in PRINCE2?

I am often asked that while there are helpful diagrams showing how the PRINCE2 Processes work together, why are there not any similar diagrams for PRINCE2 Themes?

A fair question I thought particularly when one of my customers emailed me that exact problem, so after answering her (thank you Karen) I realized I had the basis of a helpful article for all of you and so that inspired me to post this!

To start, just a quick review of the 7 PRINCE2 Processes.

Starting Up a Project and Initiating a Project are done in series with a quick dip into Directing a Project to get authorization for entering the initiation stage. The Initiating a Project process is used in the first PRINCE2 stage which is always called the initiation stage. All remaining stages are ‘delivery stages’.

The Final stage is NOT a separate stage, it is just that after all the specialist products have been completed, then the Closing a Project process is used within that same last stage. Controlling a Stage and Managing Product Delivery are used in parallel within each PRINCE2 delivery stage.  The Managing a Stage Boundary process is used just prior to the end of a particular stage. This simplified graphic will help make that clear:

prince2 processes and themes

Controlling a Stage is the process used within each delivery stage by the PROJECT MANAGER. There must be at least ONE delivery stage, but there may be many. The actual number is dependent upon the nature, size, risk, and complexity of the project.

Managing a Stage Boundary is the process used at the end of EVERY stage to prepare for an End Stage Assessment, and covers the creation of the next stage plan, as well as updating relevant documents within the project initiation documentation (PID) and creating the End Stage Report.

Managing a Stage Boundary is ALSO used if needed to prepare an Exception Plan ready for an Exception Assessment because tolerance has been forecast to be exceeded, and the Project Board (using Directing a Project process), have requested an Exception Plan. This of course, would happen during a stage.

Project tolerances are set by corporate or programme, stage tolerances are set by the project board and  the project manager can optionally set Work Package tolerances. The Team Manager may decide to create a Team Plan as part of accepting the Work Package.

The Project Plan is created by the project manager in the Initiating a Project process (within the initiation stage). It contains all the information from the start of the first delivery stage (the next stage) up to and including the end of the final delivery stage.

PRINCE2 states that as you get to the end of ANY stage, a Stage Plan is created ready for the project board at the end stage assessment.

prince2 processes and themesHow Do Processes and Themes interrelate?

There is not a complete diagram anywhere in the PRINCE2 Manual, so this is my first attempt, and certainly captures most of the key relationships. Note that your mindset should be “while I am using this particular process, what management products do I need to create, and therefore, to which Themes should I reference?”

First, let us look at the major products that would be referenced for the Starting Up a Project and Initiating A Project processes:

PRINCE2 Processes and Themes

Just using this diagram, you can see that Themes such as Plans, Risks, Business Case, Change, and Quality easily come to mind…

Suppose the project is to build a house. Let’s say that Stage 4 is to landscape the garden area. In the Project Plan, I will have estimated at a high level the duration, resources and costs for landscaping as a small part of the complete house build.

My Project Plan has now been approved, and I am delivering the project in the series sequence of PRINCE2 delivery stages….

As I get near the end of Stage 3, I create the Stage 4 Plan. I take the high-level stuff from the project plan, and for the first time create it in more detail so that I can manage it on a day-to-day basis during Stage 4. New or modified  Product Descriptions and Configuration Item Records will be generated.This is my stage 4 Stage Plan.

The Stage Plan for stage 4 will need to be approved by the Project Board (along with the updated PID contents and my End Stage Report showing current progress and forecast info for the remainder of the project. The preparation for all this is done in the Managing a Stage Boundary process, and is then brought before the project board in the Authorize a Stage or Exception Plan activity within the Directing a Project process.

BUT, for the first time in my Stage 4 Plan, I can now create product descriptions and activities for the water feature, the grassed area, the planted trees, the garden pathway, etc….I did not know enough detail nor had yet to make my mind up back at the time when we created the top-level Project Plan….does this make sense?

In this way, PRINCE2 allows its Plans to be refined as the project progresses through its stages – just like in the real world.

By the way, I have decided to outsource the garden water feature to a specialist local designer/provider. One of the Work Packages detailed in the Stage Plan for stage 4, will now be presented to the external supplier for their agreement (cost, time, materials, resources, etc).

They advise, “give me two days Dave, and I’ll get to a quote” Yes, I say….They then sit down with their experts and do a complete costing etc, this is optional of course, but they are producing YOUR Team Plan (they would see it as ‘their project plan’ – no problem with that though, as they are not using PRINCE2…)

They phone me up and say ‘yes, we agree, and can start immediately’

I have just described the ‘authorize a Work Package’ activity in Controlling a Stage, and the ‘Accept a Work Package’ activity in Managing Product Deliver process (where the specialist teams live and work!)

View the PRINCE2 processes as your ‘toolkit’ showing the sequence and relationships with each other as per the last diagram below.

View the Themes as ‘reference manuals’ sitting on your top shelf over your desk illustrating the 7 key ‘approaches’ used in a PRINCE2 project.

As you might imagine there is a lot of interaction between the processes and themes. Don’t worry about ‘memorizing’ the activity names – since you will have access to the PRINCE2 Manual throughout your Practitioner exam…

Here is a useful mind-set as you go through the activities in Starting Up a Project process:

PRINCE2 - Starting Up a Project process

QUESTION.  I take a look at the diagram above and (assume that as Project Manager),  that I have already been appointed, the Executive is going to find the rest of their project board, and I may give advice or help in some way, but I’m thinking about whether I need any help or support (reports, registers, issues, risks, communication  time-sheets  tools, etc). Also, I may outsource some product creation, so will I be the team manager as well – or should I find one or more for this project?

ANSWER. I reach up and pull down the Organization Theme to help get some ideas and thoughts about designing my part of the Project Management Team….(easy huh?)

While I’m at it, I read the chapter about tailoring PRINCE2, as this may help in creating the right project approach…

QUESTION. I need to seek out any lessons learned and speak to a few experts and folks with experience in this type of project.

ANSWER. I grab Appendix A and check the typical contents of a Lessons Log.

QUESTION. I need to create the Project Brief and get a handle on the project approach

ANSWER. The Plans Theme will help me see how the project approach is vital to agree before any planning takes place

QUESTION. I’ve got to create a Stage Plan for the initiation stage.

ANSWER. First, I’ll skim through the Initiating A Project process to remind myself what a PID needs, and typical activities, also check out the Managing a Stage Boundary process because my Initiation Stage Plan needs to contain the product, activities and resources for both of the above processes. Then I’ll head on over and read the Plans Theme!

QUESTION. I’m not sure what is in a PRINCE2 Stage Plan, and I don’t understand this product based planning stuff either…!!!

ANSWER. I skim through the Plans Theme and note the Appendix reference for more advice on Product-based Planning….

Okay, I’m sure you get the idea. The more you do this, the better understanding you will get about using PRINCE2, and you’ll get more effective at setting up, planning and managing your PRINCE2 projects as well.

Here is my useful diagram showing most likely Theme references needed in each PRINCE2 Process:

PRINCE2 processes and themes


Okay, what is the first thing that you notice?

What is apparent, is that almost all the Themes are used in each of the processes!

There is a temptation to think about the individual roles taking part in each process, and frankly, you could argue that all the Themes are used (or are helpful to reference) in ALL the PRINCE2 Processes!

But I’ve tried to pare that down a little. For example, NO planning is done in Directing a Project, nor in Controlling a Stage.

In Managing Product Delivery, if being used by a third party, they may well have their own business case, but it is not the Business Case owned by the project board executive.

Closing a Project. No planning needed here (the Benefits Review Plan does not use product based planning, nor does it need to follow the same structure as a ‘standard’ PRINCE2 Plan.

I hope you found this article on PRINCE2 Processes and Themes useful, and if you want the full picture, hop on over to my PRINCE2 Primer!