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Has Prince2 had its day?

27 Apr 2018

There are those who insist that PRINCE2 is as relevant today as it has ever been. They are passionate in their view that any new developments such as Lean or Agile can easily fit into a PRINCE2 framework.


It has to be said that many of those who hold this view most passionately are also in the PRINCE2 training business. So perhaps we should look at some more detached views from those who don't have a position to defend.


Certainly, in most businesses, there is no ideological attachment to PRINCE2 and it will be used as long as it is useful, whereafter something else will take its place.


Has that point come, and if so why?


Prince2 is showing its age


PRINCE2 was devised in the UK Civil Service and enthusiastically documented by a large team of technical writers. In fact, one of the criticisms of it is that while it's a great way to document a project, it's not such a great way to manage one. But more to the point, PRINCE2 comes from an age in which businesses were hierarchical organisations, where different roles were easy to perceive and to differentiate. Thus a “senior user” or “senior supplier” could be readily identified. A steering group and project manager would definitely be in place. 


Today, even the role of the project manager is sometimes shared between people. As to a steering group, there are many project managers who devoutly wish that such a thing existed. In addition, the development of the project management office (PMO) has meant that not only project administration and coordination but also project management are now routinely undertaken by people who are multitasking across different projects. 


Problems with change projects


PRINCE2 has always struggled in the realm of projects which aim to deliver not just organisational change but also cultural change in the corporation or business. It is very difficult to define ”products” that involve changes of attitude. Yet the job of the change manager and the job of the project manager are often closely allied; they may even be carried out by the same person during transformation phases. 


Sometimes, projects are about not doing things


PRINCE2 is about doing things but transformation and organisational change may well be about not doing things. A successful change project maybe one in which the organisation ceases to carry out certain activities. This is not the World envisaged by PRINCE2 but it is the world faced by many organisations trying to get to grips with the huge changes that technology has brought in the past few years. 


Similarly, many local authorities, for example, faced with severe budget restrictions, have implemented projects to transform both what they do and how they do it. This has sometimes involved simply ceasing to provide certain services. Where’s the product in that project? 


Amateur hour


While many criticise PRINCE2 for being bureaucratic, this isn't an entirely fair criticism because a lot of the PRINCE2 documentation can be compressed or scaled down. Perhaps more to the point is the lack of acknowledgement that managing money in order to produce outcomes is a skill and a discipline. The ”generalist” approach to project management exemplified by PRINCE2 (take this course and presto! You too can be a project manager) has also been the downfall of many public sector projects. 


Public sector project managers don't have specialist cost management or planning skills and this is where projects have often gone disastrously wrong. PRINCE2 will tell you when to do a plan and who should do the plan and who should review the plan and what to do if the plan is outside its tolerances. It has nothing to say about how to make an effective project plan. 


This debate will run and run and Prince2 will continue to have passionate supporters and serious critics. Which are you?


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