Planning is a major topic in PRINCE2© but can also be a source of confusion for those starting with the method. Because working plans of some kind – either creating them or reading them –are familiar to all project managers and for most people working as team members, this can lead to an failure to understand how plans are intended for use in PRINCE2.


For those working on contracts, the plan is often given great attention at the bid stage –where it contains fine detail about tasks, schedules and costs down to the last penny – only to be virtually abandoned later as the “real work” of the project gets going.>
PRINCE2 treats plans (as a component) and planning (as a process) as things that support the project at various levels and places by performing multiple duties.


Firstly, PRINCE2 defines three levels of plan: Project, Stage and Team. In fact, planning at the project level is the only thing mandated by the method (i.e. you have to have some kind of plan for the project, don’t you?). However, in keeping with the Project-Stage nature of PRINCE2, you are encouraged to create Stage Plans that are limited to the scope of the stage. They must be consistent with the Project Plan of course, but might be more detailed. The Team Plan is reserved for situations where the complexity of a stage is high or there are natural boundaries, for instance been internal and external teams working on the same stage.


PRINCE2 prescribes the technique of Product Based Planning, which the manual describes in some detail. This does not mean, however, that the Product Breakdown Structure, Product Flow Diagrams and Product Descriptions resulting from that activity are the only constituents of the plan. Rather, it moves the emphasis of planning away from conventional tasks and towards Products (i.e. deliverable things). This is generally seen as a good thing, although experience suggests that recidivism towards the conventional planning taking centre stage is common. In my opinion this is likely to be because the prevelant tools for “planning” pull strongly in that direction.


Other than specifying Product Based Planning technique, PRINCE2 takes a very broad view of what you should include in your plans. As ever, PRINCE2 gives you a comprehensive list of what you really ought to consider including, leaving it up to the individual or organisation to make sensible, informed choices. This can be both a blessing and a curse as you can be assured of pull towards best practice, but must work out for yourself what is important – and justify it. Some people might wish for a more prescriptive method where less thinking and more doing is required.

Exception Plans

An Exception Plan is required whenever part of the project is predicted to go outside it’s tolerances. People encountering the concept of Exception Plan for the first time sometimes think that it’s a different type of plan from a Project or Stage Plan. In fact it’s just a potential replacement for the plan that covers that part of the project that is in exception. So if a Stage is going to exceed its tolerances, your Exception Plan will replace the Stage Plan and be of the same design. It’s intended to cover a different time period however: from “now” to the end of the orginal planning period.


Technically, you could simply replace the existing plan with the appropriate Exception Plan but don’t forget that you need the approval of the Project Board to replace a Stage Plan and the approval of wider corporate management to replace a Project Plan.