Can PRINCE2 and Agile work together in digital development?

Cartoon graphic images of agile project managers and teams standing on separate square while conducting project work with charts, laptops, graphs, currency and piecharts and one holds giant lightbulb

I spent the first fifteen years of my career in engineering project management, so moving into digital development has opened up a completely different working environment for me.

But although the two industries are worlds apart in many ways, I have found that PRINCE2® and Agile can work together.

Different demands in digital

The oil and gas industry is very focused on product delivery, for example, getting a specified volume of oil to market within deadline and budget. Organizational and operational structures are also very clearly defined, while the risk of harm to human life means this is a highly regulated sector. Therefore, a project manager needs to gain extensive certification, training and experience before having decision-making responsibilities.

Digital development, on the other hand, is fast, dynamic and data-driven. Projects include building chatbots and intelligent systems, developing ecommerce websites, as well as integrating sales and payment channels and on-line systems. As a client-facing sector, it is more outward looking in terms of understanding and fulfilling customer needs. Reporting lines are more fluid and project leaders can be trained up sooner.

So how do these distinct characteristics influence the use of project frameworks and methods?

PRINCE2 vs Agile

PRINCE2 has many benefits which are perfectly suited to the governance and planning needs of engineering companies and industries — particularly when dealing with deliverables. Cost, timelines, risks, financial forecasting are all addressed. This information is vital as it enables you to predict the timeframe for product delivery with relative accuracy, as well determine its viability as an investment.

PRINCE2 also offers flexibility and tailoring to suit the size and scale of any company — even start-ups, where its system of checks and balances is invaluable. This ensures crucial adjustments are made during the project lifecycle to keep the newly-formed and often-inexperienced team on track.

So, what happens when you transition to an Agile mindset in a digital world, as I did?

It’s certainly an eye-opener and requires a total re-think in terms of how you approach your role — almost a personality switch. As a project manager, it’s more about structure and deliverables. Conversely, when you work as a Scrum master like I do now, empathy, motivation and encouragement to achieve targets are required. It’s a question of creating positive team dynamics and letting individuals self-organize, understand the value of the journey and bring their best to the table.

That’s not to say, however, that PRINCE2 has no place in digital development.

Successful partnership

In my current company, we have a framework that combines both PRINCE2 and Agile — it’s one we call “WAgile”.

In practice, this means that the discovery and planning phases of the project follows a PRINCE2 structure. It covers information gathering, governance, reporting and communicating structures, RAID controls, development of the business case, etc, and embraces the stages and gates control mechanism. Then, when the project reaches the development phase of the project, where developers start to build the software, we adopt an Agile framework for the iterative development; Scrum. But — crucially — we still have a project manager to oversee the entire project, whilst the Scrum Master leads the software development events and processes.

To me, it’s proven to be a workable combination, especially in highly regulated industries like banking, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, and one I would anticipate adopting in future digital projects.

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27 Dec 2019 Hatim Tinwala
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