Prince Harry (Otherwise known as PRINCE 2)
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?