Successfully Juggling the 7 PRINCE2® Themes

Let’s take a look at the second part of the integrated PRINCE2 project management framework: the seven themes that guide the project manager and the project team during the project life cycle.  These themes describe critical aspects of project management that must be addressed continuously and in parallel throughout any project.  Defining and managing the themes throughout the project life cycle is critical to achieving a successful project outcome.   I think of these themes as the balls an effective project manager keeps juggling in the air throughout the life of a project in order to focus on the right things as they get the job done.    

 This road map’s integrated framework of elements for successful project management consists of the principles we reviewed in a previous post, themes, processes and tailoring the method to the project environment. 

Business Case

A PRINCE2 Business Case drives all decision-making in the project.  Created at the start of a project, the Business Case justifies initial and continuing investment in a project.  It allows the PRINCE2 project management team to judge if a project is desirable, viable and achievable at any point in time.  The Business Case is updated and maintained throughout the project life cycle with the current status about project risks, benefits and costs.  At key decision points, its contents are verified in order to allow the project to continue.   After project closure, the Business Case is confirmed based upon the operational benefits that accrue from using the project’s product.


The Organization theme defines and establishes project roles and responsibilities for a PRINCE2 project.  It clearly addresses the three project interests: business, user and supplier.  The levels of management in the project are defined across four levels: corporate or program management who is responsible for commissioning the project, the project board providing overall direction and management (governance), the project manager managing the project’s day-to-day activities and team managers delivering the project’s technical or specialist products.


In PRINCE2, quality focuses on ensuring that the project’s products are fit for purpose.  The approach, defined in the project’s Quality Management Strategy, requires that there be an explicit understanding of project scope and the quality criteria against which the products will be assessed.  In other words, the focus of quality is on each product’s ability to meet its requirements.  PRINCE2 contains product-focused elements of quality planning, quality control and quality assurance.  Two types of quality methods are advocated: ‘in process’ methods that build quality into products as they are developed and ‘appraisal’ methods used to assess if finished products are complete and fit for purpose.


Plans are the vehicle used to define how, where and by whom the project’s products will be delivered.  Plans are used in PRINCE2 to provide facilitate effective communication and control.  They are aligned with the Business Case and require both approval and commitment from all levels of the project management team.  There are three levels of plan in a project: Project Plan, Stage Plan and optional Team Plans.  In addition, Exception Plans may replace one of the plans when there is a need to re-plan due to a tolerance violation. PRINCE2 requires that product-based planning techniques be used – identifying the products first, and then the dependencies, activities and resources needed to successfully deliver those products.


PRINCE2 looks at risks relative to the project’s objectives.  These risks are uncertainties, and can be either threats (negative risks) or opportunities (positive risks). Risk management targets the proactive identification, assessment and control of project risks in order to improve the chances of success.   The strategy for approaching risk management in a project is defined in the Risk Management Strategy, created during the initiation stage of the project.  The five steps for managing risks are: (1) identify the cause, event and effects of each risk, (2) assess their probability and impact, (3) plan the specific management responses, (4) implement the risk responses as required, and (5) communicate risk information internal and external to the project.


The Change theme in PRINCE2 encompasses configuration management, issue management and change control.  Project controls are established and maintained throughout the project to address these three areas.  Configuration management creates, maintains and controls the configuration throughout the life of a product.  Issues are any event that has happened on a PRINCE2 project that was not planned and requires management action.  They can be raised by anyone at any time during the project, and are categorized as a request for change, an off-specification or a problem/concern. 


Progress refers to the mechanisms used to monitor and compare the actual project progress and performance against the planned values.   These mechanisms also allow the project manager to proactively forecast future performance based upon current trends relative to project objectives and make decisions to address potential variations.  Progress measures the achievement of the objectives of a plan, and can be reviewed at project, stage and work package levels in a project.  PRINCE2 uses the concept of tolerance (relative to time, cost, scope, risk, quality, benefits) to implement the principle of ‘management by exception’.  Each level of plan has tolerances associated with it, allowing the responsible party to make decisions and just get on with things unless a tolerance violation occurs or is predicted to occur in the future.

It is important to note that PRINCE2 does not address detailed planning and control techniques that organizations may select to support the PRINCE2 themes, such as critical path or earned value analysis.  These techniques are well documented elsewhere and may be incorporated into PRINCE2 at the organization’s discretion.  Leadership, motivational and other interpersonal skills are also not codified in the method, but are recognized as essential to successful project management.

As I said previously, a copy of the PRINCE2 method is required reference material in any project manager’s bookshelf!  The method is documented in the OGC publication Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2” which is officially published by TSO.  Serious project managers seeking to enhance their knowledge, skills and professional credibility target should consider PRINCE2 certification.  Learning Tree offers two excellent certification courses for folks interested in becoming a Certified Practitioner of PRINCE2 or simply starting with the Foundation Certification.    

Susan Weese

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