On a PRINCE2 project, the executive alone is accountable for project success

executive accountability for project success

The purpose of the executive is to achieve project success.

And achieving project success means realising the business case. Or to be more precise, ensuring that the project produces the final output that is accepted by the senior user.

Whenever PRINCE2 makes such a general declaration, it also provides the framework or the procedure for its realisation. To achieve project success, the executive must be able to rely on clearly laid out responsibilities. And have appropriate authority.

In this case, it is the purpose of the directing a project process to enable the executive to be accountable for the project’s success. The executive makes key decisions and exercises overall control. While at the same time delegating the day-to-day management of the project to the project manager.

So, let’s discuss in a bit more detail the key responsibilities of the executive as defined by the directing a project process.

One is to authorise project manager’s requests.

That’s right,  the executive will switch into action only at the project manager’s request. That is, as long as things are progressing as planned.

  • At the end of the starting up a project process, the project manager sends the executive the project brief. With the request to authorise project initiation on top of it.
  • Upon the completion of the initiating a project process, the project manager sends the executive the project initiation documentation.  In parallel, the project manager will also submit the stage plan for the first delivery stage. These submissions will include respective requests to authorise the project and the stage plan.
  • At the end of each managing stage boundary process, the project manager sends the executive a request to authorise the next stage plan. The executive will first review the end stage report, updated business case and summary risk profile provided by the project manager. The executive’s objective is to ascertain there is continued business justification and acceptable risk exposure for project continuation.
  • Finally, upon the completion of the closing a project process, the project manager sends the executive a project closure recommendation (take note of this subtle nuance!).

In addition, the project manager can at any time request the executive to provide ad hoc advice on anything that the project manager may feel uncertain about. Better ask first than be sorry later!

It is important to note, that in the PRINCE2 culture the executive won’t see a request to provide ad hoc advice as a sign of project manager’s weakness or incompetence. As a matter of fact, the executive will perceive it as rather the opposite. A proof of aptitude, maturity and the focus on project success.

Another key executive’s responsibility is to handle exceptions.

An exception is a situation of an unacceptable deviation. Which means, exceeding one or more stage-level tolerances.

In such case, the project manager sends the executive an exception report. The executive then decides, which of the two decisions to take. One will result in the topping up of the threatened or exceeded tolerance(s) and letting the execution of the stage plan continue. The other will involve sending the project manager the request to prepare an exception plan. The latter marks premature stage closure and triggers the managing stage boundary process. In response, the project manager will prepare the exception plan. By approving it, the executive will authorise project continuation.

A somewhat less prominent responsibility of the executive involves confirming the achievement of every milestone during the project life-cycle.

For example, the senior user will prepare the project product description and agree it with the senior supplier. But its final approval will rest with the executive.

Furthermore, at the project’s end it is the senior user who is responsible for accepting the project product against the acceptance criteria lsited in it. That will take place in the closing a project product. But that won’t be quite the end of the story. In the very last project’s breath, in directing a project process, the executive will confirm the user’s acceptance and only then send the closure notification up to the corporate, programme management or customer level of management.

Such “double confirmation” may look a bit redundant. But what it does, is drive home the point that the executive is like the ship captain. The project does not pass any milestone, or gate, without their explicit approval.

As you could see, the executive never interferes with the actual day-to-day running of the project. That is the responsibility of the project manager. And the executive respects the latter’s autonomy of action within the limits of delegated authority.

Needless to say, project success depends on the commitment and hard work of every single member of the project management team. But it is the executive alone who bears the burden of accountability to the corporate, programme management or customer level of management for project success.

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