Tailoring PRINCE2 for agile environments
Tailoring refers to how the project management adapts PRINCE2 to suit the project environment. Before discussing tailoring of PRINCE2, it is important to understand a key concept of PRINCE2 Agile – ‘fixing and flexing’.
Fixing and flexing tolerances in PRINCE2 Agile
One of the keys to understanding PRINCE2 Agile is the concept of ‘fixing and flexing’ scope and quality to deliver within a timebox.
PRINCE2 defines 6 tolerance areas (time, cost, quality, scope, benefits, risks). Tolerances are used to delegate authority from a higher management level to lower level.
For example, the project board might give a time tolerance of +/- 1 month of the time target for the project. By doing this, it gives the project manager room to manoeuvre if progress starts to slip from the plan. Each tolerance area can be assigned a range, rather than a pinpoint target.
Whereas in a traditional waterfall project, time and cost are often the most important variables. In agile projects however, scope and quality are the most important.
In PRINCE2 Agile, time and cost are fixed (i.e. have zero tolerance), but scope and quality (quality criteria, or requirements) 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 the 5 targets defined in PRINCE2 Agile. These are based upon common agile concepts and include:
- Be on time and hit deadlines
- Protect the level of quality
- Embrace change
- Keep teams stable
- Accept that the customer does not need everything.
Remember the concept of fixing and flexing the tolerances as we proceed through the article.
Principles in PRINCE2 Agile
The seven PRINCE2 principles are never tailored because they are the foundation stones of the method that must be applied to all types of projects, agile or not.
However, does look at the principles through an ‘agile lens’ which puts a different perspective on them.
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 provides feedback for future product development. If the project is to fail, it is 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 enables 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. This tool helps the project management team assess the suitability of the project environment for agile working.
Practices in PRINCE2 Agile
The seven themes in PRINCE2 (now known as practices in PRINCE2 7th edition) can and should be tailored in an agile context. Agile primarily centres on product delivery, leading to certain practices in PRINCE2 Agile being more emphasized than others.
For instance, the practices of plans and progress stand out, while the business case and risk themes receive less emphasis. Nevertheless, all seven practices remain essential and must be adjusted and incorporated throughout a project’s duration.
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 (e.g. MoSCoW prioritization) by the customer working alongside the team.
This is another area in PRINCE2 Agile 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.
Processes in PRINCE2 Agile
The seven PRINCE2 processes must also be used and tailored throughout a project. Here is a summary of how the processes can be tailored in PRINCE2 Agile.
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.
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 (MVP).
The project initiation documentation (PID) may exist as an information radiator. The project should be planned as several releases. This requires a definition of ‘done’ to be agreed within the team(s).
Controlling a stage and managing product delivery
In PRINCE2 Agile, stages consist of timeboxes – either releases or sprints. Delivery must focus on which features to deliver to enable the expected benefits. Teams work collaboratively and get 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.
PRINCE2 Agile behaviours
When adjusting the themes and processes, it’s crucial to consider the specific behaviours of the project management team. Ensuring these behaviours operate harmoniously is vital for maximizing the efficiency of the PRINCE2 agile approach. The five PRINCE2 Agile behaviours are:
- Rich communication.
PRINCE2 Agile focus areas
PRINCE2 Agile offers insights on areas that need emphasis because of the characteristics of agile ways of working. These highlighted areas also come with recommendations on specific techniques that can bolster their effectiveness. There are five focus areas in PRINCE2 Agile which are:
- The Agilometer.
- Rich communication.
- Frequent releases.
- Creating contracts when using agile.
In PRINCE2 Agile, the PRINCE2 management products that assist the project management team in planning, overseeing, and controlling a project are also employed but undergo modifications. PRINCE2 outlines multiple methods to depict these management tools, such as using information radiators displayed on a whiteboard within a communal workspace.