Agile and PRINCE2®: The Language Barrier

Agile and PRINCE2®: The Language Barrier

A recurring challenge in large organizations is the lack of trust among practitioners, teams and people that are using different methodologies.

Julia HendryMany “agilists” use language that non-agile trained people don’t understand which can lead to distrust within a business and in teams. This is more common in organizations that are moving away from so-called waterfall project management and towards agile where only some practitioners have embraced agile methods.

It’s a challenging situation because agile teaches the need for more interaction and communication while teaching practitioners to use a different language to the rest of the organization and this is creating barriers. You can’t walk into a PRINCE2® team and simply impose scrum terminology but many agilists find themselves doing just that. I’m not saying that agile consultants don’t consider non-agile team members, but we need agilists to start looking more holistically at the teams they work in and understand each person’s terminology instead of just imposing our own.

For example, while working as an agile coach I had a Contracts Manager ask for help because she needed information and said the agile consultant wouldn’t give that to her. The consultant in question was both knowledgeable and eager and when we spoke to him he began explaining about “epics” and the process for getting a roadmap together and how to do agile planning; at this point the Contracts Manager’s eyes glazed over. The consultant was inflicting agile language upon both of us when we were trying to solve a business problem and not learn about agile.

So, I interrupted and asked our Contracts Manager a few simple questions:

"Why and when do you need this?"
"Who needs the information?"
"How is the information used?"
"What kind of information do you need right now?"

From her answers it was clear we already had the information she needed but the language had got in the way. Language is a double-edged sword – we need it to know what we’re talking about but if we use it with people who don’t understand it then our own progress can be stunted.

But it’s not just for the agilists to watch the terminology they use; it’s also for those who don’t understand to ask questions and explain why you need certain information. What has been missing in such situations is a common dialogue that connects the two.

PRINCE2 Agile™ is essential reading for current PRINCE2 practitioners working in agile teams and vice versa for current agilists without a background in PRINCE2. It’s far easier to communicate when you’re both speaking the same language and the qualification provides clear guidelines that show you how to inject agile ways of thinking into your organization.

One thing that’s a common misconception is the thought of agile and PRINCE2 being two separate worlds – they’re not, they’re aiming for exactly the same thing: success.

Agile is about collaboration and value and PRINCE2 is about processes and methods. These are both necessary, but there’s a gradient in the middle that is open for you to find the right way to do things in your organizations – it may not be a case of choosing one or the other but rather a blend of both approaches.

PRINCE2 Agile is about adapting each method to suit your projects and your organization so that all practitioners can work together. The whole point of this methodology is to inject continuous improvement into projects and giving practitioners a better chance of lasting success.

And for consultants going into an organization with new terminology and new methods my advice is to ask and keep asking until you understand them, what they do, what works and what doesn’t. If it works then you don’t need to change it. Many agile practitioners have only ever used agile and while they can do planning and use roadmaps they don’t know how to work in PRINCE2 teams; PRINCE2 Agile is vital to agilists to understand how to work together and draws parallels between everyone.

Trust is where many of our problems lie. We are seeing too often practitioners standing arms crossed on either side of a room and it’s because we don’t understand each other; we talk differently, we have different opinions on how to approach things but in reality we are all trying to get to the same place. PRINCE2 Agile will clarify the terminology and bring people from either side of the room into the middle to work together to deliver something of value.

See our PRINCE2 Agile™ section for more information.

Have you encountered communication issues when working in teams using PRINCE2 and Agile techniques to manage the same projects? How did you work around and resolve any difficulties when combining waterfall and agile methods? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.

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