This article explains in detail what is PRINCE2 Agile. It forms a comprehensive, yet brief summary of the main aspects of PRINCE2 Agile. If you are planning on getting PRINCE2 Agile certification then this article will be good preparation before attending a PRINCE2 Agile course
What is PRINCE2 Agile?
PRINCE2 Agile is an agile project management solution which combines the flexibility and responsiveness of agile with the governance of PRINCE2®.
PRINCE2 Agile was launched by AXELOS in 2015 in response to demands from the user community. PRINCE2 Agile exists at the boundary between project management and agile product delivery.
PRINCE2 Agile is composed of 2 things:
- The official guidance; and,
- A certification scheme (PRINCE2 Agile Foundation and PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner)
PRINCE2 and agile
We will now look at both agile and PRINCE2 and look at the strengths of each.
Agile approaches were born in the 1990’s in the software industry as a response to a long-term trend of software projects being delivered late, over budget and with quality problems.
We will use the term ‘agile approaches’ to refer to all of the many development practices, methods, techniques and frameworks which subscribe to the values in the Agile Manifesto. Some of the most common methods include Scrum, Kanban and XP.
Agile strengths and weaknesses
The strengths of agile approaches rest in their ability to deliver value to the customer early and often. Agile approaches are iterative and incremental. Agile teams focus on only doing the work prioritized with the customer in the current iteration and avoiding wasted effort.
Agile is well-suited to projects where customer requirements are not known at the start, or are likely to change, or where the project environment is subject to external changes. Agile enables changes to be made quickly and cheaply, when compared with more traditional waterfall approaches.
Agile approaches are designed to enable teams to deliver value quickly and frequently, but they neglect the business justification for the project. Because agile approaches are not project management methods, they miss seeing the bigger picture about why the project is being done.
Since 1996, PRINCE2 has become the most popular generic project management methodology in the world. It is used by many organizations and governments because it provides clear guidance about effective project control and governance.
PRINCE2 is not usually thought of as being part of the agile community because it is a project management methodology.
Instead PRINCE2 is usually classified as a ‘predictive’ approach – one which relies upon planning by a project manager, and delegation of authority from a higher management level to lower levels, usually through something known as ‘tolerance’.
PRINCE2 strengths and weaknesses
The main strength of PRINCE2 is its focus on the business justification. A PRINCE2 project is funded based upon a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the project should continue or not.
Another strength of PRINCE2 is its project governance. PRINCE2 defines several controls which enable senior management to gain visibility about project progress, and to take effective, informed decisions about the project.
Readers must be clear however that PRINCE2 is not a development method, and there is nothing intrinsically agile about PRINCE2. It can be used in both in agile and non-agile ways.
Why combine PRINCE2 with agile?
To answer the question ‘why combine PRINCE2 with agile?’, it important to consider both the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Whilst on their own, both PRINCE2 and agile approaches are perfectly good in and of themselves, they can both be even more valuable if they are used together. That’s the rationale behind the creation of PRINCE2 Agile.
|Strengths||Decisions based upon business justification; |
|Ability to deliver early and often; |
Good for projects where requirements are unknown or subject to change;
|Weaknesses||Not specifically agile; |
Is not a development methodology;
|No business justification; |
Is not a project management methodology;
Tailoring PRINCE2 for agile
PRINCE2 is formed of 4 inter-related elements:
- Principles – these form the building blocks for everything else. They describe good practices;
- Themes – these are important aspects of project management which must be addressed continuously throughout the project;
- Processes – these describe who takes which decision and when;
- Tailoring – every project is different therefore practitioners must apply PRINCE2 to suit the specific environment in which the project operates.
Prior to 2017, the PRINCE2 manual didn’t provide much guidance about tailoring PRINCE2. Tailoring was mainly left as something that more experienced project managers would do.
Since 2017, the latest version of the PRINCE2 manual provides much more guidance about tailoring PRINCE2 and has become much more practical as a result.
Understanding how to tailor PRINCE2 is extremely important when considering PRINCE2 Agile. That’s because the underlying methodology of PRINCE2 informs everything in the PRINCE2 Agile guidance.
However, the latter provides much more guidance about tailoring for agile projects, and also includes a valuable overview of several agile practices. We will explore tailoring PRINCE2 for agile projects.
Management by exception
PRINCE2 uses 6 tolerance areas (time, cost, quality, scope, benefits, risks) to delegate authority from a higher management level to lower level. This is the PRINCE2 principle ‘management by exception’.
For example, the project board might give a time tolerance of +/- of the time target (e.g. +/- 1 month). By doing this, it gives the project manager room to manoeuvre if progress starts to slip from the plan.
Management by exception saves senior management time it doesn’t need to be involved in every small decision when slippages occur which are within the delegated tolerance.
Fixing and flexing
Whereas in a traditional waterfall project, time and cost are often seen as the most important variables. In agile, 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 (actually quality criteria) 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 5 targets 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.
Applying PRINCE2 principles on agile projects
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’s 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 provide feedback for future product development. If the project is to fail, it’s 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 maintains 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 tool. This helps the project management team assess the suitability of the project environment for agile working.
Tailoring the PRINCE2 themes for agile
Now, let’s look at tailoring the PRINCE2 themes for a PRINCE2 Agile project.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tailoring the PRINCE2 processes for agile
Now, let’s look at tailoring the PRINCE2 processes for a PRINCE2 Agile project.
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.
The project initiation documentation (PID) may exist as an information radiator. The project should be planned as several releases. This requires the definition of ‘done’.
Controlling a stage and managing product delivery
In PRINCE2 Agile, stages are made up of timeboxes – either releases or sprints. Delivery must be focused on which features to deliver to enable the expected benefits. Teams work collaboratively and are 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.
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.
PRINCE2 Agile focus areas
There are several focus areas in PRINCE2 Agile which we will look at now.
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.
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 fosters collaboration. The aim is to have as much face to face communication coupled with the highest level of visualization.
Visualization doesn’t have to be high tech. Low tech tools such as whiteboards, flipcharts and sticky notes are often quicker and better than computerized tools.
Workshops can be useful in several ways 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 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.
Benefits of PRINCE2 Agile
PRINCE2 Agile offers several benefits including:
- It allows practitioners to focus on both project management and product delivery;
- It works with any established agile approach;
- It enables on-time delivery using time-boxing;
- It encourages collaboratively on projects whilst remaining corporate-friendly;
- It is easily scalable;
- It increases stakeholder confidence;
- It provides tools to manage and react to changing requirements.
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 one of the PRINCE2 Agile certifications by attending one of these PRINCE2 Agile courses.
AXELOS (2015). PRINCE2 Agile. Norwich: The Stationery Office. 356.
AXELOS (2017). Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. 2017 ed. Norwich: The Stationery Office. 400.