How many organisations can you name that actually use Prince 2?

 

I was asked this question recently and after some thought I had to admit that the answer is zero.

In fact, not only can I not name one, I have to admit then in more than ten years i have never worked in

 an environment that allowed me to use the essence of Prince 2, with the exception of one which hired me

 to establish and coach Prince 2 for them and one which used Prince 2 but couldn’t spell management let alone implement it.

 The standard thing in the UK is that every job spec for a project manager asks for Prince 2 and every CV claims experience or qualifications in it, yet it’s a fickle bird to track down.

I’m not suggesting that project management is poor in the organisations without Prince 2, in fact it can even be better. Neither am I suggesting that Prince 2 has not had a positive impact on the organisations that borrow bits of it.

 

If they are not using the methodology they claim to be using, do they have any  methodology?.

The essence of methodology is that for better or for worse, it locks you into a habitual process of ticking all the boxes and it provides a safeguard against missing  vital bits of the jigsaw at critical times.  Used intelligently, the bits you don’t need don’t have to consume any time or effort, but making the decision that you don’t need them as opposed to forgetting them is the life saving bit.
My answer to the above question is mostly no.
Based on my experience the majority of organisations include certain bits and leave out others and stop following any process by half way through.  It’s not an easy judgement to make, because  Prince 2 was intended to be adapted, so my judgement is made on the same criteria as CMM, if there is an identifiable process and it is repeated then they have a methodology.

Whether it is fit for purpose is another question entirely.

 What is wrong with Prince 2?

When I see a large complex software system not being used very much, I describe that as a failed project and if it is not being used I ask why it is not being used.

The answer usually falls into one of two camps: (a) It does not do what it is meant to do (b) It is too difficult to use. Following on that definition, I am naturally therefore assuming that to some extent at least, Prince 2 must be considered  a failed project.

My view and that of most of the people I have discussed this with is that problems with Prince 2 are:

1.       Too much complexity.

2.       Too much paperwork.


Complexity

You only have to look at the Prince 2 process model to get that sinking feeling. Of course once you have been trained in it, it all makes sense. The methodology, rather than the model.

The complexity is a reflection of course of it’s birth in the public sector where complexity, red tape and too much paperwork is so engrained it goes unnoticed by  all but the rawest new recruits.

The complex structure and language of directing a stage and managing a project and product breakdowns and so on, is a major turn off for all but the most determined stakeholders, all project staff and a great many project managers.
When stakeholders are confused about what you are doing and why, that usually spells trouble on the horizon, when your team are confused you are already in trouble.

 Paperwork

The same paragraphs can be found repeated in countless places all over the project paperwork and needs to be maintained constantly unless you want a lot of documents that contradict each other as they reflect different points in the maturity of the project.
People sign off these documents, but few ever read them and even fewer believe what they read in them.

I have a set of Prince 2 document templates that I’ve been carrying around for years and there are more than 40 documents in the file.

It is true that these documents don’t all need to be produced but even a few documents that are not read and understood is a big problem and here are the reasons:

1.       Communication is the single most important aspect of any project, when you hide that communication in a document, it is all to easy to assume that the message has been received. Not only has not been received, it may not have been read, let alone understood.

2.       Documents are boring and when you begin to bore your stakeholders they stop listening and this is the first step in a sharp decline towards project failure.

 How much of Prince 2 is actually on the critical path of all projects

 This is a tough one, because there so many scenarios in which a project might be created and used. For the purpose of my answer, I will assume the traditional project that is created to bring about changes of some sort that are outside of the day to day business of the organisation. This was the original driver for creating a standalone team with empowerment, budget and it’s own dynamic.

My answer is that the project board is a must, because this represents the business need and  customers of the business and other important stakeholders. A project board provides a sound steering mechanism to make big decisions when needed and to review progress through stage gates.
A project sponsor is essential, he/she can also be the project executive. The sponsor is the senior manager or director who provides the motivation and drive from the business and who uses power and influence to remove obstacles when needed. If he is also the executive he will take chair of the project board and keep them to their task.

A project structure is absolutely utterly essential because without this people will spend their time squabbling over roles and responsibilities and decisions won’t get made. It needs to spell out clearly who is who, who does what and the relationship of the team to the Project board. It should also spell out clearly the reporting and monitoring framework.

  

A business case is of course fundamental, because without this here can be no project and it should begin in outline form and remain a live document throughout the course of the project.

 The simple RAG report is invaluable for giving stakeholders a warm glow once a month.

 That is it for me. I can happily deliver a project with that collection plus a good project management tool to manage my plan and a spreadsheet for budget control.

 

What else do you need

Well here’s the seed for a lot of controversy. In my book, Prince 2 couldn’t deliver a boiled egg unless the project manager understands food and boiling eggs. Domain knowledge is what I am referring to and in my view it is critically important.  Of course it is possible, especially on very large projects to deliver something without this domain knowledge, but in any circumstance, it is still the weaker of two options.

Not only do you need domain knowledge, but you need to be a skilled people manager. Many people would include this the in what is wrong with Prince 2? Paragraph, but in my view that is unfair, because it is not a Prince 2 weakness but a weakness in management and recruitment practices.

The main job that a project manager does is to lead and motivate people not just a team of professionals, but also stakeholders many of whom may be critical or apprehensive of the project and often external suppliers with a whole different set of motives and drivers.
Not only is there a big diversity in the team, it is a transient team that has come together just for this project. That means the storming, norming and all the other difficult and unproductive stages of getting a team to work productively together.

 

 

Ed Taaffe

 

 

 

 

 




 

 

 

2 thoughts on “How many organisations can you name that actually use Prince 2?

  1. Great blog. I agree with the need forsoft skills in addition to Prince 2, but isn’t a project manager’s job to steer the project rather than to do the work?

  2. Thanks for your comments.
    Well in short yes, but it is rarely that simple.
    There are few organisations that would pay project manager fees for someone who kept a plan updated. This is an entry level programme offcie role.

    The project manager must be able to make sound judgements about approach and be able and willing to turn sharply on the steeing when necessary. That requires knowlwedge and confidence.
    The PM also needs to be a maste of getting the most out of people who are not natural bed fellows which is what a project team tends to be.
    None of this is included in Prince 2 and very little in PMI.
    Nobody is paying out good fees nowadays for PMs that don’t have secialised industry knowledge and skills to back up their project management capabilities.

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