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How PRINCE2 Agile’s principle of exploration can save you money

A project manager using PRINCE2 Agile’s principle of exploration to save money

As a project manager, receiving a new project mandate reminds me of the first coordinate in an orienteering course. Orienteering is an outdoor adventure sport in which you receive a map and coordinates. The aim is to navigate in sequence between a set of control points and decide the best route to complete the course in the quickest time. The only difference is that the course is a multinational business with a complex organizational structure. Before rushing to the checkpoints (or phases of your project), it will be important to meet with your team to discuss what the endpoint is (the project product) and whether the project is worthwhile and viable?

But how do you do that in a PRINCE2 Agile® environment?

In my experience, I found great support from a key PRINCE2 Agile value - exploration. It helped me define what constitutes my project’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and define the mandatory requirements in my project product description. Usually, exploration techniques such as ‘experiment’ or ‘spike/spiking’ are used either when there are uncertainties around theories, when the impact is related to the usage of new technology or when there are functional concerns from a consumer point of view. When using exploration techniques early in the PRINCE2 Agile project process (pre-project), it can be a source of great value.

Now, imagine that alongside the project mandate, you also receive the end-to-end technical documentation to integrate a state-of-the-art e-commerce platform for your organization. Spiking and creating a temporary piece of work such a prototype can offer the following benefits:

  • Reduce uncertainty from a technical and customer point of view.
  • Help identify all the areas that need to be looked at to define the project product description and business case.
  • Identify and involve the correct stakeholders, who may then become part of the project team.
  • Create short and quick feedback loops to speed up the requirement gathering process.
  • Provide an opportunity to generate learnings that can support the business case.
  • Help solve the ‘known unknowns’ as well as reveal information about the ‘unknown unknowns’.

In PRINCE2 Agile, the work from a spike can be managed and controlled with a timeboxing approach such as Scrum or using a flow-based system (e.g. Kanban). I found that, as a result of the spike, I was in a better position to work with the delivery team on the estimates for the project. It is important to be consistent with the agile management approach in order to ensure that the estimation techniques are aligned.

Spiking during the pre-project stage also provided insights on major risks (in my case, mainly threats) that would have an impact on the project if materialized.

All the data collected from this prototype helped inform the business case built. One of the most relevant principles in PRINCE2 Agile is to maintain a continued business justification. The spike during the pre-project stage may provide enough data to answer the following question: is the project worthwhile and viable? If the answer is ‘no’ you will then know that spiking just saved you from a bad investment. If the project is part of a programme, it is fundamental to escalate this at the earliest opportunity; it could trigger a programme business case review with major consequences to its benefits and the future organization’s ‘to be’ state. If the answer is ‘yes’, make use of information flows available to highlight major risks, associated impact and likelihood when seeking for project start approval from programme management.

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