Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

“What is PRINCE2?” Guest Post Richard Batchelor. (Strategy execution methodologies series. Post 3)

Having established, in Post 1 of this series, that strategy is “just another good idea” until it is implemented and churning out results, and that there is no single turn-key methodology for executing strategy, we then turned our attention first to the “go to” methodology: project management.  In Post 2, we recognized that there are two dominant project management methodologies: The Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) approach and PRINCE2―and we explored PMI’s approach.

Now, I am no expert in PRINCE2, so I found one to share insights with us.  Even better, Richard Batchelor is an international change management consultant, trained project manager (certified in PRINCE2) and certified human resources professional. He has the street cred of many successful change implementations under his belt. Rich has kindly agreed to write an insider’s overview of PRINCE2 for us.

So, what is PRINCE2?   

PRINCE2 project management is a methodology used widely in the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. It also has some pockets of use through public service organizations in Asia and Africa. It was born of the UK government project methodology that was needed to deliver IT projects in the 1980s and is an evolution of styles and principles first used in the early days of mass IT project installations.

The PRINCE2 that we see today is fundamentally that which was launched in 1996 as a standard method in UK government. As its origins are in public service, it places a significant weight on assurance principles for value, risk, and issue management. It also carries with it a bureaucracy of multitudes of documents required throughout the project cycle.

As with most project methodology, PRINCE2 is methodical and somewhat linear in its activity cycle. However, it does have some hints of agile and scrum principles, allowing reiterations in an almost cyclic or iterative solutioning method during the activity cycle. This can be a positive or negative—it ensures the best solution is delivered to the client or customer, but can also mean timelines can be stretched and delivery goals pushed back when activity intensifies at times.

The name PRINCE2 comes from the acronym for “PRojects IN a Controlled Environment” with the 2 to recognize the second iteration of the methodology (a previous method used was called PROMPTII). It is a closed project environment, supporting a very strict regime of preventing project creep and clearly defining scope at the outset in the Project Initiation Documents. (Since 2009, the PID has been accepted as multiple documents and not necessarily a single publication.) However, the adaptability of the methods do support its application in a variety of purposes and environments—it is extremely objective and the sequence of activity prevents any significant subjectivity, which is good in supporting fairness and transparency for cultural- and people-based projects.

The PRINCE2 process

The cycle of activity in a PRINCE2 project goes from start-up through initiation, directing, and ultimately to delivery. The directing period is where most activity takes place and I personally call this the project leadership area. This is where the project is fundamentally managed, using planning, delegation, monitoring, and control of activities, maybe even in sequential or concurrent phases. Here you have the assurance elements of risk mitigation, issue resolution, and communications plans.

The client is, at the very least, expected to sit on the project board, but is normally the project executive, the term used for sponsor in PRINCE2. They convene regular board meetings and give considerable time to the management of project communications, identification of risk and subsequent mitigations, and identification of issues that have to be carried through the project timeframe. There is also opportunity for discussing exceptions to the project plan, with the project manager, key stakeholders, and the project executive having a board meeting for decision-making and solving project problems. As some of the many documents prepared during the project delivery period fulfill the need to inform progress and completion of activities, little time is necessary for general project discussion at the board meetings. One of the seven core principles of PRINCE2 is that it manages by exception, doing only what is needed at that point in time to keep the project on track for successful delivery.

I don’t want to get caught up too much in activity details, as I just want to give you a feel of the PRINCE2 project management methodology, but it is important to highlight some of these elements as it reinforces the earlier comments about objectivity and clear focus for projects using this method.

PRINCE2 manages six key variables

A PRINCE2 project recognizes six key variables that encase the controlled environment within which it operates:

  • Costs
  • Timescales
  • Quality
  • Scope
  • Risk
  • Benefits

The seven core principles

PRINCE2 accepts that certain tools and techniques used throughout the project should have been obtained elsewhere, namely people management activities, Gantt charts, critical path analysis, corporate quality assurance, and financial control and value analysis. Although utilized within a project to greater and lesser degrees, these are skill sets that are not taught as part of PRINCE2―instead, the concentration is on activity management and the required management of resources to deliver.

The other principles include the following:

  • Ongoing justification of the business case. Throughout the project, the business case should still be valid, or the benefits will not be realized.
  • Also, learning from experience—I mentioned that the project will go through iterations at times to deliver the best solution; this is an iterative learning activity.
  • Roles and responsibilities of all members of project teams and their board must be clearly defined; a series of phases to delivery must also be clearly defined.
  • The final two principles are to focus on product delivery—your aim for the project should always be to deliver what you set out to do, hence references to limiting scope creep— and to flex to the environment within which the project functions.

It is said that, without application of the seven principles, no project is truly a PRINCE2 project. Perhaps that’s all you need to know, but I think any project is much more than the principles it is built upon. It is the convergence of principle, practice, and people to deliver its goal.

Rich has extensive experience in managing change on large-scale projects within the public sector. He is PRINCE2 certified and also an active and founding member of the Association of Change Management Professionals, an accredited internationally educated human resources professional and member of the Human Resources Professional Association in Ontario, Canada.  You can find Rich’s blog “Making Change Happen” here, his profile on LinkedIn here, and you can follow him on Twitter @RichBatchelor.

The next post in the series is a review of Change Management methodologies and how they fit into strategy execution. Stay tuned… in fact perhaps you’d like to subscribe. If you are not reading this post on my home site you can link over to The Change Whisperer ( and look for the subscribe button top left.


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