Corporate standard and Management Stages

In discussions about the PRINCE2 Management Stages, people regularly mention that an organization defined corporate standards that can be tailored for individual projects. As a result, they would work with PRINCE2 Management Stages and apply the Tailoring principle.

However, this is normally not the full picture. In virtually all cases other principles will be breached, with harmful consequences.

Management stages or technical phases?

The first indication will be the names of the standard phases. The corporate standard will mention phases such as a contracting or purchasing phase or a design phase. Apart from the Initiation Stage, PRINCE2 stages do not have names, with good reason.

Standard phases will be aimed at clustering activities, hence their names. These standard phases will, in term of PRINCE2, be technical phases. But PRINCE2 stages are designed to split up a project based on risks. When a project is divided in technical phases, the result will normally be that plans offer a false sense of certainty, probably the main complaint against the traditional Waterfall approach. See this explanation of PRINCE2 vs. Waterfall.

Management stages, as suggested by PRINCE2, facilitate realistic control by reviewing plans by stages (or after an exception) and by avoiding to create detailed plans that would not realistically be possible, because of uncertainties.

Using standard phases will usually breach the principle of Manage by Stage.

Because of the focus on activities using technical phases, also the principle of Focus on Products will not be followed.

Other principles?

Other principles will also not be applied as a result of using standard phases. By using technical phases, clustering activities, decisions by the Project Board will be complicated. The Project Board will need to consider several details, ignoring the principle of Manage by Exception. By focussing on details, the Project Board will waist time and effort in ineffective meetings. Decisions on the direction of the project will not be based on justification and control, but on technical achievability.

As a logical consequence, the principle van Roles and Responsibilities will not or insufficiently be applied.

An ineffective Project Board, focussing on (technical) details, will result in the Business Executive not paying much attention to the justification of the project, recorded in the Business Case.

Using standard phases will also have negative consequences from the point of view of the principle of Continued Business Justification.

So, when standard phases are applied, even tailored to the project, proper control will most likely suffer.

Contracting and purchasing

An exception could be made for the contracting of suppliers for the project.

But why would this not take place during the Initiation Stage? When this is done during stage 2, the first stage after Initiation, it will most probably be ineffective and costly.

Even more importantly: when the project is large, complex and therefor risky, it is recommendable to not contract the project as a whole from the start. To design a flexible project, relatively easy to redirect or even to end prematurely, it will be far better to contract the project on a stage-by-stage basis. Project control will gain effectiveness.

Standard phases are not recommendable

Using standard phases, even when tailored per project, will virtually always breach the principles described by PRINCE2.

This is not just a theoretical issue. Using (tailored) standard phases will eventually have negative consequences for the effectiveness of the Project Board. Without an effective Project Board, especially the Executive, projects will fail.

About the author

Specialist in effective change.

Accredited MSP™ and PRINCE2® trainer.

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