Why PRINCE2 prevails over other change methodologies

Grayce Analyst, Jessica Smith-Lamkin explores why PRINCE2 has remained popular in the face of Agile methods.

PRINCE2 is widely considered to be the leading project management method in the world, used by numerous organisations in a range of industries across the public and private sectors to deliver change and develop new products or services. However, the continued shift towards an Agile approach to change has led to speculation that PRINCE2 may become less popular.

Despite this, it seems that in the face of the changing landscape, PRINCE2 remains the go-to approach for project management. The reason for this is that PRINCE2 has both evolved over time to engage with emerging business trends and remained true to its core principles that apply a rigorous framework to change management in this increasingly complex and fast-changing field.

The changing landscape

PRINCE2 is often considered to be a Waterfall approach, whereby the requirements for a project are documented and agreed at the start of a project that then moves progressively through a defined process of design, build and test. Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a continuing shift away from this more traditional approach in favour of an Agile one instead.

Like PRINCE2, Agile originated from software development. But by contrast it is not a prescribed method, rather it is an approach based on a set of principles that aim to create new ways of working. The umbrella term of ‘Agile’ covers several different frameworks including Scrum, Lean and Kanban. What these approaches share is a commitment to delivering requirements iteratively and incrementally throughout the project life cycle. In other words, where traditional project management will establish a detailed plan and detailed requirements at the start then attempt to follow the plan. Agile starts work with a rough idea of what is required and by delivering something in a short period of time, clarifies the requirements as the project progresses.

In recent years, Agile has progressed from software development to something of a global movement, driven by the belief that the only way for organisations to survive in today’s turbulent customer-driven marketplace is to become Agile. This is based on the assumption that Agile enables organisations to master continuous change.

The rapid increase in the number of organisations (including many large and complex businesses) trying to implement Agile approaches has led to a proliferation of hybrid forms, sometimes grouped together as ‘Wagile’. Depending on who you ask, Wagile is either a result of organisations falling back into Waterfall mode after failing to apply Agile, or a hybrid approach that aims to apply the principles of the Agile manifesto to a sequential Waterfall process.

Why does PRINCE2 prevail?

Given the prevailing (and much publicised) trend for organisations to embrace Agile, it is interesting to consider the continued use of PRINCE2. Its continuing application alongside Agile approaches suggests that PRINCE2 is still filling a particular niche that other approaches do not. Perhaps the survival of PRINCE2 should not be too much of a surprise; after all, the methodology has evolved over time in response to changes in business practices. Furthermore, changes are made following consultation with organisations that use the approach, helping to ensure it stays relevant to their needs. The 2017 update emphasises the tailoring of PRINCE2 to the needs of organisations and project environments - indicating a clear recognition that the method must be flexible if it is to remain relevant.

Nowhere is this adaptability more apparent than in the introduction of the PRINCE2 Agile certification, developed in response to demand from user communities. Described by Axelos as ‘a blended approach mixing governance, innovation and collaboration’, which enables practitioners to apply the project management principles of PRINCE2, whilst combining the flexibility and responsiveness of Agile concepts such as Scrum and Kanban. In other words, it aims to offer the flexibility of Agile with the defined governance of PRINCE2.

It is perhaps this framework for governance that has allowed PRINCE2 to retain its popularity. While an increasing number of organisations seek to become Agile, there is still an acknowledged need for a project management framework that clearly demonstrates that all necessary controls are in place. While this is partly due to misunderstandings about Agile (such as the myth that ‘being Agile’ means less governance and paperwork).

It is also the case the PRINCE2 offers a familiar structure to fall back on. Ironically, many of the key features of PRINCE2 overlap with Agile principles: learning from experience, focusing on the end products, and managing by exception. Furthermore, while the features of PRINCE2 (the principles, themes and processes) sound quite prescriptive at first glance, they are also common business sense. Even the most ardent supporters of Agile would not argue against continued business justification for a project, or ensuring quality criteria are met.

As the general trend towards Agile continues, PRINCE2 has become almost synonymous with the Waterfall approach to development; a correlation that masks the shared ground between PRINCE2 and Agile. The flawed assumption that as organisations move away from Waterfall towards Agile, they also must move from PRINCE2 to Scrum/Lean/Kanban/one of the many other ‘flavours’ of Agile has been shown to be incorrect by the survival of PRINCE2. While Waterfall and Agile are very different approaches to delivering change, PRINCE2 and Agile do not have to be.

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