PRojects IN Controlled Environments, better known as PRINCE, has been helping project practitioners since 1989. Is it still relevant more than two decades later?
Developed in the United Kingdom in 1989, PRINCE was the brainchild of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency at a time when the UK government struggled to manage its large IT projects. A second incarnation, PRINCE2, came along in 1996 under the Office of Government Commerce, created to make the methodology more general and less IT focused. More than 25 years after PRINCE, PRINCE2 is one of the world’s most popular project methodologies.
There’s no doubt that in quarter of a century the nature of project management has changed. Initially a skills byproduct of other professions such as engineering, it has become a discipline in its own right with tertiary qualifications now available to aspiring project managers who can start a career in just about any industry wielding these skills. So where does a methodology like PRINCE2 fit in with the changing times?
Mike Acaster, PPM Portfolio Manager at AXELOS, the public-private joint venture that now owns PRINCE2, says although some things have changed, some stay the same, particularly when it comes to the time, cost and quality triangle. “The challenges are still the same in trying to deliver on time, to the quality requirements that people will expect and handling all the delivery processes. PRINCE2 helps with that.”
A simple method for a complex world
What’s changed is the environment in which we now find ourselves. “A much more complex world,” he describes. “There’s less reluctance for people to complain when things aren’t going well, there’s more visibility in some of the government projects than there used to be. In that environment, PRINCE2 continues to evolve.”
Although the methodology teaches basic project management, it can also be applied to complex projects. “It’s the degree to which it is applied, you can scale PRINCE2,” Acaster says. “What PRINCE2 does is provide a common language and a common understanding and provides a common approach for organisations to use.”
PRINCE2 was designed as a who, what, when where why and how of project management. The problem is because it is thorough, people expect it to be comprehensive. “It was put together as a method that organisations could use, it doesn’t necessarily give all the subject matter. It’ll tell you that you need a business case and how to develop one, but it won’t tell you everything about business cases—that could fill a shelf,” Acaster says. “Some people criticise it because it doesn’t cover certain areas, but that information exists elsewhere.”
The other thing to remember is that PRINCE2 as a methodology has not remained the same since 1996 either. In each revision its owner has sought input from more than 150 organisations followed by an intense period of review conducted by international experts to find what is ‘best practice’.
“We ask organisations what is really working for them and distil it down into the essence of the method that can be applied,” says Acaster. “That way we work out where the common ground lies.”
Its last major revision was published in 2009. At present there are no plans to change the core body of the methodology, but rather use complementary certifications such as PRINCE2 Agile to add new training areas.
Does every project manager need PRINCE2 certification? Probably not, but working on a project where other team members are PRINCE2-trained does make things easier to run. With several government and multinational organisations making PRINCE2 practitioners a requirement for tenders, the methodology will continue to enjoy popularity for some time yet. Whether you think it’s relevant to your career is, of course, up to you.
Get the most from PRINCE2 training
Support for new PRINCE2 trainees is crucial to get the most out of the methodology. It’s not just about getting your project team through the exam. Here are some recommendations:
- Organisations must be prepared to run their projects using PRINCE2. This means all team members must undertake the training. Also consider training for senior managers and project sponsors.
- Bridge the gap between theory and practice. “More advanced organisations don’t just throw you a project so you sink or swim, they provide a mentor,” Acaster says. “That way the project team member can then ask ‘How does this work in these circumstances, or in this situation?’”
- Use simulations to build experience. Simulations allow the participant to experience the problem and work through possible solutions. “That’s very powerful, especially for senior managers,” Acaster remarks.