Thursday, 4 June 2009

To Prince2 or Not To Prince2?

Interesting debate with the above title at Aston University's Centre for Project Management Practice in Birmingham yesterday.

Speaking in favour of Prince2 was the lead author for the 2009 revision, Andy Murray, who pointed to the widespread acceptance of Prince2 by not only public sector organisations but private sector organisations also.

He argued that Prince2 was not overly bureacratic but designed to cope with the most complex situations whilst allowing for flexibility where smaller projects did not require the full-on approach.

Speaking against Prince2, Harvey Maylor, Director of the International Centre for Programme Management at Cranfield School University gave four key issues:
  1. The prime reason for Prince2 is more to do with the needs of training companies

  2. Where is the evidence for its efficacy?

  3. Prince2 does not address the reasons for the widespread failure of projects

  4. Prince2 does not give any competitive advantage
"If 300,000+ people have been trained in it at an average cost of £2k per course, then has the use of Prince2 led to £6M worth of increased efficiency or achievement?" he asked. "Whether it has or not is not backed by evidence.

"Prince2 today is like ISO9000 fifteen years ago. It was possible, as long as the paperwork was right, to get a kitemark for a perfectly designed and manufactured concrete lifejacket!"

Ha! Good comment! But where do I stand on this? Well let's try to be dispassionate about it. Most people learn about projects through experience. That can be good or bad because, as with driving, you pick up bad habits. So having a methodology to follow - whether that was Prince2 or some other methodology, such as the Project Management methodology promoted by my organsation, JISC infoNet can only be useful, as methodologies provide a framework for best practice.

However they do not guarantee best practice. They can provide prompts to think about things, templates to help, a step by step approach. They don't provide skills or competence or attitude or commitment. You have to provide those. And it's not just the skills, attitude and competence of the project manager that's needed either.

Far more projects fail because of lack of interest or support or involvement of senior managers than do because of a crap project manager.

And the danger is these days that HR people are forever on the lookout for "evidence" that someone can meet their criteria without them having to make a subjective decision which might mean they are blamed if they take on someone whose performance fails to meet requirements. So they look for and place a totally ridiculous importance on a qualification gained after a 3-day course. And worse - think that the lack of it is justifiable evidence for putting all other applications on the "rejected" list without further consideration.

I think personally that Prince2 ignores lots of things that make projects go wrong, particularly in the sector I work within. It ignores people. It says (in section 2.2 of the 2007 manual) that it excludes "People management techniques such as motivation, delegation and team leadership".

Let's be blunt though - it's people that cock things up...!

Prince2 is undoubtedly a useful methodology. But any decent methodology needs tailoring towards your own circumstances and it needs supplementing with other processes, particularly Change Management to ensure that the people aspects don't cause problems. It also needs following. You can't just ignore some of the bits because someone doesn't want to do them. Ignore them because the complexity of your project is such that they are unneccesary. Don't make the decision yourself.

Which brings me to the absolute nub of the matter. A methodology alone will not help you run a successful project. It's having a shared agreement and commitment that the organisation and any external partners will follow the methodology that will have the greatest beneficial effect. And some way of censuring any non-compliance. If someone comes to a meeting thinking it's ok to say "I haven't had time" then your culture needs a shake up.

Before I get loads of comment about that, let me clarify what I've just said. If you know you are not going to have time to do something that you had previously agreed to, first of all flag up the possibility straight away and then try to think of ways to make sure it gets done, by working harder, more hours, using more people, asking for help. Don't leave it until the meeting to just say "I haven't had time" and let it come as a surprise to others who may have been relying on your bit being completed before they can start their already planned and scheduled part.


Andrew Stewart said...

Ouch, very blunt :)

Struggling to contribute as you've pretty much covered everything.

With regards to evidence I don't think there will ever be a clear cut way of measuring the benefit. You'd probably have to spend £6m on a project to do just that.

What we can do is tell stories which outline success. It's not just about the overall PRINCE2 methodology either. There are a lot of handy tools and techniques outlined in PRINCE2 that are invaluable. If I'd never have been notified of these tools at such an early stage in my career I think there could have been a lot of mistakes made which we can't identify/measure.

prince2 courses said...

Indeed clients on our prince2 training often remark about all the problems that they could of solved once they have completed their Prince2.

Great post, keep it up John.