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22 June 2011

Agile and PRINCE2

In January 2008, I posted an article on PRINCE2 and Agile which it seems has been #1 in Google for those search terms ever since and consequently has received a great deal of attention, comments and traffic.

More than 3 years later I have worked on 4 agile projects, become a PRINCE2 and MSP practitioner and qualified in DSDM (the Agile project management method mentioned in my earlier blog). I've also got a lot more experience - see my LinkedIn profile at for further details - including 3 projects for Central Government (BERR, CIO Council and DirectGov).

Given the recent push to have Agile more accepted in government circles I thought it was time to update the blog.

A few things have been happening recently
  1. The Agile Delivery Network are hosting a meeting later today. I am attending - the ADN appears to be a small developer led community promoting the use of Agile in government, especially from the software development perspective and working with the Institute for Government
  2. This week we have seen reports in the IT media about the Government turning to small companies for help in introducing Agile and a number of important blogs such as Agile can fix government IT calling for agile to be taken seriously as a delivery method.
  3. There has been a fair amount of debate about Agile in Government on the DSDM Group on LinkedIn and the DSDM group itself is also responding to the System Error report 
  4. The government ICT strategy (March 2011) also states "Additionally, the application of agile ICT delivery methods, combined with the newly established Major Projects Authority, will improve government’s capability to deliver projects successfully and realise benefits faster. "
  5. Increasingly organisations outside of government are deploying DSDM as a project management method rather than PRINCE2 as DSDM not only incorporates the benefits of Agile, but is also suitable for an environment that is regulated, compliance driven and is interested in meeting CMMI standards. Swiftcover (part of the AXA Group) won the award for "Most Agile aware organisation" at the inaugural UK agile awards in 2010.
So lots of change it seems. So where does that leave Agile, PRINCE2 and the appropriate choice of project management method in the new world of Agile government.

I am project management method neutral. I am not pro or against PRINCE2. What I am against is using PRINCE2 when it is either unsuitable for the project in question or that it is suitable, but there are more suitable methods. There is nothing in the PRINCE2 manual about producing reams of documentation although to be fair DSDM as an Agile project management method does go further and state that documentation should only be produced where it adds value. Neither am I going to recommend Agile when there are certain projects (especially those with risk to life) where you cannot adequately timebox testing and for which a pure Agile approach would be less than ideal.

PRINCE2 by itself assumes a waterfall like approach where the requirements are signed off at some level and then handed to development. There's no principle in the usual PID of fixing the time, cost and quality and flexing the scope. However, PRINCE2 does afford the project manager quite a lot of freedom and flexibility. The project manager works within the tolerances of time, cost, budget (and possibly scope) that are set by the project board and these can be as wide or as narrow as is appropriate for the project. In that regard, PRINCE2 gives the project manager the flexibility to get on with the job as best they see fit within those parameters. I was programme manager on the BCS "IT Project Team of the Year 2010" award winning programme. This was run along these lines of light touch management and working within agreed parameters - something common to both Agile and also a sensibly run PRINCE2 project. PRINCE2 really can have as much or as little ceremony as you like, it doesn't have to be a bureaucratic monster that some make it out to be, but in differentiating it from Agile, PRINCE2 does assume you know a lot more up front and are prepared to spend longer in analysis having detailed requirements to "sign off".

DSDM, like PRINCE2, had its origins as an IT Project management method but has now become a generic project management method capable for delivering both IT and non-IT projects. DSDM does have a lot more to say about day to day activities at the delivery team level (e.g. daily standups) and as such is more of a how-to manual rather than PRINCE2 which is more of a process guide for managers.

There are therefore a few potential options in choosing the appropriate method:

Choice of Development methods:
  1. PRINCE2 with a waterfall development method (the traditional way)
  2. PRINCE2 with an Agile development method (quick win for the PRINCE2 advocates)
Choice of Project Management methods:
  1. An Agile Project Management method with PRINCE2 and one of the development methods above - -- Hybrid as put forward by Keith Richards  - author of Agile project management: running PRINCE2 projects with DSDM Atern published by The Office of Government Commerce and Agile Project and Service Management: delivering IT services using ITIL, PRINCE2 and DSDM Atern (by Dot Tudor and also published by the Office of Government Commerce. 
  2. An Agile Project Management method without PRINCE2 and one of the development methods above. Agile project management with a waterfall development method makes no sense, so the alternative here is a full top to bottom Agile Project management and development method such as DSDM Atern. (published by the DSDM consortium, not the Office of Government commerce!)
I am dismissing 3 as not very useful. I've read the first book. It flips between one method and another not particularly blending them in any coherent way and comes up with a management structure that has BOTH the PRINCE2 board and the Agile project management team - 5 managers. This seems like a double headed monster. Besides not combining the "Senior User" and "Business Visionary" and also the "Senior Supplier" and "Technical Co-ordinator" there is still the conflicting philosophy of Waterfall and Agile to deal with. The only merit I can see in this split personality approach is for people interested in Agile management but who can't or won't take the leap and abandon PRINCE2 completely. DSDM by itself is enough. It doesn't need to be helped or hindered by PRINCE2 to be a success. The DSDM manual states although the method can be combined with the likes of PRINCE2, "For most organisations, Atern is all that is needed" (P29).

So the front runners for project management techniques emerge as :

  1. The existing practices of PRINCE2 and a waterfall development method
  2. PRINCE2 incorporating Agile techniques
  3. DSDM Atern (or equivalent) Agile project management with Agile development techniques
There is no particular good or bad here; the skill is in choosing the technique most suitable for the project, people, skills, organisational culture, involvement of 3rd parties and so on. In the main however, I think in the new world of government project management we should be starting with 3 as the default position and then move to 2 if there are good reasons not to use Agile project management and to 1 if there are good reasons not to do Agile development. I really think there are few projects which are genuinely in the last category of requiring exclusively waterfall developmentl however. For further information, please see the Agile suitability filter paper [PDF] or the Project suitability filter. Note that both DSDM Atern and PRINCE2 can work alongside methods such as CMMI, see this paper on CMMI and Atern

Once we have got a culture that is comfortable choosing the most appropriate techniques for a project, we should revisit the procurement process. This still seems to favour a waterfall like approach of fixed scope rather than an agile like approach of fixed time, cost and quality and having scope as the variable. Once that is sorted I think public sector project management will be in a much better place.

Comments welcome. See also the follow up article.



Les Oliver said...

Craig - typo alert. The inaugural UK Agile Awards were in 2010 - and details of this years Awards can be found at

Keith Richards said...

Craig there is a lot of well argued points in this blog but I feel that dismissing my book as ‘not very useful’ should be accompanied by an argument that is reasoned and constructive. I feel that you are just delivering criticism without backing it up.

You do not appear aware that the book is aimed at a PRINCE2 audience although I may be mistaken here.

Specifically, I think you should explain the following:
(1) Why do you think the book doesn’t blend the two methods when in my opinion it does exactly that?
(2) Why you think the delivery team structure is part of the project management structure?
(3) Why you think there shouldn’t be 5 ‘managers’ when you have a project involving 4 teams/workstreams (i.e. one Project Manager and 4 team leaders/team managers/scrum masters)?
(4) Why the monster you refer to has two heads – can you describe what the two heads are?
(5) Why you see the Senior User as being identical to the Business Visionary?
(6) Why you see the Technical Co-ordinator as being identical to the Senior Supplier?

I am not trying to defend the book where it shouldn’t be defended but a lot of thought went into this and I am not sure you have read it with the appropriate level of scrutiny to make these comments.

Perhaps this will kick off debate and I will be very happy to shift my position but I would need to see the thinking behind it.

Craig Cockburn said...


Many thanks for your valued comments. In the agile sense I have produced something for inspection and invited comment on it even though it may not be perfect. You make some valuable points and I will aim to address these in a further posting shortly.


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