It was the marriage they said could never happen but AXELOS has managed it. What were thought to be two polar opposites, PRINCE2 - symbolizing control, accountability, order – and agile – symbolizing self-organization and equality, have been reconciled in the new PRINCE2 Agile™ guidance.
What is perhaps most surprising about this is how relatively few feathers have been ruffled on either side of the fence. A PRINCE2 vs agile conversation can escalate quickly in certain circles, as testified by the many heated discussions you will find across project management-themed internet forums. Yet beyond the outlying apprehension, there has not been an almighty wave of backlash greeting PRINCE2 Agile. This has been in no small part down to the amount of thought and consideration Keith Richards and his team have put into this. By thoroughly examining and honouring the ethos of both schools of thought they have shown how they can be thought of as natural bedfellows. What’s even more surprising and, indeed impressive, is that no principles on either side have been compromised; no square pegs have been forced into any round holes. Remarkably, nothing in PRINCE2 has had to be surgically removed in order for it to work in an agile context. All the principles, themes and even processes remain. For this feat alone, the authors deserve applause.
This leads to the wider question, then, of what agile and PRINCE2 are if they are not diametrically opposed methods or frameworks. It is often said that you don’t DO agile, you ARE agile – it is about the behaviours you and your team display to get the job done. In this way PRINCE2 Agile defines five commonly recognized agile behaviours to complement the principles and themes of PRINCE2. So in modifying our behaviour we can work in an agile way but still in controlled environments and without compromising quality.
The way I have always looked at agile is, rather than it being a state where you are either agile or not, it is rather like a spectrum, or a pendulum. On one end of the spectrum are the more process-driven frameworks such as DSDM and at the other end, lacking process of any sort, some might call chaos (albeit self-organizing chaos!).
It’s good to see that PRINCE2 Agile has acknowledged this by incorporating the concepts of the Cynefín Framework; which provides a way of altering behaviour based on the situation you find yourself in; and the Agilometer, a way of assessing the risk of using agile in the environment you are operating in.
Both of these concepts together can help us to make decisions about when it is right and appropriate to use agile or to behave in an agile way, which is precisely what most of my clients are struggling with. Coming back to the pendulum analogy, many of my clients at p3m global, convinced or curious about the benefits of agile, have thrown their teams or even their companies behind it with varying degrees of success. On some occasions they swing the pendulum from extreme left (tight compliance) to an extreme right position (tearing up all the plans) and it has blown up in their face. The main reasons for this are usually:
- They have not prepared for a culture change or parts of the company do not ‘play along’
- They set up and monitor the wrong metrics (“we are on time and on budget on all projects but have no idea of the benefits we’ve realized”)
- They ‘pick and mix’ from agile but fail to implement some of the fundamental tenets, such as open communication
- They use ‘we do agile’ as an excuse for laziness or lack of customer focus
- They don’t give it long enough, i.e. reverting to old habits after failing to make an impact on the first few sprints.
In each of these cases, the initiative fails, but they are missing the point. Instead of tearing up the rulebook, a better approach would be to ask ourselves HOW and WHEN can we BE more agile.
This is where Gartner’s Bimodal IT model is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough, implying that agile is a switch to turn on for certain type of projects. In most modern organisations the challenges being faced are more complex than that and require more sophisticated ‘multi-governance frameworks’ to flex the level of process control required as well as highly skilled people to anticipate, react and adapt to this style of work and management.
Both PRINCE2 and agile are all about trying to make sense of people working together and where there are relatively few co-located people focused on a single initiative then, nine times out of ten, an agile approach would undoubtedly be the preferred option. PRINCE2, however, is primarily an organizational method, allowing diverse sets of people to speak a common language and follow a single path, so in this case PRINCE2 can offer agile one route to achieving the organisational scale it needs to be truly adopted into the corporate culture.
If ‘traditional’ P3M (project, programme and portfolio) governance structures adopt agility as a new paradigm, aiming to be more agile when they need to, the result would be faster and better decision making and an acceleration of the business planning cycle leading to real competitive advantage in the marketplace.
The irony then, is this: agile without control might be chaos, but good control makes you agile.
Have you used both PRINCE2 and agile methods to manage the same project? What did you find were the most valuable aspects of each for the goal you were working towards? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.