Can PRINCE2 be agile?

Some people might claim that there is no need for project managers and classic project management like PRINCE2. You could say: “The future is agile and you need to embrace change and run projects that create disruption in the marked. For this you need agile methods such as Scrum or Kanban. In these methods the project manager is not needed.” In some cases this might be right, but it is important to remember that e.g. Scrum is designed for continuous improvement of an existing product or a technical platform.

What happens in the scenario where you start from scratch? The customer doesn’t know exactly what they want, the needed product has never been built before, the deadline for go-live has already been set and the customer needs a price to get the budget approved. Here Scrum alone will not help you. You need a way to capture the scope of the project and the customer’s quality expectations. You need to be very good at managing change and communicating how changes will affect time, cost, quality, scope, risk and benefit. In this case you can get some guidance from the PRINCE2 Agile manual.

PRINCE2 Agile highlights

My background is that I started out as software developer and then changed to project management. Earlier this year i took a good PRINCE2 Agile course and the certification. Below I will outline some of the highlights in PRINCE2 Agile.

Agile is not either or

PRINCE2 Agile gives some good guidance on how you can combine agile methods with classic PRINCE2. The 7 PRINCE2 principles and the 7 PRINCE2 themes still exist. This means that the project board (also know as steering group) and the executive (also known as project sponsor) still governs the project. All the documents and logs that are part of a classic PRINCE2 project still exists, but they are more informal. E.g. the risk register can be yellow notes on the Scrum team’s “information radiator”. An information radiator can be a white board where the team shares important information.  

The life cycle of the project

The high level project stages are still: Pre-project, Initiation stage, subsequent delivery stage(s) and final delivery stage. The PRINCE2 Agile manual gives some examples on how a stage plan can consist of several release plans. The release plan can consist of one or more sprints. It also explains how you can use a flow-based approach like Kanban that has no sprints. I will recommend that you focus on how you can show progress and have a clear agreement on how products/features are prioritized. And finally it is essential that you can show what consequences changes have on cost and deadlines.

What to fix and what to flex?

The manual has a very interesting section on how to manage the six aspects of the project.  When I started out in project management there was only three aspects: time, cost and scope. PRINCE2 governs following six project aspects: time, cost, quality, scope, risk and benefit. Since a project by definition is unique and includes many uncertainties you can not fix all the aspects of the project. You need to be ready to flex on some of the aspects to handle changes, issues and new knowledge. PRINCE2 agile fixes time and cost, but some of the scope can change. They flex and fix the scope by prioritizing the products to be delivered. There are zero tolerance for the product that are essential and some of the products that are not essential might not be delivered. To get this to work all stakeholders must accept that “the customer does not need everything”. If you don’t get this acceptance an essential part of the agility is not present.

Organization theme

When I first got to PRINCE2 Agile manual I skipped the first 70 pages and jumped right to the organization theme. I was hoping to find a mapping between Scrum roles and PRINCE2 roles. But I was a bit disappointed that there was no easy solutions. There are no changes in the PRINCE2 project organization, roles and responsibilities. But there is several good suggestions on how you can try to map PRINCE2 roles and Scrum roles.

The senior user, that is part of the project board, will often end up being a lead product owner that has several product owners placed in different project teams.

From my point of view the role that is most complicated to map is the PRINCE2 team manager. The PRINCE2 team manager has the following areas of responsibility:

  • Planning
  • Monitoring and managing progress
  • Liaising with project managers and other stakeholders
  • Final acceptance and handover of products

A good Scrum master can take the team manager role, but if he should be true to the agile values he will cover the responsiblits by a mixture of delegating and facilitating. On a small project the project manager, the team manager and SCRUM master can be the same person.

My experience is that an agile project manager with an experienced agile team will spend very little time managing and more time facilitating and coaching.

The agilometer

The manual includes a tool called the agilometer. It has six “suitability sliders” e.g. ease of communication and level of collaboration. Before you start your project you can use it to assess your project environment to verify if it is suitable for introducing agile concepts. If you are already running a project you can use it to highlight what you can improve to become more agile.   

Conclusion

This article outlines some of the high lights of PRINCE2 Agile from my point of view, and I hope it has inspired you to learn more. Implementing agile methods is not simple nor easy, but it can be done if you take small steps towards improvement every day. If there is low acceptance of agile methods in your project environment you have to be very careful with what agile concepts you introduce. In the end it’s about finding a balance and striving to improve by implementing methods from the appropriate approaches.

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