PRINCE2 7 Issues: not every issue equals a change

Brad Bigelow – co-author, PRINCE2 7


Few projects make it through to completion without changes to the project plan.


However, a typical approach has been for people to translate all issues that arise as changes. The further along a project is, the greater the impact change can have. So, there’s been a tendency to discourage change.


Why is the PRINCE2 practice name now “issues” rather than “change”?


This is why it’s so significant that we now refer to the practice as Issues: because issue management is as much about communication as it is about control.


Any stakeholder can raise an issue, and capturing and assessing issues is a great way of maintaining stakeholder engagement. But not all issues are changes.


A change relates to the idea of a control framework and that framework includes a project baseline. A change is something that impacts scheduling, estimates, what you’re doing, or how you’re doing it, all of which are part of the project baseline.


What do we mean by issues?


In PRINCE2 7, the broad definition of issues is “anything that could affect the project”.


The operative word is could. And until you know an issue will affect the project, it remains an issue, not a change.


For example, issues can be either a problem, a concern, a business opportunity, a request for change, or something off-specification.


There is always something completely outside the project (the COVID-19 pandemic, for example) that could affect the project. Project managers, therefore, need to be aware of that potential beyond the constraints of time, scope, cost, and quality.


This gives project managers a more practicable framework to deal with issues and any consequent change control steps.


What’s the importance of managing these issues?


The benefits of managing issues as outlined in the new PRINCE2 7 make it clear: it’s all about a capture process. Good project managers should be “issues friendly”, i.e., wanting to know about them early to be able to respond.


This also helps project managers in communicating with stakeholders; being pragmatic about whether an issue may or may not affect the project. This allows them to foster open dialogue while maintaining a control framework.


A new diagram in the guidance shows how issue assessment involves figuring out the balance between an advantage gained through a change versus the impact of its implementation. In other words, does a change maintain the business case and what the project was originally conceived to be?


Combining awareness and control


PRINCE2 7’s issues approach stresses the need for communication but with the backstop of a control framework.


This allows project managers to keep channels open with stakeholders and become issue-gathering “mechanisms” while maintaining control of the project management framework. And the need to discern the difference between issues and changes is a key skill project managers must develop.


During project initiation, for example, you may be more willing and able to deal with changes as the major resource commitments are yet to come. Later, however, as the project reaches its conclusion, the impact of changes could be far more significant.


Not all issues result in changes. But all changes start as issues. The switch of the practice name to Issues is a simple way to remind project managers that communication should always come before control.