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Inside PRINCE2: Fixed date projects

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series Inside PRINCE2

Inside PRINCE2 logoPlanning is an essential part of what project managers do, so you would expect there to be some mention of how to deal with fixed date projects in the PRINCE2 manuals.  There isn’t.  Fixed date projects only get a passing mention in the Managing Successful Projects book, and you’d have to look really hard to find a mention of managing time constraints in the Directing Successful Projects book.

That’s because PRINCE2 expects you to do project management properly, with sponsors who commit to realistic plans and don’t expect you to deliver the world on a plate by Tuesday lunchtime.  Unfortunately, when does any methodology get applied perfectly?  Project managers still need some guidance on how to manage projects that have a fixed date.

PRINCE2 advises that the fixed date time constraint is managed as a planning risk.  It identifies planning risks based on fiscal boundaries (for example, where you can’t move the project budget from one financial year to the next) and also on calendar boundaries (for example, delivering something before the end of the tax year).  It cites the Millennium Bug projects as calendar-bound planning risks, but there have been more recent examples, like last year’s 53 week year which messed up some software.

If you are doing your product based planning properly, you will end up with a schedule that shows exactly how long the project is going to take.  You then take this to the sponsor and ask for agreement.

Project Board members are supposed to make a commitment to provide adequate resources to successfully deliver the project, and time is one of them.  The Directing manual does acknowledge that there are factors that can upset the agreement process.  For example, people may not be available to resource the project adequately to enable it to hit the scheduled dates because they are working on other things.  PRINCE2 advises that the Project Board members decide between themselves how best to meet all the organisation’s commitments and manage competing priorities.

The good news for project managers is that the Project Board are clearly advised by PRINCE2 that their role is to endorse the Stage Plans as realistic representations of the work required to achieve the deliverables.  That is, by agreeing a Stage Plan, they also agree that it is completely possible to do all the work in the required time and they sign up to providing all the resources necessary to make that happen.  They can’t agree a Stage Plan, take away half your project team and then blame you when you can’t get the work done on time.  Has your Project Board done this to you?  Point them to page 26 in the Directing manual which says:  “Project Board members cannot subsequently distance themselves and blame the planners.”  So there.

While there isn’t a lot about managing fixed date projects in PRINCE2, the reason is that you shouldn’t be managing fixed date projects.  PRINCE2 is all about managing in a controlled environment (that’s the C and the E of PRINCE), not one where everyone is rushing around panicking to get things done by a date some executive thought up on the golf course.

If you are expected to manage a fixed date project in a PRINCE2 environment, question how that fits with the method – because it doesn’t fit very well.

I’ll have reviews of both the new Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 and the new Directing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 books for you in August, as part of this year’s Summer of Books event.  All the Inside PRINCE2 articles are drawn from these texts, which are the PRINCE2:2009 editions.

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