1. Starting up a project (SU)

It’s pre-project Christmas and the commissioning organisation (nearest and dearest) issue the project mandate – i.e. it had better be a good one. The timing of the project mandate is generally calendar led as this is a time critical project, triggered by ‘oh crikey it’s not the 1st of December already is it?’

The project brief is produced and our Project Manager, in this case ‘Mum or Dad,’ is appointed. The remaining project management team is also appointed. Never quite managing the refined art of delegation, official duties for our Project Manager include, making the Christmas lists, buying the presents for kids and in-laws, wrapping the presents, writing the cards and all forms of food and present shopping. Tree management, potato peeling and decorations sit with the other half, with a little office support from the kids if you have them.

Previous lessons are captured at this time, and with Christmas, our list of lessons that go ‘unlearned’ is often long. Why did we overspend last year and did the dog really need that many Christmas presents? Why have we booked up almost every day of the holiday with social events? Let’s try not to incinerate the roast potatoes again while we are distracted by the benefits of mulled wine. Who’s turn is it to decide where we go and is it really viable to choose to go skiing when we don’t have expendable budget anyway?

Objectives – to complete the wide variety of Christmas tasks on time and to budget, some of which include:

• The family presents – covered in our Quality Approach

• The Christmas cards – in our Communication Approach

• The Christmas decorations – Quality Approach

• The Christmas dinner – Quality and Risk Approach

• The Christmas social calendar - Communication Approach

Customer quality expectations

• Gift expectations are fulfilled and appreciated (and soon forgotten about)

• A festive & decorative home to rival all the neighbours

• A hearty, tasty dinner, enough to feed everyone 10 times over with bubble and squeak and turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day.

Acceptance criteria

• The smiling, contented faces or our nearest and dearest, full bellies and a beautifully done festive home.

Outline business case

• Budget – whatever this is…set your tolerances high!

• Benefits – extra time off work to spend with loved ones, presents and overloading on food and drink

Disbenefits – larger tummies and smaller bank balances

Outline plan

• 01 November – 30 November – think about starting ‘Project Christmas’ but do nothing else.

• 01 December – 10th December – Start to worry that we should be doing something about Christmas and open ‘door number 1’ of our advent calendars.

• 10th December – 15th December – start the plan and allocate roles.

• 16th December – Christmas decorations go up and party season starts so its official countdown.

• 16-17th December – it’s the office Christmas party.

• 15th December – 23rd December – the big shop, hours poring over shopping websites, queuing in department stores and supermarkets so we can be at the ready (which we never fully are).

• 24th December – do more shopping, for something. We don’t know what this is yet but there is always something unaccounted for. A food item or a present that was not in the outline plan.

• 25th December – the 5am wake-up call if your children are under the age of 10: The unwrapping of presents (and road testing them): Later, the dinner, opening of crackers and a mountain of washing up: For some, the big Christmas Day film or a post-Christmas dinner knees up.

• 25th December – closing a project process begins with a post mortem of how well it went. After one too many cocktails it all seems to have been a raging success! Well done to our Christmas Project Manager. You did such a good job you can have the role next year too.

• 26th December – the hangovers, the leftovers, more mulled wine and festive drinks. A visit to the in laws and the people that you didn’t manage to fit around the Christmas table the day before.

2. Directing a project (DP)

Authority to initiate the project is given by the project board (the nearest and dearest), and throughout, direction and control will be given to steer the Project Manager in the right direction. Project Christmas is the ONLY occasion where our project board (the family) are also part of the project team. This is usually a big NO NO for PRINCE2 due to their conflicting objectives. The ‘nearest and dearest’ will give ad hoc direction throughout the project no doubt, but are also responsible for approval of each stage of your project and for making decisions when things exceed set tolerances (classic example is overspending on the presents in all the excitement)!

3.Initiating a project (IP)

Go ahead is given for the big project to start. It is here that our nearest and dearest decide whether the project should continue. Of course, Christmas is ‘always’ going to happen if it is something that you celebrate in your household. But, there may be things about the project that mean it cannot continue in its current form. Classic examples here are the disagreements about where we are ‘actually’ going to spend the Big Day. Never an easy decision and often based on previous lessons learned. Each household will have its own internal processes in place for this for which PRINCE2 can support. Do we take turns? Do we always go out for Christmas lunch or always have it at home?

As part of your Christmas PID (Project Initiation Document) you will need to define what your approach is going to be and what your expectations are. For example, your Quality Management Approach. You may be happy that you’ve been given something gifted to a charity for Christmas but I doubt that your 5 year old will see it the same way. In fact, they have already set their own Quality Criteria… in their letter to Santa.

Also in our Christmas PID, will sit our Communication Approach. ‘Do’ let everyone know you’re not sending Christmas cards this year to prevent them feeling ignored. ‘Don’t’ tell your little ones where the Christmas present stash is this year and ‘do’ plan social events clearly so there are no double bookings.

4. Controlling a stage (CS)

It is the job of the Project Manager to control each stage, ensuring that all the issues and risks are captured and any deviances to plan are kept within tolerance. Our project is divided into its separate manageable chunks (stages) that run concurrently with our outline plan. This way our issues and risks are kept better under control and the business case is continually reviewed. It is the job of the Project Manager here to deal with the general day to day management of Christmas i.e. issuing work packages like; Purchasing the tree; decorating the house or doing the Christmas food shopping. Progress is monitored here and work packages agreed and approved. Whatever has been delegated by our Christmas Project Manager, they are kept in the loop in the form of checkpoint reports.

Be careful here because it is very tempting to micro manage. Stick to the Organisation Principle and assign effective roles and responsibilities (don’t let everyone else get away without doing any of the work). Trust the kids to get their Dad a present that he will like (although there might be a case from them about using some of our Change Budget to fund it)!

Food preparation is another key role that can be delegated to a variety of people (other roles can also be assigned to keep people OUT of the kitchen). Our PM will be keeping a close eye on the issues and risks, taking corrective action where necessary. For example:

Issue 1. It’s late Christmas Eve, the shops are now shut and you’ve run out of wrapping paper…

Corrective action –

That old stash of birthday wrapping paper now has Christmas cards stuck on it to hide the incriminating evidence.

Issue 2. It’s Christmas Day and you’ve gotten so stuck into the benefits (wine and company) and have deviated from plan. The ham is burnt and the turkey is going to take a bit longer than you thought.

Corrective action – cut the burnt bits off the ham, re glaze and stick it back in the oven for a quick ten minutes when the turkey is finally done.

Risk number 1. – You son’s new girlfriend is coming to the Big Day and she is a pescatarian!

Corrective action – Google what a pescatarian ‘actually’ is! Buy a nut roast for 1 and some vegetarian gravy. Make the starter inclusive and have a good old fashioned 1980s style prawn cocktail.

5. Managing product delivery (MP)

It’s the teams turn in this process. PRINCE2 is focused on products and their delivery. Producing our products to timescale and quality and still within tolerance is a big part of our Christmas plan. So, what happens here? The work package (an example):

It’s turkey time!

Step 1. Work package is accepted

Timescales: sourced by 22nd December but not before (to ensure freshness).

Quality requirements: Sourced from a reputable butcher: at least 8 kilos in weight: must fit in the oven: no giblets please.

Tolerances: if no reputable butcher can be sourced then a quality supermarket can be used: 10% weight tolerance: zero tolerance on the oven factor and the giblets!

Step 2. Work package is executed

Turkey is sourced for delivery 23rd December, not too early but just in time to do any prep before the big day.

Step 3. Work package is delivered and approved by our PM.

In short, the turkey turns up on time and it’s looking good. Phew! Thankfully it fits in the oven (if we take out that top shelf).

6. Managing a stage boundary (SB)

At each all-important stage of Project Christmas, our PM must review its progress in line with our PID and business case (which we continually update). Our business case needs to reflect the changing environment around us in PRINCE2 and It is here that any potential deviance from tolerance levels is highlighted to our Project Board in our exception plans.

At Christmas, like any other project, things often do not go to plan and it is better to deal with them as they occur rather than soldier on and worry about them later. This is also the time that we plan for the next stage. What is in our project plan and what are the products that are required for the next management stage? Well, we’ve just put our various lists together but our next stage is probably to start buying the things that we’ve put on them, namely the presents! Part of our first stage boundary plan will probably be to source (and sort) the Christmas decs! What’s in the loft? What needs to be bought? Do we really have to put ‘that one’ up this year?

7. Closing a project (CP)

The Big Day is here and we are preparing our planned closure. It is time for our PM to assess whether ‘all’ of our Project Christmas products have been achieved and Quality Criteria has been met.

a. Have the projects products been approved? Well, everyone looked happy with the gifts they received, the dinner went (with some hiccups) but all within tolerance and the biggest criteria of all, the smiling and contented expressions of your nearest and dearest telling you what a great day was had, is the best indicator of all.

b. The projects products effectively have now been handed over. The decs have been commented on, the presents all opened and played with, the dinner scoffed and the drinks downed! Finally, we schedule our benefits review, which will no doubt be when the ‘next’ Christmas is on its way…probably in the blink of an eye.

We do our final evaluations of the project by assessing and evaluating the approaches we put into place and our business case, then our project can officially close.

And finally...

Almost all things we do in life can benefit from applying PRINCE2. Try it! You will be surprised how, with a bit of tailoring, you can apply its processes and planning techniques to almost any part of your life, whether this is inside or outside the workplace.

As for Project Christmas, there is one essential recommendation on project success that does ‘not’ appear in the PRINCE2 handbook… celebrate it or not, if you are with people that you love this holiday season, then your project is destined to succeed.

Happy holidays and a successful Project Christmas from everyone here at SPOCE




SPOCE Project Management Limited is a global leader in delivering best practice training for project programme and risk management. We offer a wide range of courses which can be tailored to suit any form of training need. For example, public courses e-Learning, blended learning and client workshops. SPOCE is the flagship training provider for PRINCE2® and MSP®.


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