Fashions come and fashions go. For fashionistas, yesterday’s fashions are history. 

In the world of project management, Agile is the current fashion, particularly the Scrum variant of Agile. If you browse many project management websites, you’d think Scrum has become the only way to run projects.  Some Agile fashionistas even suggest that everybody is moving to Scrum, and that “traditional” methods like Prince2 are history.

What should project managers do? Should you follow the current fashions? Or is there still life in older methods like Prince2?

A success story…

There’s a good reason why Scrum is fashionable – for many teams, it’s a success story. But if we pause to understand the roots of that success, then we will find that not everyone can go with the crowd and follow the latest fashion.
The popularity of methods like Scrum is driven by two waves of innovation

❑  the rapid, unrelenting growth of the Internet
❑  the increasing incorporation of software in products

For project teams working in one of these areas, Scrum can boost project success rates.

Using Scrum, a dedicated, motivated, self-organising team can work in “discovery” mode,. They don’t start with a detailed specification (or with any specification at all, in some cases). The team works iteratively, in discovery mode, converging to a solution. Using sprints, they manage their time constraints – each sprint delivers on time.  For many software development teams, Scrum is a good choice.

… with limitations

However, success using Scrum is based on two key assumptions

❑ the project can use discovery methods, starting with little or no specifications
❑ a dedicated, self-organising team can be put into place

In many companies and in many projects, these assumptions are simply not valid.

If you look at the context of your project, you may find that it is very different from the world that the Scrum fashionistas inhabit

SPECIFICATION DRIVEN: Your project may need to start with specifications, for one or more  reasons, for example:
– a detailed design is highly desirable (e.g. for a construction project or an IT infrastructure project)
– a specification of the final solution is needed in order to get budget approval
– a specification must be created as the basis for a contract with one of the project’s suppliers

SILO BASED ORGANISATION: Your project may not have a dedicated team, for example:
– some team members perform both project work and day-to-day support work
– some team members work on multiple projects
– your silo culture is stronger than your project culture (so each team member reports to their line manager not to your project)

As a project manager, you need to understand your project constraints. Your project method must align to your constraints. If you use Scrum in the wrong context, you will have a square peg in a round hole, and your project will suffer.

So how to run your project in these cases? The traditional methods such as Prince2 are still there to help you. They are not history, Prince2 remains valid

    ❑    Prince2 is a general purpose method (not just for software projects or internet projects)
    ❑    Prince2 can create well-structured specifications using product based planning and product descriptions
    ❑    Prince2 uses a team based approach, able to cope with the traditional silo organisation and with non-dedicated teams.
Additionally, Prince2 is a full-strength project management method, covering essentials such as budgets, business case, risk management; most of which is absent from Scrum, which is a delivery team approach rather than a project framework.

It’s not always a binary choice for every project. It’s not simply Prince2 or Scrum. If necessary, you can blend the two. Inside a Prince2 project, you can have teams using Scrum; or you could run one project stage as a timebox. For example, inside a product development project using Prince2, you may have a dedicated team working on the software, using Scrum to ensure on-time delivery of a high quality software solution. (There”s a recently launched Prince2 add-on called Prince2-Agile which explains how to blend the two)

So be careful with your next project. Don’t simply go with the crowd, don’t be a blind follower of fashion. To ensure project success, you need to understand your project constraints rather than listen to the fashionistas.

Written by Jeff on May 22, 2015 in blog
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