Why Structured Project Management?
Following the success of our last whitepaper blog by guest author Nico Viergever, we’re pleased to bring you another – this time we go back to basics, looking at the role structured project management (specifically PRINCE2®) and planning has on an organisation…
Why is it necessary to apply a structured approach to project management? To understand the reasons for the development of PRINCE2 it is useful to look at the reasons why so many projects fail to deliver according to expectations. I dedicated a separate post to this analysis.
Customer / Supplier environment
PRINCE2 assumes a Customer / Supplier environment and this is what the whole approach is based on. This is in sharp contrast to the commonly (and implicitly) used delivery approach. This fundamentally different way of thinking is where the main focus should be when implementing . PRINCE2 puts great emphasis on the Business Case, the justification of the project. During the development of this approach it was recognised that the customer and the supplier have different parts to play in the Business Cases and that is the reason the Customer / Supplier environment is seen as a prerequisite for adequately handling these potentially conflicting interests between the customer and the supplier. Where the traditional delivery approach (often in vain) seeks customer satisfaction through buy-in, the Customer / Supplier focus guarantees, when properly used, a leading role of the customer and thereby an increased chance of a successful project.
The project organisation that PRINCE2 describes is a logical result of the Customer / Supplier environment. Roles and responsibilities are described in a consistent and consequent fashion.
The need to be aware of the Business Case is obvious to be aware of the Business Case, the justification of the project. A successful implementation in a major organisation actually showed that this awareness is often not present.. Implementation of PRINCE2 led there to be considerable savings. It showed that 30% of the project proposals did not have proper justification and these projects were not started. Other projects were stopped prematurely for the same reason. We all know several projects that have insufficient justification but an explicit discussion about the Business Case is never held. PRINCE2 can present effective and cost-saving mechanisms.
Planning and resources
During the delivery of my training sessions I regularly hear that that the PRINCE2 method is a very convincing concept but that it will be extremely hard to implement the method. Usually there are issues concerning managing resources and the planning of activities;
A complaint I often hear is that resources are taken away from the project and are unexpectedly no longer available. Resources are seen as the main risk. How do you handle this as the project manager? The obvious answer is that this is not a risk but a problem for the Project Board. They agreed to the project plan and committed themselves to the claimed resources. When, during the project, resources are taken away or used outside the project, this is a problem for the project manager. Escalating to the Project Board is, in this case, the only sensible action for the project manager. In a lot of organisations however the project manager gets send away to find other resources, but this is couterproductive – the project manager simply does not have the power to contract other resources.
There is a deeper underlying issue. In the project environment and on the Project Board there can be insufficient thought about processes. Short term solutions and ignorance of responsibilities and consequences cause this. But as the project manager you should not let these issues turn into your problem. Again, you simply do not have the power to solve them.
The PRINCE2 approach strongly focuses on what should be the basis of all planning: Product Based Planning. Where I see the Business Case as the brains of a project, Product Based Planning is the heart, where the blood (quality) gets pumped. When properly applied, Product Based Planning takes optimal advantage of the group that really matters in projects: the users and the results of the project. A proper definition of the expected results, risks and acceptance criteria will be the results of this extremely simple but very practical technique. Where it leads to, as so often happens, if we think directly about activities, is shown here.
“But the method does not give much attention to activity planning,” I often hear. My recommendation: keep it simple. Let the products be the prerequisites for your milestones (your customers will recognise them in that way) and then fill this in with activities that are also recognisable and related to the realisation of the end result: the product. My own preference is the application of the technique “Critical Path Analysis“. But the problem of resources being taken away does not get solved with this recommendation.
During the project issues can occurs that are related to the planning and the availability of resources. Fundamentally this has got to do with thinking “processes”, resulting in not being aware of the big picture. But also fingers get pointed to the method. PRINCE2 assumes certain principles and does not hand too much information to activity planning. I fully agree because this should be a logical next step in the processes offered by the method because PRINCE2 does not want to commit to certain techniques such as “Critical Path Analysis”.
A strong process-centred next step is offered by the Theory Of Constraints. In his book “The Goal” Eliyahu Goldratt describes in an excellent way to look at process-centred fashion for the optimal way to reach the requested end result. He also opposes strongly local optima (relating to individual tasks). In another book, “Critical Chain”, Goldratt translates his vision to the world of projects. Here, he offers a strongly process-centred way of reaching the required end result. I see this as a logical next step to what PRINCE2® has to offer. You can learn more about The Theory of Constraints here.
For more info on PRINCE2, help in choosing a project method or to set up a project scoping workshop, get in touch with us here at CUPE by visiting our contact page.