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Project management explained: PRINCE2 v Agile

For complex projects to be successful, effective project management disciplines are essential. However, within Social Housing, project management methodology and its use has proved hit and miss. Some organisations have embraced it whilst others, although aware of the need to use it, struggle to formally embed this within their culture and processes.

So why is this? When you consider how millions of pounds are spent on implementing systems and solutions, the success of which depends on the ability to deliver successful project implementations, you would expect there to be importance placed on utilising a project management methodology that will best ensure success. Currently, the successful achievement of digital business transformation to improve customer service and reduce operating costs is at the forefront of many organisations' agendas and key to the success of this and indeed minimising the disruption to the rest of the business, is robust project management.

Two project management methodologies which are often considered are PRINCE2 and Agile. PRINCE2 has been around for more than 20 years and has recently undergone a review. In recent years however, there has been a growing interest in Agile project management, which is seen by some to be a leaner process in comparison to PRINCE2 and indeed what has been often known as the traditional 'Waterfall' approach to project delivery. Although, this is often said without fully understanding how to tailor PRINCE2 to be ‘agile’ or an awareness of what Agile project management actually is.

So, this raises the question: is it a straight choice between PRINCE2 and Agile when choosing your methodology to implement a project or when you are setting up a Project Management Office? The quick answer to this, of course, is no. 3C Consultants have produced an overview that considers both PRINCE2 and Agile project methodologies and the benefits that can be gained from Agile, which can be found here

To provide a brief summary, the Agile manifesto was created and developed in 2001 within the software industry as a way of moving away from the traditional 'Waterfall' approach to delivering new solutions or upgrades to the market due to many highly publicised project failures. The Waterfall approach, which is not actually PRINCE2, was created in the 1970s to develop large software systems. The issue found with Waterfall approach is that it depends on the requirements being fully captured and understood at the beginning of the process and for them then not to change. Once the development process begins, there is little contact with the client to review and track progress against the requirements, often leading to a finished product that doesn’t meet the customer’s needs. This can be extremely costly and damaging for a business.

In today's changing and complex technological world, it is essentially important to rethink this approach, especially where customers, internal departments, executive teams and boards often want things delivered more swiftly than ever before. Agile project methodology was developed in order to achieve this.

The Agile process begins like most projects with defining the requirements, which is often the most difficult part. The answer to this is to specify requirements against a 'MoSCoW' (pronounced Moscow) rating:

  • M - Must have this requirement to meet the business needs
  • S - Should have this requirement if possible, but project success does not rely on it
  • C - Could have this requirement if it does not affect anything else on the project
  • W - Would like to have this requirement later, but delivery won't be this time

Once this is complete and signed off by the client, the requirements are stacked into a backlog. The ‘must haves’ are the priority for the project team to deliver. However, the rule is that this should not represent more than 60% of all requirements.

The key to agile are the ‘sprints’ or iterations which are usually no more than four weeks in duration. Unlike PRINCE2 which has stages which are often milestone based over longer periods of time. This allows for aspects of the project to be swiftly delivered and regularly checked to ensure they are in line with expectation. To achieve this, the project team meet briefly to review progress in a structured manor every day. These meetings are often called ‘stand-ups’. 

AXELOS, who owns the right to PRINCE2, believe the Agile concept can live within the PRINCE2 framework and have subsequently developed a course and certification in ‘PRINCE2 Agile’. This is probably in response to the demand for PRINCE2 training declining in preference for Agile. It is widely considered that the best approach is to take the best from both methodologies.

Furthermore, it is a myth that Agile dispenses with the need for project documentation as it relies far more on face-to-face communication with the client and other members of the project team. Additionally, Agile works on the principle of quickly delivering a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), so getting a component of the requirement live or completed as soon as possible, as opposed to waiting until everything is complete. 

Project management methodology is a reflection of the culture within an organisation. Executive teams and boards need to have faith in those delivering projects, giving them the responsibility to scope, resource and deliver projects in the most effective way, tailoring project management methodology to best ensure success. If you wait until everything is complete, projects that take a long time to deliver can lose their relevance within the minds of users, customers and managers. Get it right and an Agile approach will help to ensure that at the start you do not over design the product by adding features and functionality that later do not get used.

Although the Agile approach can be more demanding of the customers time in the short to medium term, Agile project management methodology is now considered the best way of ensuring success. As it is often said “It is better to do something properly once and get it right, than getting it wrong, accepting compromise or even having to do it all over again”.