Prince Harry (Otherwise known as PRINCE 2)

An improvement over PRINCE 1 (William)?

One of my welovelocalgovernment colleagues put up a blinding piece about stifling creativity in local government. Unfortunately, the areas he was criticising are nearly all areas I work in. Develop a pro-forma? Check. Created a Steering Group? Check. Filled in timesheets? Check. Introduce Project Management software? Half-check. Been on PRINCE 2 training? Aha, success! One piece of creativity destruction that I have managed to avoid!

But, if I’m honest this simply isn’t success on my behalf.

I’ve never been on PRINCE 2 training because my authority wouldn’t pay for it; I wanted to go but just wasn’t allowed.

To use my colleague’s framework; I wanted to stifle my creativity but wasn’t allowed to reach my full stifling potential.

So, assuming that the central argument was more or less correct, why was I so keen to go on this piece of training and develop the PRINCE 2 skills?

(It is probably worth explaining here that PRINCE 2 is a methodology for managing projects. It stands for Projects in Controlled Environments and was specifically designed for use in the public sector. It is widely used throughout local authorities in the UK)

A simple argument would be that I wanted to make myself more employable. That is part of it but I think that probably misses the central point of why it would make me more employable:

I wanted to be PRINCE 2 qualified because everyone else in local government was getting the qualification and everyone is using it. PRINCE 2 has become ubiquitous across local government and those without it are, in many roles, often seen as behind the times.

In one of my previous authorities you couldn’t move without running up against someone who was PRINCE 2 qualified. From the admin assistants to those who put together Government bids to people managing small projects in the council to scrutiny officers (who ‘managed’ scrutiny reviews) to those building whole schools the one thing that united them was a PRINCE 2 qualification.

Some authorities sent their whole management team on courses (anywhere between £750 and £2,000 per person) and declared boldly that they were ‘PRINCE 2’ authorities and were going to run their management teams with just exception reporting, Gantt charts, well kept risk registers and updated PiDs. (if this is verbal garbage then I can only apologise: Google is probably the answer)

So why PRINCE 2?

I have three theories that might help explain the phenomenon:

1)      The last ten years have seen the word ‘change’ as the central narrative defining local government. Coping with change is difficult and I can see why local authorities would want to section off that change into projects which have their own framework to help them manage the chaos. PRINCE 2 helps them do this. For what it’s worth; my experience is that this is entirely sensible and has been beneficial.

2)      PRINCE 2 allows local authorities to handle projects internally without the need for bringing in outside consultants. Trusting your own staff is much easier when they have a qualification that ‘proves’ they can do the job many consultants are offering.

3)      Because things get fashionable. Much like mini-skirts and the Big Society there is a time when concepts, methods and products become fashionable. No-one knows why PRINCE 2 in particular succeeded where others failed but it did and so we all jump on the bandwagon.

One day we will look at the success or otherwise of PRINCE 2 but for the meantime am I right in thinking it has become a little too ubiquitous for our own good?

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7 Comments on “Prince Harry (Otherwise known as PRINCE 2)”

  1. LG Worker Says:

    I once had a manager who got round the cost of PRINCE 2 training, by sending two of the team on a one day introduction (which I think was free for some reason). This gave them the basics and they passed it on to the team, who all were managing small projects of some sort. The projects still got done but I don’t think in the framework of Prince 2.

    What was Prince 1?

  2. Mark Stanley Says:

    Years ago I worked at a Council who sent most of its IT dept on Prince2 courses, whether they wanted it or not, whether they were PMs or programmers.

    I spent the first 10 years of my project manager career working on Prince2 projects but without the qualification. It was only more recently that the job market seemed to *insist* on having the certificate that made me take the exam.

    I worry about Prince2 and other “qualifications”. Recruiters seem to think in very simplistic terms:
    Prince2 = good project manager
    MSP = good programme manager
    TOGAF = good enterprise architect

    But unless you are 18, does anybody think

    Driving licence = good driver?!

    • localgov Says:

      I totally agree with you. Despite my previous comments on students, I have the utmost respect for those who make an effort to learn and improve. However, a ‘qualification’ is something which qualifies you to do a job.

      I think my attitude, experience and skills qualifies me to do my job more than a certificate which proves I could complete a course. Likewise, there will be some excellent project managers who have been doing it for years and are exceptionally good at getting things done: arguably that is a better qualification than PRINCE 2.

      That being said, course-related qualifications do give you a benchmark and a shared understanding of how you are doing things. PRINCE 2 also gives you a whole world of get outs. Apparently, it’s the best way to cover your backside should anything go wrong – the process will save you.

  3. Sarah Spence Says:

    Perhaps its because of the high level of projects that fail or just drift into oblivion and authorities think that if they put all their staff on PRINCE 2 training this will help reduce the rate of failure – if only!

  4. Gary Bandy Says:

    I think PRINCE is too widely applied. It is designed for “controlled environments”. It seems well suited to ICT development projects where the outputs are readily listed in documents. I guess it works for other tangible projects like building a house or a road. I’m not convinced it is at all helpful for many of the “change” projects that local authorities implement. For these the environment is messy (ie political) and it is difficult to specify what the output is. Even if one could specify some outputs, what is usually wanted are outcomes and they are yet more sloppy to define.

    My advice: if you work in ICT or engineering then by all means seek a project management qualification; if not, find some peole who are good at managing projects in the messy environment of local government and learn from them. I appreciate it might be easier to go on a £2,000 course than find a successful project manager but there you go.

  5. Ed Hammond Says:

    PRINCE 2 is great if you’re building a space shuttle in an environment where you have complete control of every single component and stage of the process.

    Not sure how effective it is for anything else though…

    Shocked to hear of scrutiny officers using it – in most organisations they end up bottom of the heap (just beneath members) when it comes to training and development.

    That said there is something oddly satisfying about spending four days putting together a detailed Gantt chart, colouring it all in, pinning it up next to your computer and then ignoring it for the next six months. There’s nothing that impresses senior managers more than a couple of Gantts. For extra points, have several Gantts and, above them, pin up a “Gantt of Gantts”, for programme management purposes. You’ll be Assistant Director for Corporate Strategic Development and Organisational Business Support before you know what’s happened!

  6. […] often we think that we know more than we do.  The best part of the PRINCE2 Project Initiation Document proforma for me was always the ‘assumptions’ section, and it was […]

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