PRINCE2 Agile – the long awaited savior?


It often said, that the best things come out of the most unexpected solutions and unexpected is the word that comes up often after hearing about the PRINCE2 Agile method. For most of us it is hard to believe that the two fundamentally different approaches have been merged into one successfully and that this solution has already been applied in some teams. While it is yet to be determined how successful this new method will be in the long term, there is undoubtedly some good reasoning behind it. Let us go ahead and see what it is.

Up until this point, most of the PM community thought that the two methods – PRINCE2 and Agile are fundamentally different. Some even went as far as fighting the other side over the superiority of their choice. However, the new approach led by Keith Richards, brings us to thinking about where the differences actually lie. We know PRINCE2 as a more traditional method, focused on control and governance and we know Agile as a new age method, focused on flexibility and adaption to environment. However, we often tend to get off the right track and bring up our own misconceptions about the two based simply on our opinions.

The differences

It is often thought that PRINCE2 is solely for the waterfall projects because of being heavy in command and not really flexible. While the method is often used for waterfall and has some degree of command and lack of flexibility, these statements are far off from absolutes. For Agile, on the other hand, the common misconceptions are quite the opposite – it is thought that there is no control, no documentation and no planning whatsoever. However, it is not exactly true and exaggerated to a large extent.

The actual difference between the two methods is found in the vision – PRINCE2 is built to focus on the big picture (the overall project), while Agile thrives in the small picture (delivering an actual product). Looking at the two from this perspective allows us to see a point from which they can actually coexist under one roof, simply in different domains. With PRINCE2 used for the long term plans and management at the higher, executive layer while Agile kept at the lower, operational level, where it can deliver the best results.

The cake

The layer cakeThis brings us to what the methodology calls the layer cake – PRINCE2 is kept on top, Agile at the bottom and the middle layer in between them is where the two actually mix. At first, you might think, this is great – we will use PRINCE2 for management and Agile for execution, however, you should not forget the middle layer – mixing them together is what makes this method work. For each project you will have to decide how much PRINCE2 and how much Agile you should use, based on what makes the most sense for the team and for the challenges at hand. So in trying to make the PRINCE2 Agile work, you will always have to balance the layer cake and to determine what will bring forth the best results.

The benefits

The advantages of such approach, when used successfully, are undeniable. Besides the simple things such as loosening up PRINCE2 and structuring Agile, this will allow teams to scale up Agile in a completely new way, bringing in governance that higher structure needs and Agile lacks. For more traditional teams on the other hand, this method will allow to bring in Agile in a more corporate friendly way. There will be no need to restructure the whole operation, but instead, the change will happen gradually in the smaller operational teams.

To achieve this merge successfully, there will need to be not only good balancing between the two, but also flexibility in terms of methodology guidelines. Agile teams will need to fit in the work packages of PRINCE2, keep in mind the big picture and develop a more formal way of reporting to the higher management. While the management in question will have to lighten up on planning, documentation and become more change friendly to accommodate the Agile teams.

There is no doubt that finding the right balance between PRINCE2 and Agile will have to be a constant effort. The thing PRINCE2 teams should keep in mind though is that some degree of Agile can be used in every single project. As longs as you asses the risks, understand overlaps and play to the strengths, PRINCE2 Agile might be your long term solution afterall.

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