PRINCE2 – Principled project management?
October 12, 2023 |
8 min read
The PRINCE2 project management method is known for its seven key principles: timeless approaches developed by experts’ many years of experience in the field, using lessons learned from projects of all shapes and sizes.
But as the world is changing at an ever-increasing rate, particularly in business, even timeless ideas need reviewing periodically. Hence, the changes to the principles in the new PRINCE2 7.
Before detailing what’s new, it’s worth reminding ourselves why PRINCE2 is a “principle-based” best practice:
Prescriptive project management methods tell you the “why”, “how” and “what” to do, laying out step-by-step processes and tend to be a one-size-fits-all solution. In reality, all projects and organizations are different and a process that works well for one environment may fail in another. And prescriptive approaches take little account of the project type, scale, industry or company culture. Much of their guidance will not be applicable to the specifics of your project, so their usefulness is somewhat limited.
In contrast, PRINCE2 does not provide detailed steps for “what” to do at the delivery level, freeing teams up to adopt delivery methods appropriate to each project.
PRINCE2 Principles – what’s new?
Principles provide both direction and flexibility, giving teams the freedom to build their deliverables efficiently in alignment with the objectives and tolerances agreed during project initiation.
While the spirit of the principles remains the same, the precise wording used in PRINCE2 7 has evolved, to emphasize particular aspects such as sustainability or to place a new focus on business relationships with key stakeholders, alongside roles and responsibilities. Indeed, the notion of relationships has been brought much more to the fore in this latest iteration. Nurturing relationships fosters trust, which can be a key ingredient in a project’s success as the behaviour of stakeholders can mark the difference between success and failure.
One key difference to previous versions is the reference to guiding obligations. PRINCE2 principles have always been a form of guidance but, until now, adhering to them was mandatory. Today there are no minimum requirements for a PRINCE2 project. Instead, there are simply the principles and agreed tolerances – if you remain within these parameters, you are freer to make your own decisions and find your own solutions.
The enduring nature of particular principles
Among the PRINCE2 7 principles, ensuring continued business justification is important as things change over time. Clarity among all team members and stakeholders on what the project is hoping to achieve is crucial. Even within a single organization, perceptions of the driving forces behind a project can vary, which may be unhelpful. Likewise, learning from experience and having clear roles and responsibilities will always be vital to any project. Principles can be adapted to the needs of your organization, its values and culture.
The principle of tailor to suit the project is one of the least well understood yet one of the most important in PRINCE2. Often, organizations adopt a particular method and decide that “we do it this way”, without adapting it to suit their specific needs. When this happens, the project serves the method, rather than the method serving the project. Over the years, many people have tended to see PRINCE2 as a goal in its own right. The truth is, of course, that PRINCE2 is a tool that should serve your project. No framework should be an end in itself; rather use the parts that are useful for achieving your real objectives.
For example, management documents can be comprehensive written reports, or a quick conversation at the water cooler. They could be an email, or an information display on the wall. Nowhere is this prescribed in PRINCE2, and teams should feel free to decide on what format and naming conventions work best for them, rather than simply copying everything in the PRINCE2 manual.
PRINCE2 principles and other methods
Because PRINCE2 is principle-based and generic rather than prescriptive, you can combine it with other delivery methods or iterative frameworks such as Scrum, DevOps, Lean and Lean Six Sigma, as none of these contradict the seven principles. Methods tend to attract tribes, but rather than saying “we do things this way”, consider which tools you need in your toolbox for each project and use them appropriately. Provided each tool is used according to the seven underlying principles, a project is more likely to achieve its desired outcomes.
There is arguably a greater need for PRINCE2 principles today than in the past. From COVID-19 to climate concerns, and from economic uncertainty to geopolitical unrest, the world is changing at an unprecedented pace, adding to the dynamics around a project. The more certainty you can get from guiding principles like PRINCE2 7, the better decisions you will be able to make.