"PRINCE2™: How to earn value"

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PRINCE2™’s true value is thickly veiled behind exam cram selling. With a change in approach as suggested here, significant value is available. Previously sunk training investment can be brought to a return and new investment made with confidence.

PRINCE2™ Power, Economy and Elegance

My start point is that I expect any project to return leverage on its investment to the shareholder. I’m a fan of PRINCE2™ because it is a tool that allows exactly that and better yet it is powerful, economical and elegant. Perhaps this is at odds with your impression of it?

Powerful

My justification and explanation for saying ‘powerful’ is that when PRINCE2™ is applied well then your projects run safer and more quickly. The enterprise can increase project size for the same degree of tolerable investment risk. Ie with PRINCE2™ we can do projects bigger, faster, better, cheaper!

Everything Has a Price

The “bigger, faster, better, cheaper” Holy Grail has a price. The “CE” in PRINCE2™ stands for “Controlled Environments”. Control emanates from those who ‘direct’ or ‘sponsor’. Good project sponsorship makes for good projects. Equity holders will be immediately pleased to see a direct auditable link between who made what decisions when and the resulting return on equity to shareholders that PRINCE2™ process enables.

Explicit, visible accountability for project status can feel threatening to senior managers. Many organisations’ managers find the new transparency of sponsorship is pause for thought – quite understandably! PRINCE2™ may well be discouraged even sabotaged by those feeling threatened. They need help and support just as much as the nascent project manager and their influence for good is greater!

Economic

PRINCE2™ is very economic with senior people’s time. The starting point is that “senior people are busy so use the minimum amount of their time” (and everyone else’s time is expensive so don’t use it unnecessarily either– but that probably isn’t the impression you had of PRINCE2™ is it?!).

Elegant

As for elegance in projects, that might be defined as ‘provision of the right information at the right time to ensure decisions can be made swiftly and with understanding of the risk involved’. If so then PRINCE2™ is elegant.

Why PRINCE2™?

There are more arguments in circulation for ‘why not’ than ‘why’. PRINCE2™ is widely recognised. That should provide a ready army of people to recruit from but it is in the main poorly understood. Hiring against the “well known definition” does not necessarily provide the claimed benefits. It is PRINCE2™ training and to some degree the PRINCE2™ manual, but not PRINCE2™ the method that is broken!

The official manual says “for beginners”: that is a very misleading statement. In truth it is for beginners because it is purely knowledge not experience or skills based. But misleading because it is not suitable for beginners: PRINCE2™ omits all the knowledge beginners need for creating and tracking plans; noting simply that these are assumed pre-requisites.

Of course you don’t have to use PRINCE2™. There are plenty of other methods out there that do tell how to do the basics.

‘Why’ is because PRINCE2™’s “Controlled Environments” focus brings something the other standards don’t. PRINCE2™ bridges main-board accountabilities for governance with project board accountability for benefits and technical responsibilities for delivey.

A Blended Approach

The fact is that due to its assumed pre-requisites PRINCE2™ has to be blended with one or more of APM, PMI or home-grown foundations. However, sadly, no examination body admits ‘the competition’s ideas’ into its exams. All such pragmatism is outside of an exam setting and so value-based usage needs an exam avoidance approach.

Implementation Hurdles

Which ever combination of methods you employ all need the same considerations to overcome hurdles when being brought into use. No method includes guidance on overcoming issues arising from attempts to implement their ideas.

The PRINCE2™ Market Place

I’m no fan of the official manual or the bankrupt training and examinations process surrounding it. Much corporate expenditure on PRINCE2™ exam training has an ROI approaching zero. If you have bought PRINCE2™ it is likely that you have written off the majority of the sunk cost with little positive impact.

The Wrong Mindset

The mainstream of the training community has accommodated business pressures to offer a qualification in a week. The exam process is obviously tuned to a level that exchanges money for a certificate that is reasonably attainable in a week. There would be no market if the failure rate was total or close to it. Something as broad and subtle as project management cannot be mastered in a week. PRINCE2™ side-steps the ‘in a week’ issue by de-scoping lots of crucial topics (such as people and procurement but more profoundly ‘how to plan and track’!).

The right mindset should be to exchange money for a capability not a certificate. Thus what is on offer from the PRINCE2™ mainstream is a simple sop that saps the training budgets without returning real value. That is not how it could or should be.

Providing Support

“Practitioners” need to return to a receptive working environment where they can practice to become competent. With a weeks worth of training returnees will not yet possess ‘unconscious competence‘. With only a clumsy understanding of the whole and missing detail of many specifics there is no way they can re-orientate any organisation that isn’t already fully imbued in PRINCE2™. Worse yet the adage “easy-come easy-go” applies. What is learned in a week seldom lasts a month. Soon after attendance all possible value has leaked away.

The Average Problem

The average attendee arrives at a training course without any conscious consideration from their line-manager of the support that will be needed post event. They are without the prerequisite (non-PRINCE2™) grounding in tools to model or techniques to create schedules, to create business cases, to fit the project into available resource and budget constraints or establish cash-flows. Just as likely to be missing is knowledge of how to assess and track progress. PRINCE2™ depends upon, de-scopes and assumes the project manager possesses all the above capabilities.

Average training attendees arrive on their exam crammed with a few days of reading from the official (hard to assimilate) manual. The manual’s structure and general inability to convey concept means exam candidate’s pre-study efforts will have created a general fogginess including within areas the attendees thought they already had insights before preparation!

The Average Cost

The average course attendee will cost the organisation a week’s salary, a week’s lost contribution and circa £1500 cash outflow. On average, they leave the course with a ‘qualification’ that (at least on paper) makes them more mobile in the jobs’ market but little more.

Solution Oriented

From here on we explore how to suck the most value from all the potential PRINCE2™ provides whether you’ve already invested in it or not.

First - Right Focus

One possible route to value is to ditch the false targets:

stop approaching PRINCE2™ as ‘preparing for an exam’ where PRINCE2™ implementation is ignored, and

stop focussing education exclusively on the ‘practitioner’ whose influence is low.

Second - Help With Orientation

We suggest a new focus. Target ‘cross-project-participant-ability’ to create ROI on the PRINCE2™ investment by training all project role holders where they share communications as part of a common process, then give them the tools and techniques specific to their needs. Helping the new PM’s boss identify how to support the PM trainee and the new PM’s customers identify how to draw-down services: flow of ROI is much more certain and probably earlier. Costs don’t rise following this model but benefits rise, often dramatically. Intervention builds the legacy of capability that is so often talked of during engagement but not so often delivered.

Third - Overlap Sponsor and PM Training

Start the training of the budding PRINCE2™ project managers with their senior management community in joint session. Now there is hope for shared understanding of the interdependency of the roles each performs. The purpose and mechanics of the interface between them is made clear (PRINCE2™ *is*, by definition, that interface specification). PRINCE2™ becomes less threatening to those who would suppress it out of worry about newly created transparency of their involvement.

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Fourth – Core Skills

Train the budding PRINCE2™ project manager in the fundamentals of how to create plans and track achievement. This chunk of knowledge is “below” PRINCE2™’s assumed knowledge threshold. Typical new PMs may have some common sense approaches but often lack a coherent, complete and grounded set of skills. Often the omission of what is assumed by PRINCE2™ leaves certification training courses feeling abstract. By being divorced from day-to-day basic needs the knowledge quickly decays after the exam.

The right approach adds details of the PRINCE2™ specific controls once the foundations skills in scoping, scheduling, budgeting and tracking are established. The basics and the PRINCE2™ specifics are each addressable with a few days training (plus the follow-up practice in the work place fostered by the line managers that really generates the ROI).

Fifth - Communicate

At some point the other sides of the controls interfaces that the project managers communicate with will benefit from joint training sessions. That is joint session of project manager and team leaders (both technical teams and the user community). PRINCE2™ works without these groups having to use PRINCE2™. They only need to know how to contribute requirements and acceptance criteria, to receive authorised chunks of work, report achievements, and escalate issues. But they DO need to be shown how to engage in the interface so they can make an effective link between technical development activity decisions and business case impacts. They need to understand how to detect when their actions affect ROI and how to escalate where necessary.

In Summary

A business’s value is generated by the shared understanding of its participants routine interactions. A project’s value is generated by shared understanding between its participants. Since in projects routine is replaced by novel ‘one-off’ interactions a shared view of ‘how to communicate’ needs to be explicitly created first, then what to communicate (and when). This is what PRINCE2™ is about, PRINCE2™ is a first class tool for supporting the directing/managing interface and the managing/changing (delivering) interface but it isn’t sold like that to the ‘give-me-a-certificate in a week’ brigade. Pelicam suggests it shouldn’t be bought like that either.

Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Project Methods.