Book review: PRINCE2 Agile® by Keith Richards
Read Simon's review of this essential project management book, 'PRINCE2 Agile' by Keith Richards, ISBN 9780113314676. For anyone who has listened in frustration to sterile debates between ‘agile evangelists’ on the one hand and the defenders of project management orthodoxies on the other hand, this book by Keith Richards, one of the UK’s best known agile consultants, will come as a huge relief!
In the world of project management during the last decade or so, these old orthodoxies such as the project triangle - where projects are defined and managed in terms of their cost, time and scope - have been seriously challenged. As pressures have intensified to deliver more with less, and in increasingly shorter timescales, agile development methods have come to be seen by many as the solution to the familiar ‘deliver products with quality problems late and over budget’ scenario.
As the title of this book implies, the author sets out to merge 2 seemingly divergent approaches. PRINCE2, the world’s leading project management methodology grows daily as more organizations worldwide benefit from the strengths of its project management best practices. Agile methods, having broken out of their initial software development origins are now being adopted in many other industries. Both PRINCE2 and agile methods each have their own strengths but until this book, nobody had tried to combine the two to create a holistic approach to managing projects in an agile way. The book illustrates ‘a way’ to do this, but does not claim to be ‘the way’ to do it.
Aimed at holders of the PRINCE2 Practitioner certificate, the book describes how typical agile behaviours, concepts and techniques can be applied within a PRINCE2 project context. The book therefore describes the tailoring of the PRINCE2 themes, processes and management products to incorporate agile methods. Overall probably 80% of the book covers agile, the remaining 20% covers the tailoring of PRINCE2 to incorporate agile.
At the heart of this book is an explanation of what to ‘fix’ and what to ‘flex’. The author describes how both time and cost need to be fixed on projects, and quality and scope can be flexed i.e. made open to negotiation via the use of common agile techniques such as the simple MoSCoW prioritization technique. This is combined with a time-boxing approach to delivering incrementally and iteratively in order to deliver releases to the customer which deliver increasing business value.
Rather than just describing what to flex and fix, the author provides explanations for why these are important and provides 5 targets which underpin the PRINCE2 Agile approach when compared with more traditional project management approaches.
(1) Being on time and hitting deadlines using time-boxing techniques is already familiar to many agile practitioners and this enables the earlier realization of benefits for the customer.
(2) Protecting the level of quality of the delivered product(s) reduces their overall cost of ownership and increases user engagement.
(3) Embracing change enables the delivery of products better able to meet users’ needs - so bringing about more beneficial business outcomes.
(4) Keeping teams stable enables teams to work more efficiently.
(5) Accept that the customer doesn’t need everything which was defined on the project at the start. As the project progresses it is typical for users to evolve their understanding of what is required and the project needs to reflect this.
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Of all the parts in this book, these 5 targets are perhaps the most important and they inform all of the author’s guidance throughout the book. They introduce a way of thinking which, although common in agile, are perhaps not always at the forefront of more traditional project management approaches. In this regard, project managers already familiar with PRINCE2 but struggling to understand how to incorporate agile methods will find this book invaluable.
Some of the more common agile methods such as Scrum, Kanban and Lean are often referred to throughout the book and brief summaries of each are provided. The risks which they help to mitigate when compared with traditional ‘waterfall’ projects are discussed along with some of the risks which they themselves create. The book recommends the use of an ‘agilometer’ to assess risk on agile projects which I think will prove to be an extremely useful tool for those people managing agile projects.
The book therefore provides a good summary of agile thinking and agile methods. For readers unfamiliar with agile they should find this extremely useful.
Common agile behaviours such as transparency, collaboration, rich communication, exploration and self-organization are also discussed, and again, their application throughout a project is discussed.
Many of the most common agile techniques such as daily stand-ups, burn charts, backlogs, retrospectives and information radiators are covered. The author discusses how these can be used in the various PRINCE2 processes, such as Checkpoint Reports in the Managing Product Delivery process being represented by information radiators and burn charts.
Overall, this book is excellent in several ways. I like the diagrams in the book - simple, informative and colourful.
Its agile techniques will be useful to those agile beginners who want a better understanding of what agile is all about. The methods and techniques are described in simple to understand language and in this regard the book forms a useful collection of recipes for people wanting to try out many of its agile methods and techniques.
There are some people who perhaps think that there is no need for project management methods these days. That either agile don’t require them, or agile is somehow incompatible with them. Those people will also benefit from this book because it clearly shows how agile methods which were never designed for project management can be combined with an international project management methodology to help leverage the strengths of both.
Its greatest benefit however will be those people working on projects who are familiar with PRINCE2 and want to understand better how to incorporate agile into their projects. The book is a very practical guide on how and when agile methods can be used in order to get the full benefits of both agile on the one hand and PRINCE2 on the other.
Title: PRINCE2 Agile
Paperback: 360 pages
Author: Keith Richards