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PRINCE2 Agile overview

5 May 2022 By

History

AXELOS launched PRINCE2 Agile in 2015 in response to demands from the user community. PRINCE2 Agile exists at the boundary between project management and agile product delivery.

The PRINCE2 Agile guidance describes how to tailor PRINCE2 for agile projects, and also includes a valuable overview of several agile practices.

This article is a summary the PRINCE2 Agile approach to tailoring the principles, themes and process of PRINCE2 so that they can be applied effectively within an agile environment. It provides a good introduction to someone wanting to learn more about PRINCE2 Agile, or to prepare them before joining a PRINCE2 Agile course.

To begin with let’s look at the important concept of tolerances.

Fixing and flexing tolerances

PRINCE2 defines 6 tolerance areas (time, cost, quality, scope, benefits, risks). Tolerances are used to delegate authority from a higher management level to lower level.

For example, the project board might give a time tolerance of +/- 1 month of the time target for the project. By doing this, it gives the project manager room to maneuver if progress starts to slip from the plan. Each tolerance area can be assigned a range, rather than a pinpoint target.

Management by exception saves senior management time it because doesn’t need to be involved in every small decision when slippages occur which are within the delegated tolerance.

Whereas in a traditional waterfall project, time and cost are often the most important variables. In agile projects however, scope and quality are the most important.

PRINCE2 Agile introduces the concepts of ‘fixing and flexing’. In PRINCE2 Agile, time and cost are fixed (i.e. have zero tolerance), but scope and quality (quality criteria, or requirements) are flexible (do have tolerance). The other 2 tolerance areas in PRINCE2 (benefits and risk) may be either fixed or flexed (might have tolerance).

Underlying the concept of fixing and flexing are the 5 targets defined in PRINCE2 Agile. These are:

  • Be on time and hit deadlines
  • Protect the level of quality
  • Embrace change
  • Keep teams stable
  • Accept that the customer does not need everything.

Remember the concept of fixing and flexing the tolerances as we proceed through the article.

PRINCE2 Agile - principles

Whether all the PRINCE2 principles are being applied on a project determines whether a project is genuinely being run as a PRINCE2 project or run as a PINO (PRINCE2 In Name Only) project.

So, how can you apply the principles on a PRINCE2 Agile project? Let us see.

Continued business justification

Here the PRINCE2 Agile emphasis is on delivering customer value by defining a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a product with just enough features to satisfy customers early and provides feedback for future product development. If the project is to fail, it is better to fail early. An MVP helps with that decision.

Learn from experience

The team and the customer learn by having retrospectives, short feedback loops and by working in an ‘inspect and adapt’ manner.

Defined roles and responsibilities

PRINCE2 Agile keeps all the defined PRINCE2 roles but assigns some agile responsibilities. In addition, some agile roles are added.

Manage by stages

In PRINCE2 Agile, stages should be short and consist of regular timeboxed delivery (sprints) focusing on product releases to the customer.

Manage by exception

Tolerances for cost and time are zero (fixed) but variable (flexed) for scope and quality. This empowers the team to organise their work in the most efficient manner to deliver the agreed scope for the timebox (sprint).

Focus on products

PRINCE2 Agile enables a product-focus by prioritisation of product features, products, and their quality criteria.

Tailor to suit the project

PRINCE2 Agile recommends the use of the Agilometer. This tool helps the project management team assess the suitability of the project environment for agile working.

PRINCE2 Agile - themes

Now, let us look at tailoring the PRINCE2 themes for a PRINCE2 Agile project.

Business case

Benefits tolerances may be ‘flexed’ in PRINCE2 Agile, so it is recommended to apply a ‘best case, worst case, expected case’ analysis to the expected benefits. What’s key is to link the amount of product delivered to the expected benefits.

PRINCE2 Agile recommends the explicit definition of the minimum viable product. The business case should explain how the MVP contributes to the expected benefits. The MVP enables assumptions to be tested early and is a good way to mitigate risk.

Organization

PRINCE2 Agile recommends all the PRINCE2 roles with specific tailoring of their responsibilities. Particular attention should be focused on how the team manager is integrated into the delivery team.

Also, attention must be given to the relationship between the PRINCE2 team manager, project manager and common agile roles such as product owner, scrum master, agile coach, business ambassador. For example, can the team manager role be performed by the scrum master role?

Quality

Both scope and quality are flexible in PRINCE2 Agile. Therefore, on PRINCE2 Agile projects, it is necessary that stakeholders understand that a reduction in scope does not mean a reduction in quality too.

On a PRINCE2 Agile project, acceptance criteria and quality criteria are prioritised, and quality tolerances are defined. Agile concepts such as definitions of ‘done’ and ‘ready’ help ensure that the team knows when work can be stopped or is ready for deployment.

Plans

Planning is an area where there are a lot of agile techniques and approaches. On PRINCE2 Agile projects, low tech approaches, such as a simple backlog list in place of a stage plan can be considered.

It might also be useful to use release plans in the form of a backlog within the stage plan. These would typically contain several sprints.

The priority in PRINCE2 Agile is always to look at how much value can be delivered in a fixed timeframe.

Risk

Agile techniques address many of the familiar project risks by:

  • avoiding too much detail at the start
  • daily stand-ups
  • frequent delivery of product
  • frequent demos
  • customer interaction
  • self-managed teams.

However, agile working comes with its own risks e.g. the challenges of continual customer engagement.

A PRINCE2 Agile project must ensure that risk management processes are not bureaucratic. The level of formality should be appropriate to the needs of the project e.g. a few columns on the team board might suffice, rather than using an electronic risk register.

Change

PRINCE2 and agile both see change as inevitable. PRINCE2 Agile recommends that significant change affecting the justification of the project is managed through change control.

Lower-level change (e.g. product features) must be more responsive and can be dealt with by prioritization techniques by the customer working alongside the team.

Progress

This is another area where there are lots of agile approaches and techniques. Agile focuses on tracking what is delivered using metrics such as velocity, lead times or value.

PRINCE2 Agile recommends that tolerances are set for scope and quality. Often, burndown and burnup charts can be used to demonstrate any value realized.

PRINCE2 Agile - processes

Now, let us look at tailoring the PRINCE2 processes for a PRINCE2 Agile project.

Directing a project

The project board in PRINCE2 Agile must manage by exception to help empower the development teams. Progress reporting must focus on the amount of product delivered and the benefits realized. The project board should attend key demos to gain an insight into the details of the project. Decision-making may be based upon information pulled from radiators.

Starting up a project and initiating a project

These processes are likely to be combined on PRINCE2 Agile projects. They should be swift enough to put in place the foundations for the rest of the project. They should focus on business justification and defining the minimum viable product (MVP).

The project initiation documentation (PID) may exist as an information radiator. The project should be planned as several releases. This requires a definition of ‘done’ to be agreed within the team(s).

Controlling a stage and managing product delivery

In PRINCE2 Agile, stages consist of timeboxes – either releases or sprints. Delivery must focus on which features to deliver to enable the expected benefits. Teams work collaboratively and get involved in sprint planning and estimating. Each stage may include one or more releases or sprints.

Progress, issues and risks can be tracked in stand-ups, information radiators, burn charts, sprint demos.

The work package still forms the vital interface between the project manager and the team. It’s the work package which brings PRINCE2 and agile working together and should be collaboratively defined.

The work package is the boundary of control between the project manager and the team, and it empowers the team to self-organize and enables rich communication.

Managing a stage boundary

Stage boundaries enables the team to look both forwards and backwards. Looking backwards, it helps the team understand:

  • How did we do?
  • How much was delivered?
  • To what quality?
  • What benefit was delivered?
  • Did the process work well?
  • Release reviews and retrospectives?

Looking forwards, it helps the team to:

  • Plan the next stage, releases and sprints
  • Review the product and release backlogs
  • Perform release planning.

Also, just as in PRINCE2, it enables the project board to review the business case, project plan and decide whether to continue.

Closing a project

This process enables the team and the project manager to look both forwards and backwards. It looks at when the benefits will be realized and provides the final operational handover and acceptance.

PRINCE2 Agile - focus areas

In addition to the PRINCE2 principles, themes and processes already discussed, PRINCE 2 Agile introduces some focus areas.

Agilometer

The Agilometer is a tool which assesses the suitability of the project environment for agile working. It helps the project management team understand the most effective way to tailor PRINCE2 Agile.

The tool contains 6 factors represented by sliders. The environment is assessed for each factor on a simple scale of low to high. The 6 factors are:

  • Flexibility on what is delivered
  • Level of collaboration
  • Ease of communication
  • Ability to work iteratively and deliver incrementally
  • Advantageous environmental conditions
  • Acceptance of agile.

It should be used pre-project and then repeated at subsequent stage boundaries. All the sliders are considered individually - they are not ‘added up’ or averaged.

Each of the 6 factors represent areas of risk which must be understood at the start of the project.

Requirements

The PRINCE2 Agile approach to requirements involves ordering them from higher levels to lower levels. Each level can be prioritized using standard agile prioritization techniques such as MoSCoW.

Requirements should be placed into 2 or 3 levels such as:

  • High level – project product description or product groups
  • Medium level – product descriptions
  • Low level – a requirements list or user stories.

Rich communication

Rich communication fosters collaboration. The aim is to have as much face-to-face communication coupled with the highest level of visualization.

Visualization does not have to be high tech. Low tech tools such as whiteboards, flipcharts and sticky notes are often quicker and better than computerized tools.

Workshops

Workshops can be useful on a project. They are often used to elicit requirements from stakeholders. To get the best value from a workshop, preparation is vital. That means setting objectives and agenda, inviting attendees, organising the logistics and enabling pre-reading.

Frequent releases

Frequent releases have several benefits including:

  • Enabling early delivery of benefits to the customer
  • Allowing for feedback
  • Likely to reduce risk
  • Giving confidence through visibility and evidence
  • Fostering engagement with project stakeholders
  • Making releasing easier and perhaps second nature.

Conclusion

PRINCE2 Agile is an agile project management framework suitable for modern, agile projects. It combines the structure, control and project governance of PRINCE2 with the flexibility and responsiveness of agile.

PRINCE2 Agile builds upon the strengths of PRINCE2 as a project management methodology, plus the strengths of agile development approaches to produce a framework which is fully scalable, agile, and focused on realising benefits for the customer.

Students wanting to get ahead in their careers should consider getting a PRINCE2 Agile certification by attending a PRINCE2 Agile course.