“PRINCE2 didn’t work for us, so we went back to Scrum”

“We really tried”

Willem-Jan Ageling
Jan 19 · 6 min read

The present — Abandoning ‘PRINCE2’

“It was a good experiment”, said Fred.”Now we know that PRINCE2 is nothing for us. We are in a REAL business and we want to build our products fast. I always knew it, but I’m happy to see it confirmed.”

Carla laughed and said “Indeed. We know that we shouldn’t jump on every bandwagon. But with such a push from the Project Management Office we had no choice but to let it happen to see it fail.”

“Well, we didn’t let it fail. It simply didn’t fit our organisation.”

“Yes indeed. But it’s good that we tried. I guess that working with Scrum isn’t as bad as we felt it was. We just need additional training.”

Did they really try to implement PRINCE2 in a genuine way? To assess that, let’s go 18 months back in time.

Night with moon opened with zipper showing daytime
Night with moon opened with zipper showing daytime
By Alexas_Fotos at Pixabay

18 months back — The transition to PRINCE2
Sarah was happy to get a refresher training on PRINCE2. The company would embrace this project management methodology. And now the newly appointed Project Managers — the former Scrum Masters — would get a 2 day training.

As a Scrum Master, Sarah saw how this Scrum framework was totally misunderstood and therefore totally misapplied. While she regretted it, she also understood why the company choose to abandon Scrum and move back to PRINCE2.

The training was better than expected. She recognized a lot. Her company also was having issues with Continued Business Justification. Often a decision was made to start an initiative and then there was no reflection throughout the initiative if the work still made sense. She also liked Manage by Exception, which meant that decision authority was within the teams unless a certain threshold was exceeded. Sarah couldn’t wait to help bring change to the company.

The training aftermath
“PRINCE2 is great, but not in our world.”

“What do you mean Jorge? I heard so many things that fully resonated. I got many answers to my questions” said Sarah.

“It’s unrealistic to think that our management accepts to let go of the controls. They wish to know for certain all the time that we can to fulfill our promises to our clients.”

“But that’s something that we need to change. Working like this is counter-productive. And it’s up to us — the Project Managers — to help drive this change.”

“Not if I can help it. We would be fired on the spot for making ridiculous claims. I’m very happy to have received this PRINCE2 certificate — it’s great for my resume — but that’s it.”

3 months since the transition — Sarah and her project
The first few months with her new project were rough.

At first she also was excited. There were so many things to do! The clarity that PRINCE2 brought would help remove unhelpful things like stage gate obstacles and micro-management.

But her excitement had already taken a beating because of her experiences with the Business Analyst. Instead of interacting with the stakeholders, he created huge requirement documents that he then threw over the fence to the developers.

The Business Analyst simply followed orders and only translated the requirements to a more technical language based on input from the Product Manager and Program Manager.

Sarah tried to help the Business Analysts, trying to raise awareness about their roles. But this was totally in vain. They kept on creating elaborate documents and didn’t take any feedback from the developers or from the stakeholders into account. They didn’t want to change their behaviour at all.

Sarah was not completely alone. Also Pierre seemed to have understood what PRINCE2 was supposed to be. But they were up against 6 colleagues who had different opinions. They saw PRINCE2 as a perfect way to cloak bad progress of the project and report Watermelon progress — green on the outside, red on the inside.

Watermelon project — green on the outside, red on the inside by congerdesign at Pixabay

The other “Project Managers” saw an extra benefit in the fact that there was this thing called Manage by Exception. As long as no-one reported issues, there wasn’t anything to be escalated to management. And the Project Managers made pretty sure to brand the individuals that expressed concerns as traitors. People would think twice to report issues. The Project Managers applied Mushroom Politics: keeping management in the dark and feeding them sh*t.

Sarah and Pierre did what they could to help the fellow Project Managers understand. But to no avail. More and more Sarah was aware that she was fighting an uphill battle.

12 months since the transition — Sarah and the stakeholders
For Sarah, the final nail in the coffin was how the stakeholders were involved. The Program Managers continued to think that they could create and stick to detailed plannings for an 18 month project. They had the organisational power, so there was no stopping them. Sarah had tried to convince Fred — as a Program Manager also her manager — but he was even ridiculing her for being so naive that in a real world this fluffy thing called Continued Business Justification was even remotely possible. Sarah also had discussions with Carla — the Product Manager. But she too clearly told Sarah that she was living in a fantasy world.

Everyone was made perfectly clear that amber and red project status reports were unacceptable. The company had to uphold the facade of ‘total control’.

Sarah felt completely desperate.

17 months since the transition — The horror
Jorge was the Project Manager for “Project Awesome”. This project was in trouble. Instead of the promised 6 months, the developers were already working on it for 11 months. This was when the Steering Committee finally lost patience and asked for clarity. After reporting only positive updates, Jorge had no choice but to ask the developers what kept them from delivering.

The lead developer then said: “We have no clue what to build! We did receive ridiculously unclear requirements because the Business Analyst also doesn’t have a clue. There’s a lot of going back and forth with the Business Analyst and every question we have takes ages to be answered. It really feels like the requirements were thrown over the fence.”

When Jorge discussed this with the Business Analyst, his defense was:

“I specifically instructed them to use tooling A, but they then say that it can’t work like that. Without telling me why and without using it properly. I see this as unacceptable behaviour. And this is the reason for all the delays. It was a mistake to let me decide what technology should be used. It was a mistake to implement PRINCE2.”

18 months after the transition — the decision
With that, Jorge had the perfect excuse to fend of any blame for the delays. In a meeting with Fred and Carla present he stated:

“I have told you all this time that PRINCE2 is not for us. Now, 18 months and a failed Project Awesome later, we have to be honest to ourselves. PRINCE2 is nice, but doesn’t work here. Our environment is far to complex for a tool like PRINCE2.”

Sarah was also present. She tried to repair the situation one last time:

“People, it’s not PRINCE2 that failed. It’s our adoption of PRINCE2. We totally missed the mark and made many crucial mistakes. If we really wish to improve our product delivery, then we should embrace PRINCE2 seriously.”

Fred then laughed out loud and answered:

“I love it how passionate you are about PRINCE2 Sarah. But you are clearly wrong. If even Jorge — our best Project Manager — can’t get projects on track with PRINCE2, then it’s plainly obvious that we have to stop this experiment before even more harm is done.”

Carla added: “I fully agree. Let’s go back to Scrum. This methodology suits us better.”

1 month after the decision — Back to Scrum
Sarah had taken a few weeks off to recover from the bumpy 18 month ride. But she determined it is best to leave the bad feelings behind and approach the Scrum training with an open mind. It’s a perfectly fine way to deliver products. So it’s always good to learn more about it.

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Thanks to Sjoerd Nijland

Willem-Jan Ageling

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Interested in ways to work better together. I love the discussion with open-minded people.

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