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What PRINCE2® method does not give us and why?

Question of the Month – November 2015

A PRINCE2® qualified Project Manager writes:

Since becoming an accredited PRINCE 2 Practitioner (I trained with Pearce Mayfield!) some years back pretty much all the change that I now deliver is governed by PRINCE 2 methodology. However, I am very aware that PRINCE 2 does not cover all aspects of project management; areas such as leadership and people management skills, detailed coverage of project management tools and techniques for instance. What do you think are the ‘gaps’ and why is this?

John Edmonds, Pearce Mayfield's Director of Training and a member of the team that authored the present version of PRINCE2 replies:

PRINCE2 is widely recognised as the most popular project management method in the world. Yet like any method, it cannot do everything. It is not a silver bullet for project management and has never claimed to be.

In fact in the PRINCE2 manual, it specifically states that it is “not intended (or possible) for PRINCE2 to cover every aspect of project management” and it then outlines the three broad topics which are deliberately considered to be outside the scope of PRINCE2. Let’s take a look at each one and consider why this is the case, and where we can go to find out more about that topic.

First, what the manual calls “Specialist aspects”.

A major strength of PRINCE2 is its wide applicability – it is entirely generic. It is not designed for any one sector or industry and so any industry-specific or type-specific activity is excluded. One misconception that I have heard is that PRINCE2 is only for IT projects. This is entirely incorrect; PRINCE2 can be used with ANY type of project. One of my colleagues likes to say that there is no such thing as an ‘IT project’, there are only ‘business projects’. He is quite correct, and this is how PRINCE2 is designed.

Various models, life cycles, processes or specific aspects of a particular industry (such as organisational change management or procurement) can readily be used alongside PRINCE2. After all, PRINCE2 is meant to be tailored to the environment in which it is being used – this is one of the reasons it is so popular.

Second, PRINCE2 avoids going into detail about the many techniques that can be used on projects.

There is a range of techniques in the world of project management, covering topics such as planning, estimating, risk identification and investment appraisals. These, and many other techniques are well documented in a range of other publications including the various project management bodies of knowledge, and so PRINCE2 does not describe them and the way to use them.

Instead, PRINCE2 indicates where the techniques can be usefully employed. Remember that PRINCE2 is a method and as such it provides a framework in which you can move from the beginning to the end of a project with clear steps along the way. At various points, the PRINCE2 manual will point out that certain actions, such as estimation, are required. It will even reference a number of techniques as examples, but the choice of techniques will be yours. This reinforces the generic nature of PRINCE2, and therefore allows the project manager and others to choose the techniques that best fit the circumstances of the project and the organisation.

There are two exceptions to this - the product-based planning and quality review techniques. They are described in the manual as they describe an approach to those topics that are specific to PRINCE2.

Finally, Leadership capability

Let me once again quote the PRINCE2 manual, “Leadership, motivational skills and other interpersonal skills are immensely important in project management but impossible to codify in a method.”

In one sense it is a shame that PRINCE2 is unable to include guidance on this most vital of topics in a project – how we lead and engage people through the change that projects deliver. Yet it is such a huge area that it is not surprising that this decision was made. It is better to flag it up as an “immensely important” subject that is not being covered than to do it a disservice by covering it poorly.

The manual touches on stakeholder engagement within the Organisation chapter. Leadership, on the other hand, is simply referenced with this paragraph:

“Leadership styles vary considerably and a style that works in one situation may be entirely inappropriate in another. The fact that it is easy to think of successful leaders who have adopted very different styles – from autocratic to consensus-based – bears this out. For this reason, PRINCE2 cannot address this aspect of project management directly. There are many leadership models and interpersonal skills training programmes that fulfil this requirement.”

We suffer from what has been called a ‘leadership deficit’, so leadership does require our attention. So let me conclude with two recommendations for further reading.

Practical People Engagement by Patrick Mayfield has a range of extremely useful ideas and techniques for engaging in the people side of projects. It is a very accessible book that you will find of tremendous value in your projects.

Directing Successful Projects using PRINCE2 is the companion guide to the PRINCE2 manual. There is an excellent chapter on the duties and behaviours of the project board. All project boards and project managers should read this chapter.

PRINCE2, although it is not everything you might need to know about project management, is nevertheless the framework on which you can attach a range of other ideas, techniques, models and organisation-specific approaches.

And a very successful framework it is.

Pearce May field believes everyone should have access to the skills and knowledge they need to succeed