PRINCE2 is one of the world’s main project management methodologies. In PRINCE2, projects are divided into management stages. These stages represent distinct components which are managed individually.
But what exactly is a management stage, and how does it work?
A Stage is a Phase
Projects must be broken down into phases to be manageable. PRINCE2 management stages are discrete, sequential sections of the project.
They are chronological. One stage occurs after the previous one has completed.
Stages can involve the same or different kinds of work. They can utilize the same of different resources. There are no hard coded rules as to when stage should end and the next begin, but they should be small enough to be manageable, and large enough to avoid inefficient micromanaging of people and resources.
Choice of Stages
Stage boundaries are best chosen based on natural project phases, if those exist. Alternatively, the completion of certain project deliverables or project life cycle events make good stage boundaries.
The size and complexity of the project is a factor in the number of stages. That is, large and complex projects should have more stages which offer more control over the project work.
All projects must have a minimum of two stages: An initiation stage and an execution stage. The project planning activities are performed in the first stage, and the project execution occurs during the second.
The Stage Plan
Each stage contains a document called a Stage Plan, which is produced by the project manager and approved by the project board. This plan contains all of the project management plans required to complete the work, such as the stage budget, schedule, and quality criteria. As per the Managing a Stage Boundary process, the Stage Plan must be approved in advance by the project board.
As part of this plan, the project board determines and/or approves the tolerances under which the Stage Plan is valid. If, for example, the project veers outside of its budget tolerance, the stage no longer has the confidence of the project board, and an Exception Plan must be approved by the board before work can continue. This Exception Plan replaces the Stage Plan for the remainder of the stage.
Throughout the stage, Checkpoint Reports are produced by the project team managers for the purpose of updating the project manager, and Highlight Reports are produced by the project manager for the purpose of updating the project board.
Towards the end of the stage, the project manager must produce an End Stage Report, which includes a summary of progress to date and sufficient information to ask the project board for a decision to proceed to the next stage. If the project board determines that the business case does not justify the project to continue, they will decide to terminate it.
Controlling a Stage
The Controlling a Stage process includes the day to day management of the stage. The project manager and team managers must authorize work packages, monitor completed work, and report on work progress. Issues that arise are entered into the Issue Log for tracking, and an Issue Report is written up if the issue must be escalated to the project board.
Also, measurements are taken to determine if the stage has deviated outside of the agreed tolerances set by the project board. If this happens, the project board must approve an Exception Plan.
At regular intervals, the Quality Register and Risk Register are updated, and the Configuration item records are re-evaluated.
Managing a Stage Boundary
When the end of a management stage is approaching, the Managing a Stage Boundary process kicks in. This process requires the production of a new Stage Plan for the upcoming management stage. This plan must be approved by the project board prior to implementation, hence it gives the project board a chance to evaluate the business case and determine if the benefits produced by the project will still be realized.
As part of the end of the management stage, the tolerances identified by the project board must be measured and presented in the End Stage Report. Many times it is difficult to measure tolerances during a partially completed stage (for example, budgets are only partially complete). However, at the end of the stage the tolerances are presented and any Exception Plans produced.
In addition, the Project Initiation Documentation (PID), which includes the overall project plans, must be reviewed and re-assessed. The business case must be updated and re-approved before the next stage can begin.