Vision on Project Management

Why structured project management?

Why is it necessary to apply a structured approach to project management? To understand the reasons for the development of PRINCE2® it useful to look at the reasons why so many projects fail to deliver according to expectations. I dedicated a separate page 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 on when implementing this approach. 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 Business Cases to take part of the project 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 guarantees when properly used a leading role of the customer and thereby an increased chance of a successful project.

Project organisation

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.

Business Case

It seems 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 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 hand effective and cost-saving mechanisms.

Planning en 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.

Resources

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 and used outside the project, this is not 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 contra productive; the project manager simply does not have the power to contract other resources.

There is a deeper cause underlying. In the environment of the project manager, particularly in the Project Board, there is insufficient thought about processes. Short term solutions and ignorance of responsibilities and consequences cause these issues. 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.

Planning

The PRINCE2® approach strongly focuses on what should be the basis of every planning: Product Based Planning. When I see the Business Case as the brains of a project, Product Based Planning is the heart where the blood (quality) gets pumped through. When properly applied, Product Based Planning takes optimal advantage of the group that really matters in projects: the users of 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 spend much attention on 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 related to the realisation of the end result: the product. My own preference is the application of the technique "Critical Path Analysis". But this is not sufficient. 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 on activity planning. I fully agree because this should be a logical next step to the processes offered by the method and also because PRINCE2® does not want to commit to certain techniques 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 how to look in a process-centred fashion for the optimal way to reach the requested end result. He also opposes strongly against local optima (related to individual tasks). In another book, "Critical Chain", Goldratt translates his vision to the world of projects. Also 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 will find here.

About the author

Specialist in effective change.

APMG accredited MSP™ and PRINCE2® trainer.

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