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Musings

The Prince is not Agile!

4 Nov 2011 by Lorraine Steyn

Agile development is a way of life for us at KRS. We fully subscribe to its aim of delivering value, in the simplest way possible, under short time constraints.

However, we also recognize the enormous team changes needed to make an environment Agile – trust, empowerment, high communication and self-organization. We understand that the predictable approach of a large Project Management methodology like Prince II is very appealing to corporate management, especially in the face of the chaos that Agile sometimes presents as.

So which approach would be best for you? Here are some top-level topics that might help you to see why Agile isn’t just another management methodology, but rather a focus on the management details that really matter.

Top down Management – Prince II has an explicit chain of decision making, and it’s very top down. Although there is scope for empowering teams, Prince II is very far from the bottom-up, taking-ownership approach of Agile. Agile cycles are incredibly disciplined and foster communication that leads to fast identification of problems and improvements in processes. This builds learning teams able to make better tactical decisions (at the coal face) than any amount of rigid advance planning, no matter how good the planning was.

Documentation – all software projects have lots of documentation. In Agile, we try and make the documentation as visible as possible, so you will find it posted on walls and Scrum boards, stories broken down into their smallest components on index cards, and all posted in every available space. But the Agile principle is that we value working software more than documentation, so you will only find documentation that adds value. Prince II dictates that certain documentation be produced, without ever reflecting on the intrinsic value of that documentation. This can lead to documentation becoming an end in itself, which we just don’t understand!

Change Management – all the approaches attempt to manage change. It’s critical that teams don’t waste time or resources, and change always implies some waste. Prince II uses a strict approval process involving the Project Board to authorize change, where Agile allows changes in the next Sprint. Both approaches have merit, but KRS favours accepting that change is inevitable in life and systems, and it’s best dealt with as soon as possible.

Risk Management – Prince II is risk averse. All its processes and management controls are there to reduce risk. This is probably its biggest appeal for corporate management. Agile promotes the values of courage and embracing risk. We see our teams growing in courage every day, and apart from being very gratifying, it is also amazing how much better their software becomes. Teams stand up for what’s right, rather than accepting what’s convenient. The end result is better software for our clients – not what you would have first thought when you thought about Risk Management?

Learning Lessons – Prince II has a document called the Lessons Learnt Report. It’s a great idea, but it’s usually written by the Project Manager. No offence to Project Managers, but don’t they have a vested interested in showing that everything went off well? The process alone won’t get honest feedback about issues, and without that, no lessons are learnt. Agile is fanatical about reviewing what is working and not working every Sprint. The team drive the retrospective, so they have every opportunity to learn and improve.

Developing Software – actually, Prince II doesn’t have much to say about this! Prince II is a management approach that can be used for anything from building bridges to software. For KRS, delivering software is where all the value lies, and we’d prefer an approach aligned with our needs. Agile is completely concerned with delivering software, right down to the work breakdown, quality and testing.

Can Prince II be used selectively, and merged with the best of Agile? Or vice versa?

According to KRS, you cannot take a rigid top-down management process like Prince II, and still empower your teams. If your teams aren’t empowered, they won’t have the same sense of ownership, dedication to quality, and pride in delivery. In our view, it’s not worth sacrificing these incredibly valuable qualities just to add an appearance of management control.

The bottom line is that Prince2 is all concerned with Project Management, while Agile is concerned with Delivery. You decide what matters most.

About the Author
Lorraine Steyn is a founding Director of Khanyisa Real Systems. KRS uses Agile project management principles on all their projects, and has a lot of experience to share.

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