Mention the word tolerance to any PRINCE2 project manager and the result will either be a sage nod or they will suddenly embark on a monologue about exceptions, exception reports, exception plans, exception assessments and escalations.
So why is it that tolerance, such a fundamental concept of the global project management method that is PRINCE2, is often forgotten, misaligned or dismissed in reality?
The What and Why of Tolerance
The concept of tolerance is synonymous with the principle of manage by exception in PRINCE2.
Interestingly, tolerance is based on a common management approach: think escalation procedures in an operational context. Take for example, the situation where a manager may be given a budget or authority limit to spend up to a set level (zero upper level tolerance) or within a range (for example $10,000 plus or minus 5%). If the amount is expected to be outside of the agreed levels then the manager defers (or escalates) the decision to the next level.
Simply put – if you forecast to exceed your authority then you escalate (PRINCE2’s concept of an exception) to the next level of management for a decision.
Tell Me More….
PRINCE2 addresses 6 types of tolerance in projects:
- Allowable under/over spend on an agreed budget.
- The degree you can deliver later (or earlier) than an agreed completion date.
- Allowable range of variance from agreed (measurable) quality criteria.
- What are the mandatory (must do) products or feature versus the desirable (should do).
- Limit on risks – what is an acceptable level.
- Allowable under/over delivery on benefits.
And yes, it is possible to have ‘zero’ tolerance – ever had a time deadline? Ever had a fixed price project? The concept of tolerance and exceptions needs to be tailored according to the context and specific needs of the project at hand.
Tolerance is NOT a Licence to Add Scope…
Let’s set the record straight – we aren’t talking about scope creep (aka uncontrolled change) here. No project management method, let alone PRINCE2, is about introducing scope creep. Simply put, tolerance is NOT about ‘slipping in’ extra deliverables or features not agreed to as part of the latest baseline. Tolerance is about delegated authority, not about changing a deliverable or product.
So Why is Tolerance Empowering?
PRINCE2 via the application of tolerances is about having the appropriate skill level and authority to literally get on with your agreed role and responsibilities. Consider the reverse: Who likes to be micromanaged? Really? Micromanagement is a waste of time and resources – if you have the skills and authority do you really need both you and your boss involved in actioning the same responsibility?
Tolerance in conjunction with the principle of ‘manage by exception’:
“…provides for very efficient use of senior management time as it reduces senior managers’ time burden without removing their control by ensuring decisions are made at the right level…”
PRINCE2 2017, AXELOS
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