All around the world, the Prince2 project management framework is growing in popularity, but a new challenger, Agile, has appeared. So we are starting to hear a debate “Prince2 or Agile?”.

That’s an interesting question, but often it’s the wrong question. If you are starting a home improvement project, you don’t ask “Hammer or Screwdriver?”
– You probably need both
– You need to know when to use each tool
– You need to know how to use each tool correctly

The same applies to Prince2 and Agile. A mature organisation will have both methods in their toolbox, and will skilfully use the right tool at the right moment.

So if we might need both Prince2 and Agile, how do they compare as tools?

We need to compare like-for-like, so the starting point is to find the right Agile. There are many variants of Agile, many of them lightweight variants such as SCRUM and XP. These lightweight variants are not full-scale project management methods, they are used by teams to manage parts of projects, mostly the IT parts. A heavyweight contender to Prince2 is Agile ATERN (also known as DSDM)

Both Prince2 and Agile-ATERN are fully-fledged project management frameworks. Both are general purpose methods. Both are enterprise-ready with a focus on value-for-money, on control, on quality, and so on.

Which one to choose?
* Prince2 is the better choice for specification-driven projects
* Agile ATERN is the better choice for discovery projects
* Agile ATERN is great for deadline-driven projects

The type of project helps you choose your method:

  • Specification driven means you start off with a written document (and probably with a contract)
  • Discovery projects have only the essential needs decided up front
  • Deadline-driven projects must absolutely deliver on time

But you don’t always have to choose. It’s not an “Either-Or” choice. Just as ATERN has integrated ideas from Prince2, so you can make Prince2 more Agile

Here are some ways that you could make a Prince2 project more Agile:
– use your first stage to build a “kleenex” prototype (limited functionality, simulate the real solution)
– use a pilot stage (limited deployment, get something working and into daily use)
– use time-boxes (have zero time tolerance for a stage, but high scope tolerance – if you are running late, reduce scope)
– start your day with stand up meetings (e.g. project manager plus team managers)
– use “Enough Design Up Front” (EDUF) not “Big Design Up Front” (BDUF) by finalising your product descriptions at the stage boundary (rather than on the PID)
– for a work package where you need a discovery approach, use a lightweight Agile method such as XP or SCRUM

So just as it’s not “Hammer or Screwdriver” for your home improvement project, so it’s not “Prince2 or Agile” for your company.

Just as you need a Hammer and a Screwdriver at home, you may need Prince2 and Agile at work. The way forward is to have both tools. If you are using Prince2 today, you should start looking at Agile ATERN.

Written by Jeff on April 12, 2012 in blog
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