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Should I be a PRINCE2 Practitioner?

PRINCE2 is one of the most cited project methodologies by government projects, even including Agile over the last few years. This is part three of a very short series on learning about project delivery methodologies. Part 1 was a general overview of how to develop expertise in project delivery, Part 2 was about Agile, and if people ask then I’ll write more parts.

Should I become a PRINCE2 Practitioner?

The most common question I’m asked is whether someone needs to become a PRINCE2 Practitioner. I personally spent over a decade avoiding that until my (Economist) boss realised I hadn’t done it and booked me onto a course in the summer of 2016.  I’ve worked on major projects that used the full panoply of PRINCE2, and seen it first-hand. I’ve also seen it badly abused on small to medium projects that didn’t need to have the full rigour applied. For years I blamed the method rather than the practitioners.

All project management methodologies feature tailoring as one of their key principles, and this is especially true of PRINCE2. This is important because although projects have a lot of common features, they also vary lots.  Even repeating projects, like setting up local offices, always have variations. It’s more important to focus on the outcomes that we’re delivering than to exactly follow the method or process.

What is PRINCE2?

PRINCE2 is the second version of PRojects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE). It was codified by an agency of the UK Government for its largest projects (CCTA for those old enough to remember, which ran all the early IT systems). PRINCE2 comes from a period where all major government projects were delivered by outsourced contractors. So it is a product of that environment. It is contract oriented, everything is specified and agreed before it is done. That clarity of objective and purpose is essential for all project delivery, not just the large and complex ones.

PRINCE2 is probably the best known of the major project methodologies. It’s great if you are embarking on a massive project and have the people to use it well. It provides a lot of structure and templates for using that structure. It also provides some very specific language for talking about project concepts, and this definition makes everything clearer once you’ve learnt the jargon.  On very large and complex projects this is great for ensuring consistency and co-ordination. PRINCE2 has a full toolkit of things that you are likely to find useful on any project you might be working on.

What’s the Problem with PRINCE2?

Used intelligently PRINCE2 is a fab toolkit that helps you think about how to deliver a project successfully without missing anything important. However for many projects there’s a need to come at it differently from the standard PRINCE2 toolkit. This is part of the criticism that many agile enthusiasts level at PRINCE2 by pejoratively referring to it as ‘waterfall’.  You can usually achieve your desired outcomes without full-on PRINCE2 just by spending time to elaborate what you need to deliver in discussion with people who will deliver it and your customers.

It’s very clear in the method and on the training that it is important to tailor your approach to fit the project. In my experience this last bit is where most projects applying PRINCE2  go wrong. There’s a tendency amongst those with limited experience to over apply the methods and to use the templates exactly as they are without wondering whether there’s a better fit for this project. This is very common, and I’ve spent more time getting people not to do the full-dress ceremonial version of PRINCE2 than I’d like.

Learning PRINCE2

As with agile, and every other method, make sure that you are working on a project that is actually using PRINCE2 before undertaking any practitioner level training. The hardest part is learning the specific words used for the concepts, because usage on projects often differs from the theory, even though we’re applying it properly. Being embedded in a PRINCE2 project will make this a bit easier, and you will be able to consciously apply what you have learned immediately. If you aren’t working on a PRINCE2 project, then I would recommend that you start with the specific methodology used by the project that you are working on or some APM training.

There are a lot of commercial providers for PRINCE2 training, and some of those are available from Civil Service Learning. There’s an accredited framework for training providers from Axelos who currently own the intellectual property rights to PRINCE2 as a method. Anyone that meets this should be OK, but you might want to look at pass rates and get recommendations from others that have passed the practitioner course.

If you decide that you need an accredited qualification in project delivery then you should start on Civil Service Learning https://civilservicelearning.civilservice.gov.uk/learning-opportunities/qualifications-and-accredited-learning

For the record, I scored 96% on the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam. I also used PRINCE2 on a couple of major projects.

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