Sampler from The Essential Short Guide to PRINCE2 ®

This is a sampler from The Essential Short Guide to PRINCE2 ®. Within the commentary, the e-book  emphasises the importance of the project management framework in the culture of an organisation.

PRINCE2® as a Culture

Section 21.2 of the manual covers Embedding PRINCE2® in the Organisation without articulating why it is so important.

PRINCE2® projects do not exist in isolation. To stand any chance of success, projects must be connected to the organisations, departments and individuals – including customers and end-users as well as staff taking over the day-to-day running – who will take ownership of the final product on completion. All those stakeholders have to feel some sense of ownership of the project itself during its lifetime.

There are two key reasons for fostering an early sense of ownership:

  • eliciting the right inputs to the project, meaning:
    • gathering complete and accurate requirements from customers, end-users, frontline staff, support staff, third parties, other systems, in priority order
  • ensuring the right outputs from the project, for example:
    • delivering the right products, at the right time, to the right people, at an agreed cost
    • enabling a successful sale, subscription, service call
    • producing complete, timely and accurate reports that enable good decision-making at all levels
    • handing over a viable, effective set of deliverables to the day-to-day owners

This is not easy. Projects are messy. Define what needs to be done by when or by whom, but projects involve people. Large projects involve lots of people. Projects that interact with lots of people, departments, organisations and systems are complex and contain many, many points of contact. All of those contact points are potential points of failure.

Sometimes, in ideal circumstances, you pull a group of people onto your project who are completely in favour of it, get along well, pull together, co-operate, and do all they can in support of the project goals. The rest of the time you have to deal with the part-timers, the over-worked, the under-paid, the unconvinced and occasionally the downright hostile.

People often have more selfish motives than selfless ones. They have priorities and agendas in their day-to-day lives that may conflict with those of the project. Reluctant team members often fall into this camp. Enthusiastic ones may be blocked in their contribution to the project by less enthusiastic peers, or from above or below within an organisation.

Third parties, suppliers, customers and even stake-holders may not see the advantage of implementing the project. Or they see greater advantage in implementing it their way and not as agreed in the Project Brief. Sometimes they may even be right.

This is the principle that PRINCE2® doesn’t elaborate, the principle of hearts and minds.

Not just a bean-counter

The PRINCE2® Project Manager can’t just be a bean-counter sitting on a pile of Gantt Charts and spreadsheets. They have to ensure that someone within the organisation with sufficient authority and credibility can go out to communicate the benefits and the necessity of delivering the project. Everyone involved must be encouraged to march behind the flag.

There also needs to be someone with sufficient authority to compel the stragglers and the rebels not only to follow, but to make their required contribution.

In this respect PRINCE2® projects are like any other; only as strong as their weakest link. The weakest link is always human.

PRINCE2® does not tell you how to handle the blockers, shirkers and buck-passers that exist in large, complex organisations. This falls under project management ‘soft skills’ or leadership and you won’t find it in the PRINCE2® manual.

For many people, especially those not used to working in a cross-organisation, project-based environment, this is all new territory. We’re talking about a comprehensive but complex project framework with its own specialised jargon and a structure that, even after three decades, is not easy to put into simple words.

The PRINCE2® overview diagram is not simple simple; try to explain it to a room full of novices and see how that goes. Don’t give them the 413-page manual and expect them to work it out for themselves.

PRINCE2® has to be embedded in the culture of an organisation. Everyone involved in the project must be on board with the PRINCE2® framework, meaning that they need to;

  • understand the collaborative nature of the process – especially if they expect to gain their favoured outcomes
  • appreciate the approved project scope at the beginning and as it is revised throughout the project life cycle
  • understand the reporting lines, delegated authorities and approval processes
  • understand and use the change control process
  • realise that change is not automatic and that priorities in time, cost, quality and scope exist for good reasons

Culture is one of the reasons why PRINCE2® fails. Organisations often buy PRINCE2® like they would buy a stapler and treat it like a tool ‘that just works.’ They want a comforter, something they can point at on the bookshelf, or a certificate on the wall that says “we do PRINCE2®; we do competent project management.”

And then don’t.

If PRINCE2® isn’t culturally understood, explained and evangelised, it is just so much extra bureaucracy to the very people in the organisation who need to see the benefits.

You don’t just buy PRINCE2®, you have to sell it to the whole organisation.

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