Prince 2 a means to an end or the beginning of a journey?

user John Smith



Prince 2 a means to an end or the beginning of a journey?

As a project management consultant I have bumped up against a number of PM methods … or ‘methodologies’ as we are being more and more encouraged to call them. I’ve used PRISM, PROMPT, PMI PMP and PRINCE but, of them all, my favourite is PRINCE2 … ‘the project method is formerly known as PRINCE’.

Image by Yves Lorson from Kapellen, Belgium - Prince

But I have a problem. When I hear a new project manager say, “I’ve just been appointed to run my first project so I’ve got to go on a PRINCE2 course,” I shudder. There are a couple of reasons for this perverse behaviour and it’s nothing to do with the temperature.

There is a flippant saying in the industry about companies that use a method called ‘PINO’: ‘PRINCE in name only’. PMs claim the reason for this is that “PRINCE2 is just too cumbersome.” This is a real pity. In its earliest incarnations, when it was just ‘PRINCE’ (without the ‘2’) there may have been some justification for this attitude but not now because the current version of PRINCE2 is totally flexible and tailorable. However, in order to use it to its full potential requires familiarity. The day the tyro dons his or her Project Manager hat is surely too late. The use of the method takes practice and taking a course on the eve of the responsibility feels a little like taking your first driving lesson the day before you are due to participate in a Formula One motor race.

I firmly believe that ALL staff engaging in any project work, not just Project Managers, should undergo PRINCE2 training – to at least Foundation level. If companies made it a rule to ‘sheep dip’ all project staff as part of their project induction training then this familiarity will be gained step by step by even the most junior staff as they work their way up through the project management ranks. There will also be the added advantage of ‘team cohesion’ as project workers understand the roles and responsibilities of their teammates … “Why does my Team Leader need me to fill in a time sheet each week? What a waste of time and effort!”

But there is a second reason why I wonder about the wisdom of PRINCE2 training for newbie project managers. Is PRINCE2 the right tool? Or should the training be in ‘Project Management’?

“Hang on,” I hear you say, “Isn’t PRINCE2 about project management?” Well, I have to say that I think the answer is probably “No.” I actually wish that PRINCE2 had been dubbed ‘a project administration method.

Let me use an analogy.

When somebody learns to drive they soon realise that there are two parts to the process: the actual operation of the car (for which they will take driving lessons in a school car fitted with dual controls) and the ‘rules of the road’ … for which they need to learn the Highway Code. A new driver may sit for many nights absorbing all the detail of this esteemed document until they ‘have it off pat’ but, full of confidence in this skill, will take their first lesson and find the car will stall and ‘kangaroo’ just as much as if they had never opened the cover.

PRINCE2 is the Highway Code of projects. Just as the Highway Code of driving gives guidance on the rules of the road: how to interact with other road users, what all the signs mean, where one may or may not overtake, PRINCE2 shows how the project is structured, who reports to whom, when and the contents of those reports.

But … just as the Highway Code will not help the driver on such subjects as spotting hazards ahead, how to judge distances or how to parallel park without scraping the tyre on the kerb, PRINCE2 will not help with estimating the number of lines of code required to perform a particular process or the length of time it will take Fred to write them or, indeed, if Fred is actually the best person to write them. There is nothing in PRINCE2 about motivating staff, leadership skills or managing the finance of a project.

There are courses that will do a lot of this. In days of yore, the body previously known as ISEB (now the BCS Professional Certifications) offer an eighty hour course covering all these more practical aspects of project management but, with almost every project manager now qualified to PRINCE2 Practitioner level, it seems excessive to expect them to attend a further ten days of training … and that’s without considering the cost! There is a conversion course but even that takes a week and there is only training provider.

What is needed is a ‘PRINCE2 supplementary course’ of, say, two to three days, covering such topics as:

Estimating and estimating methods
Risk and risk management
Quality, testing and inspection
Project finance
… and much more

Such a course, free from examinations, would add these final, essential skills to the toolkit and a final polish to the skill set of the project manager.

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