Is PRINCE 2 Still Valuable in an Agile Environment?

Is PRINCE 2 Still Valuable in an Agile Environment?

Over the years, many organizations have invested heavily in creating or deploying project management frameworks. PRINCE 2 is a widely-adopted project management methodology, which was developed by a UK government agency and is used extensively within the UK as the management standard for its public projects. The origins of PRINCE 2 began when the sequential “waterfall” method for delivering software projects was the dominant paradigm. However, regular revolution and increasing competition in the IT industry results in organizations seeking a more flexible management method; some of them already turned to Agile practices in an effort to improve their response to business changes. Well, do the traditional project management techniques like PRINCE 2 add value to an Agile environment? Is there any way we could combine these two methodologies to work together

By: Amy Hongying Zhao

Introduction

Over the years, many organizations have invested heavily in creating or deploying project management frameworks.  PRINCE 2 is a widely-adopted project management methodology, which was developed by a UK government agency and is used extensively within the UK as the management standard for its public projects.  The origins of PRINCE 2 began when the sequential “waterfall” method for delivering software projects was the dominant paradigm.  However, regular revolution and increasing competition in the IT industry results in organizations seeking a more flexible management method; some of them already turned to Agile practices in an effort to improve their response to business changes.  Well, do the traditional project management techniques like PRINCE 2 add value to an Agile environment? Is there any way we could combine these two methodologies to work together?

What are the deliverables from PRINCE 2?

Let us start with the definition of PRINCE 2. What are PRINCE 2 project management methodology covers?  In the text book we get this explanation “…the planning, delegating, monitoring, and control of all aspects of the project, and the motivation of those involved, to achieve the project objectives within the expected performance targets of time, cost, quality, scope, benefit, and risks.”  PRINCE 2 is identified by four integrated elements: the base is seven principles, and these principles are supported by seven themes, the project delivered through seven processes.  The key element is tailoring, because we need to tailor the method to the environment we are working in and to the size of project we are working on.

Principles:

  • The first principle is learning from experience. Whenever we start a project, one key thing we ask is whether we have we done it before, either within our organization or in others.  If yes, what can we learn from the previous experience?
  • The next principle is continued business justification. PRINCE 2 covers the whole project lifecycle, from the beginning through to the end, plus some pre-project initiation stages.  This principle suggests in the whole cycle we should keep asking whether the project is worthwhile
  • Defined roles and responsibilities is the next principle of PRINCE 2 methodology. Projects bring together a group of people; these people need to understand what roles and responsibilities they have, as well as direction, management, and delivery
  • Focus on products requested by PRINCE 2. Projects deliver business cases: they are developed to fit business purposes. It is critically important to make sure that users use them, and we reap the project’s benefits.  So at the beginning stage, we ask: what are the reasons for this product? How we can make the product fit its purpose? When is the product being delivered? We test them to make sure the product meets these requirements.
  • Another principle is management by stages: projects can be very large and should be broken down into at least two management stages, generally with one initial stage and rest of the project divided depending on its size. At the end of each stage, we have opportunities to review the entire project: how the journey is going, how the previous stage has gone, is the business justification still valid, should we move to next stage?  If not, we either change the plan or close the project.
  • Next is management by exception; the main idea here is to use formulated reports instead of regular meetings. In addition, we set up a mechanism of tolerance: if exceptions are out of agreement, then a review project plan is needed.
  • The last principle is tailoring. It is important we tailor the project to suit the environments. PRINCE 2 is designed to be adapted for a variety of projects; this may be very large projects or very small projects, may deploy in our own organization or across multiple organizations, etc.

Themes:

It is important for any size of project in any environment to follow all these seven principles and the seven themes which support them.  Each principle is based on one or more themes, and each theme can support one or more principles.

  • The business justification principle is supported by a theme called the business case. Within a project, the business case recalls the justification as to why we are doing the project in the first place. It covers benefits, time, and cost, allowing stakeholders to compare what we invest in it and track what they will get out from the project
  • The risk theme supports continued business justification as well. If the risk goes up, the business justification may no longer be valid, in which case we may close the case or change the direction
  • Another principle – defined roles and responsibility – is sponsored by the organization theme. This talks about varied roles- all roles need to be identified and fulfilled.
  • Furthermore, focus on product is based on the quality theme; for every product which we talk to the customer about, we must be certain we understand their needs and test to make sure they meet the requirements.
  • Also supporting the focus on product principle are theme plans; this is about what the product delivered, by whom, how, what time and skills are required, etc. Management by stage is supported by plans as well. Within the project we have a product plan, stage plan, and team plan, each plan is detailed in words.
  • The change theme covers the exceptions during the project development
  • The progress theme is where we discuss what mechanism we can put in place to support the management by exception principle and includes a series of formal reports, checkpoints for team reports to the project manager, and the support management team controlling the progress by exception.

Process Model:

The principles and themes come into play in the seven processes; let us have a look of PRINCE 2 process model below:

  • Directing a project runs from the end of starting up a project until the project’s closure, the process is aimed at the project board
  • Planning is a repeatable process, and plays an important role in other processes
  • Starting up a Project is a pre-project process, there to ensure that the pre-requisites for initiating the project are in place
  • Defining how the required product quality is going to be achieved, plans and cost are included in project initiating process
  • Once the project is initiated, we next enter into controlling a stage, which is the core effort of the project manager
  • To ensure that planned products are created and delivered by the project, there is a process called managing product delivery, which includes a series of activities such as team managers negotiating details of work packages with the project manager, ensuring that the work is done, obtaining approval for the completed products, etc.
  • Managing stage boundaries provides the project board with key decision points on whether to continue with the project or not

The last process is closing a project; the objective is to execute a controlled close to the project.

The above is the basic content about the PRINCE 2 project management method.  We can see that PRINCE 2 is built upon a foundation of command and control.  Leaders and managers exercise their authority on the project team and project is managed by exceptions.

What are the Deliverables from Agile Management Methodology?

Agile principles and practices are built upon a foundation of shared interest and collaboration. Project team members are put at the center and are trusted to self-organize, be self-disciplined, to closely collaborate and interact with a range of cross-functional stakeholders to resolve problems and devise effective solutions. The framework of Scrum, which is by far the most popular Agile method, is as follows:

  • The product owner creates a prioritized wish list called a product backlog
  • During sprint planning, the team takes a trunk from top of product backlog, puts it into a sprint backlog, and decides how to implement those tasks, including a schedule and the allocation of job to individuals
  • The team has a certain amount of time, a sprint, to clear the sprint backlog. Usually it is between two and four weeks, and each day there is a daily scrum meet up, to update on progress within the scrum team
  • The sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective, and a piece of product ready for delivery. The sprint cycle repeats until enough items in the product backlog have been completed, or a deadline arrives. The project might end by exception but Scrum ensures that the most valuable work has been completed.

Comparing PRINCE 2 and Agile methods

By comparing these two kinds of management methodologies’ life-cycles we can see both of them consisting of starting, developing, and ending stages. In PRINCE 2 they are divided into processes, and in Agile they called phases. But if we try to map each PRINCE 2 activity to an equivalent Scrum activity, we find this is relatively futile. For example, PRINCE 2 has a great emphasis on upfront project planning, such as starting up a project, initiating a project and managing a stage boundary. With this process crossing over the delivery stages as well, this planning is well-documented. Through a series of plans, PRINCE 2 aims to create a detailed project schedule which directs day to day work. However, all the planning activities identified above would map to a single phase in Scrum, sprint planning, where we establish a large range of plans, controls, tools and risk analyses. Usually, sprints are short in duration, generally four weeks or less, with sprint planning meetings only taking up to one day. This would mean that all those planning tasks in PRINCE 2 would likely to be only achieved at a high level within Agile’s constrained time framework.

In addition, let us have a look of the roles in the two kinds of project management methodologies. A PRINCE 2 project manager has overall responsibility for planning, managing, monitoring and delivering the output of a project. In agile, this role is divided between product owner and scrum master. The product owner is responsible for prioritizing the work and ensuring the required product is delivered on time. The scrum master is a facilitator: they are responsible for reporting to stakeholders, assigning backlog tasks to the development team, and tracking the work schedule. However, this person does not have sole ownership for planning or delivery of the product; these responsibilities must be shared by members of the scrum team.

Conclusion

Overall, I conclude that PRINCE 2 and Agile cannot simply map to each other. PRINCE 2 is a focused approach and is more likely to focus on cost, time, and how plans will engage and affect stake holders. In Agile, on the other hand, we dive into what the product’s requirements are and to accomplish these; it goes further than PRINCE 2, working with the solution and product delivery.

But they are not black and white; in some situations we could overlap or integrate them. There are numbers of successful examples where an organization was under the PRINCE 2 management framework, and later on they turned the delivery process into an Agile environment in order to respond more quickly to business changes. PRINCE 2 is good at the governance and management layers, helping the project to move more smoothly in general. Agile makes itself more time-relevant; it is very effective at the next layer down, the solution and delivery layer. Combining them, these two project management methodologies cover for each other’s shortcomings; it is more powerful than using the two approaches individually.

References

Office of Government Commerce. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2009 Edition Manual. 2009. Print.