Project Management: PRINCE2 Plans Theme

29.03.2021Project Management: PRINCE2 Plans Theme

Project planning can sometimes seem to be a dark art; specifying the exact steps to be performed (and by who) at the outset of a Project can be an impossible and undesirable task. This can be down to:

  • Uncertainty about the detail
  • A changing or uncertain environment
  • Risk factors that could change the situation
  • Difficulty in predicting resource availability
  • Difficult in predicting business situations

However, without a clear plan, how can a Project deliver its required outputs or products?

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

We have previously established that each project needs to have direction, management, control, and communication. PRINCE2 plans are much more than a Gantt Chart; it documents how, when and who for all the project’s targets. This includes not just Products, but quality, scope, risk, and benefits.

A plan must contain sufficient information to show how targets will be reached and therefore becomes the backbone of the Project.

Revisiting Plans throughout the Project is a requirement of the PRINCE2 Project Management approach. Whilst plans should enable the business case to be realised, (remembering the continuous business justification principle), Projects rarely have the time, money, or resources to deliver everything that all the stakeholders want, even if all their desires have a business justification.  

Throughout the life of a Project, prioritisation will be needed to ensure that the acceptance and quality criteria are met, no more so than in Project Planning.

You can read more on a Project Management Prioritisation technique called MoSCoW on our website.

Product based Planning

PRINCE2 has a Principle to focus on Products. Planning in a PRINCE2 project illustrates this Principle in practice; what must be delivered as a Project Product must be identified before deciding what activities, dependencies and resources are required to deliver that Product.

Starting with a Project Product Description (confirming the Projects output, including quality expectations, acceptance criteria sand methods), Product Descriptions (purpose, composition, derivation, and quality criteria of each Product) and Product Breakdown Structure (the hierarchy of all the products to be produced) are produced and maintained. Finally, a Project Plan sets out how the objectives will be achieved by showing the major Products, resources required and activities for the scope of the Plan.


We have explored the challenges of planning an entire Project from the outset. Realistically, you can only accurately detail a short time in advance – this is called the ‘Planning Horizon’ (it’s only as far as you can see).

In a PRINCE2 project framework, there are three levels of plan that help solve this problem:

Project Plan – the bird’s eye view

  • Contains the overall schedule and cost of the project at a top level, as well as tolerances set by corporate/programme management.
  • Provides a high-level view of the project’s management stages
  • The Project Board uses the Project Plan as a baseline against which to measure progress throughout the Project lifetime

Stage Plan(s) –zooming in

  • Each management stage on a project will have its own Stage Plan, therefore it has much more detail than the Project Plan, as its forecast is shorter (i.e. for each subsequent stage, rather than for the project as a whole).
  • It describes the products and resources involved, the quality activities required, and time/cost tolerance levels for that stage
  • It is used as a baseline for everyday project management activities by the Project Manager. They update the Stage Plan with information about the progress of the stage, so can quickly see actual or potential deviations from the stage-level constraints. This enables timely escalation of exceptions to the Project Board.

Team Plan(s) – the nitty gritty

  • In large or complex Projects Team Managers may be employed to deliver certain work packages.
  • Team Managers receive a segmented version of the Stage Plan for their work package, then use that plan to allocate tasks to team members, monitor their progress, and keep an eye on team-level constraints.
  • The Project Manager still oversees progress; If the tolerances, which are set by the Project Manager, are forecast to be exceeded, then the Team Manager refers the situation as a project issue, back to the Project Manager.

The Exception (Plan(s))

Where a Stage Plan or a Project Plan goes into exception, i.e., if they are forecast to exceed tolerance levels (cost, time) the Project Manager submits an Exception Report to the Project Board, explaining:

  • The details and impact of the exception
  • Outlining possible courses of action and recommending one option for handing the problem.

If stage-level tolerances are likely to be exceeded, then the Project Board will make the decision on how to proceed. If project-level tolerances are exceeded the Project Board will have to escalate the issue to corporate/programme management for a decision.

Adapt and Optimise

Adapting Plans to a changing environment, that still deliver to the Project Brief is a challenge. Honest communication, and a clear set of requirements goes a long way to keeping a Project on track, even if the unexpected happens.

At AEON, honesty is not a word taken lightly. One of our core values is ‘Your Success is our Reward’ – our team work collaboratively with clients to achieve their Project aims and are invested in that success.

That is not to say everything always go to plan; but even in Exception circumstances, there are opportunities to be had, especially in R&D environments. We keep the lines of communication, both informal and formal open with Clients to capitalise on these opportunities.

Planning for R&D and innovative Projects where there is no precedent can be daunting. Well thought out Requirements are a must, as is active participation from users and suppliers at the start of a Project.

Ultimately, even though planning the delivery of an R&D project can seem a huge task, we stick to the South African saying ‘How do you eat and elephant? One bite at a time!’   

Get in touch

To learn more about how combining PRINCE2 Project Management and Systems Engineering can help your Project, get in touch with our expert team of Project Managers and Engineering Experts.