What the PRINCE2 Guide does not tell you
Mark Sutton 26 Apr 2017 15:50

My PRINCE2 Guide (published by The Stationery Office on behalf of AXELOS) is well-thumbed and now without its front and back covers due to the amount of use I have made of it. I find it a useful reference text when managing project after project.

It provides a useful checklist of actions that I consider, even if I do not end up executing them because they are irrelevant to my project. This includes how I should structure my team, deliver products, and engage effectively with stakeholders. But…

I have found it – like so many project management methods - silent about one essential part of project management: the need for resilience.

Some of you will already know that 8 years ago I stumbled across an infrastructure problem where I live in South-West Hertfordshire on the periphery of greater London. More and more houses and local government closures of secondary schools had resulted in a serious deficit in local secondary school places for local children (and the problem is only getting worse!).

With other concerned parents, I set up a local parental campaign to pressure local government to resolve this problem and provide the local school services to which we believed our children are entitled (after all, we have paid tax for this service delivery).

Interestingly, upon exposure to explanations about the local problems, many of our parent peers seemed determined to only focus on attributing blame to the local politicians and civil servants. As leaders of the campaign, we on the committee instead decided to focus on what could be done to resolve the problem. Steve Jenner states in his “Managing Benefits” textbook that it is no good looking back, but rather critical that we look forward to what can be if we are to bring about lasting benefits. It was this forward-looking approach that led to us partner with outstanding local teachers and open our own secondary school (see www.reachfreeschool.co.uk for more information).

As Steve Jenner suggests, we are now seeing new potential benefits emerging beyond our founding Trust's initial business case. Three years and a week after the Department for Education interviewed my fellow Trustee-Founders to determine if we should be granted approval to establish the new school, Ofsted inspectors visited the school and have stated that its pupils and staff are part of a “Good” school.

But here is the crunch. Sometimes as leaders it has been hard to maintain the enthusiasm. There have been deep, dark nights. We wrestled long and hard when our first application to the Department for Education was marked “Could do better”. We wondered aloud why we were not getting more support from local influencers when all community leaders were in agreement that new local school places are vital for our community. Yes, we were engaging stakeholders, and managing the project just as PRINCE2 suggested we should, but this was not enough.

In the bleak moments such as these, it is vital that we are resilient, doggedly treading the path until we get the breakthrough from which to leap forward with enthusiasm again. This has meant a sense of collective leadership burden, one picking up the other when the road has become too rocky or too tiring to walk alone.

This is the point at which the textbook is no longer enough and character becomes key.

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27 Nov 2018 13:56 Edited on 27 Nov 2018 at 15:24

Resilience is always a valuable behaviour and and it's a quality to look for in a PM. Though I wonder how effective it would be to include it in PRINCE2?

The school sounds like an incredible achievement. Rather than a comment on your scenario, I hope to expand for how readers might apply this in a PRINCE2 context.

Resilience is absolutely key to any business venture, and using the school trust merely as an example, perhaps the potential benefits are emerging on the operational side.  Would such a Trust's business case be the delivery of change, with a definite measurable end success point, or is it a more operational business case with annual goals? Probably both.

As such, one outcome of a programme to "Establish a successful school" might include the development of its ongoing operational business plan to "Run a successful school".

So one of the ways where PRINCE2 can help with operational and business-as-usual resilience, is to apply it to specific mandates of change which have a definite end point. This should bolster business resilience because the stakeholders can shape their strategy into deliverable chunks of programmes and individual PRINCE2 projects.

A programme might be a great place to build in resilience behaviours. There's a great white paper which shows how MSP and PRINCE2 would fit together.


At the emergence of potential benefits beyond the initial business case, we can strategically decide to address them by amending and extending the "Establish a successful school" business case, adding them to the operational "Run a successful school" business case, or shape a new programme to specifically deliver those benefits, and create PRINCE2 projects with products accordingly.

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