5 new realities about agile for PPM professionals

  • By Nader K Rad – PM Author, Consultant, and Trainer at Management Plaza
  • 26 October 2015
  • Agile, Best Practice, Portfolio management, PRINCE2, PRINCE2 Agile, Programme management, Project & Programme Management (PPM), Project management
5 new realities about agile for PPM professionals

There’s a need for using a blend of best practice methodologies, but also a risk. The risk is that the elements of the final system might not be consistent with each other. It happens when people pick elements from multiple systems just because they seem interesting without paying attention to the whole structure. Unfortunately, this is very common.

Nader RadThere’s also a need for using multiple best practices for two reasons. First, we have different layers that affect projects: a project delivery level, where agile or predictive lifecycles are used, a project management level, where PRINCE2® can be used, the programme management approach and, finally, the portfolio management system. The best results are achievable when we pay attention to all these layers and, of course, they should be compatible with each other. The tricky part is that the delivery level and the project management level usually have an overlap, which makes the consistency more difficult. Scrum, for example, may also cover about 30% of the project management level; DSDM Atern, an agile methodology, almost covers both layers completely; PRINCE2, which is designed for the project management level may also cover up to 20% of the delivery level.

The second reason is that even a single level is not completely covered in one best practice. PRINCE2 is a great methodology for the project management level, but doesn’t answer the “how” questions; that’s where we can use another best practice such as the PMBOK Guide to fill in the gaps, but even that’s not enough, and we need more.

1. Recognizing the value of agile delivery and governance

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s the same with the layers involved in projects. For example, you can have great project delivery, project management, and programme management systems in place, but continuously fail because you don’t pay enough attention to your portfolio management system. It doesn’t matter how great you are on delivering the projects if they are meaningless projects.

This is the same for the relation between the project delivery layer and the project management level.  Many companies that are good at project management and are using PRINCE2 properly can neglect their delivery method and vice versa.

One way of addressing this problem is to educate everyone on the distinction of the two, and the necessity of having both systems. The other way is to combine them into one. I see PRINCE2 Agile™ as a solution of the second type.

2. Combining agile techniques with PRINCE2®

I believe that the AXELOS Best Practice portfolio deserves to have its own agile product: a synthesis of the experiences we’ve had in the PM community.

Scrum, for example, is a great system, but is heavily dependent on a culture we cannot expect to have in a large, mature company. Why don’t we use the successful experiences of using Scrum and other agile methods to create something new, from scratch, that matches the needs of a larger audience, as PRINCE2 has been covering for the PM layer?

3. Agile practitioners and PRINCE2® governance

I believe agile practitioners always need the greater level of governance that’s in PRINCE2 in every possible scenario.

We have the old problem of misunderstanding PRINCE2: many people believe that it’s a complex system, because they cannot master the tailoring concept. A really simple version of PRINCE2 can benefit any agile system, except for those that already have the PM layer fully covered, such as Atern.

I’ve always believed that AXELOS should invest in a light version of PRINCE2; a version compatible with PRINCE2 that is already tailored to be useful in simple projects. That really helps larger audiences*.

4. PRINCE2® and agile flexibility

PRINCE2 practitioners can use agile approaches when their product has the capacity to be developed adaptively, and they choose to do so.

A problem nowadays is that “Agile” is in fashion and everyone likes to be “Agile”, without knowing its exact meaning. Adaptive methods are not always suitable. It’s not right to reduce them to “more flexible” ways; they are a different approach to delivery that should match the nature of the product.

5. Embracing agile and PRINCE2® philosophies

PRINCE2 practitioners will only truly embrace agile philosophies by understanding the real meaning of agility, which is using an adaptive method instead of a predictive one. If they have the right understanding, the rest will be taken care of automatically.

My usual suggestion is "The Lean Startup" book by Eric Ries; it gives a simple explanation of the adaptation concept. Even though it’s mainly about adaptation in the programme and portfolio levels, the understanding would be enough for the practitioners to incorporate it in their projects.

For agile practitioners, it might be hard for them to understand the real effectiveness of PRINCE2, unless they see it in the context of all AXELOS best practices. When they get to know the whole family, they can go back to PRINCE2 and enjoy it even more.

The problem here is that it’s too difficult for most people to familiarize themselves with the complete best practices package. The solution? Similar to what I’ve proposed for PRINCE2: we should have light versions of all Best Practices; MSP, MoP, MoV, M_o_R, and so on. It’s a real shame, for example, that almost no one involved in agile projects is familiar with MoV, while it can help them a lot.

*AXELOS has published a white paper called PRINCE2 for Small Scale projects, by Chris Ferguson (worth 0.5 CPD points).

The is also a publication by Allan Ferguson called Integrating PRINCE2available from the AXELOS store, which is all about how organizations can tailor PRINCE2 to their project environments (worth 2 CPD points).

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28 Oct 2015 Mike Acaster
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Hi Nader,

We have looked at small scale implementations as you can see either in the Chris Ferguson white paper or in Allan Ferguson's book on integrating PRINCE2 into organisations. The latter uses three examples of using PRINCE2 in small medium and large organizations to show aspects adjusting PRINCE2 to meet those different circumstances. It is a message we have been saying for a long time now that it's about intelligent and appropriate application of PRINCE2. I recall talking to someone from a bank who said they probably had a bureaucratic implementation of PRINCE2 but then why won't they it was the very nature of the business after all.
When we set out to develop PRINCE2 Agile we deliberately steered clear of inventing our own agile approach but chose to focus on the interaction of PRINCE2 with the more popular agile approaches. This means there is plenty of meat in the guidance for practitioners to bring into their day-to-day work.
I agree its a shame that not more people are aware of MoV after all it and agile share the perspective that its about adding something of value or maximising value. Those two concepts should go hand in hand.
Best regards
Mike Acaster AXELOS PPM Portfolio Manager
16 Nov 2015 Larry Cooper
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Great post. I agree that "light" versions may help, but I also believe that we need to address some of the fundamentals as well, especially where they may run counter to agile thinking embodied in the agile values and principles.

MoV has always been to my mind a lost gem in the suite of PPM suite of guidance - if we don't understand why we are doing something then it severely impedes our ability to appropriately answer the what, when, where and how questions.

Larry Cooper
PRINCE2 Agile Mentor
Project Executive, BSSNexus Global Inc.
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