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PRINCE2 vs Scrum

There's no doubt that PRINCE2 is currently the most widely-recognised project management methodology in the UK. The PRINCE2 qualifications are a standard feature of project management job specifications, and getting trained in it is vital to any project role within a PRINCE2-aligned organisation.

However, the popularity of agile methods is spreading, and many managers are keen to implement a more flexible and adaptive approach within their own business environment. Project managers need to be informed about both methodologies to ensure both regular employment and project success.

In this article we will explore the key differences between PRINCE2 and Scrum.

Key differences between PRINCE2 and Scrum

The most fundamental difference between PRINCE2 and Scrum is that the former is a project management methodology whereas Scrum is an agile development approach used by teams.

Scrum enables teams of people to work together collaboratively with the customer. This is done by defining and prioritizing requirements, developing, testing and providing feedback in a continuous and repetitive cycle of iterations. Scrum gives guidance to the team members on how this can be done effectively. The kind of questions which Scrum helps a team answer are “what needs to be delivered next week?” and “is the working software what the customer needs?”

Scrum started out in the software industry but has now being used in industries besides the software industry.

PRINCE2, on the other hand, is a methodology which enables an organization to better manage and control its project. It provides guidance to the key stakeholders on how to ensure the project is managed effectively. The kind of questions it helps these stakeholders answer are “why should we do it (the project)?” and “are the benefits worth the costs and risks of doing the project?”

Main areas of focus in PRINCE2 and Scrum

PRINCE2 is based upon a set of 7 principles which guide all aspects of the methodology. Since it is a project management method, it describes the roles and responsibilities of all members of the project management team – project manager, team manager, project board and project assurance roles.

It also covers a wide range of key project management themes – business case, organization, change management, risk management, planning, quality and monitoring of progress. Success on a PRINCE2 project is measured by how well it enables the benefits to be realized by the sponsoring organization.

PRINCE2 recognizes that on projects there are all kinds of products (outputs) which are produced by teams of people with a variety of specialist skills. These teams have a myriad ways of working and PRINCE2 does not attempt to guide how they should work. Instead it simply defines the interface between the project and these teams in terms of reporting, accountability and the work to be done.

Scrum however doesn’t concern itself with the wider questions about whether the project is worth it or whether the benefits be realized afterwards. It does focus however on actually delivering products incrementally, in the most efficient manner possible. These products are likely to do what the user/customer needs because the customers have been involved in a constant cycle of defining and prioritizing requirements, developing, testing and providing feedback.

Predictive and adaptive approaches

One key difference between PRINCE2 and agile methods in general, and Scrum in particular is that PRINCE2 is a predictive (plan-based) approach, while agile calls for short-term, incremental achievements independent of an over-arching plan (the adaptive approach). This means that, while PRINCE2 projects might be more likely to remain focused on the original business goals, agile projects are more responsive to changes in the project environment and customer requirements.

Scrum is one of the most widely-recognised agile software development frameworks. Operating on the principle that the development process is (predictably) unpredictable, Scrum works by encouraging complete transparency, close collaboration and frequent delivery of usable sub-products that will eventually contribute to the final product delivered.

Self-organization of teams

As we’ve already said, PRINCE2 isn’t concerned with how team organize or the methods they use. However for Scrum, the self-organisation and independence of the team members is at the core of the Scrum approach.

Plan-oriented methodologies such as PRINCE2 require a project manager and team managers to plan, allocate and monitor the distribution of tasks. Assignments might be determined by membership of a particular team after undertaking critical path analysis, rather than by direct consideration of the individual’s particular skills or strengths.

Within a Scrum-aligned project, on the other hand, all tasks are up for grabs. A task board and burn-down chart display the tasks that need to be completed and the work remaining during any given “Sprint” (cycle of product development). This means that any member of the team may work on any available task, according to their skill-set and their time available.

There are clear advantages to the Scrum framework. It allows greater freedom to team members, thereby encouraging greater personal investment in the project. The more structured approach of PRINCE2, however, does go further in ensuring that the project goals are tackled in an efficient and organised manner.

Responding to changes

The requirements churn of Scrum represents another key difference between the two philosophies. This term is frequently used to describe the Scrum principle that customer requirements can and will change over the course of the project, forcing Scrum developers to adopt a flexible and responsive approach to their collaboration with the client.

PRINCE2, in contrast, requires that acceptance criteria (the required features of the final product) remain fixed. Any proposed changes are filtered through a change control authority and an agreed change control process. This has important advantages in terms of ensuring that customers know what to expect and developers do not have to deal with inconsistent or unconsidered customer demands. However it also deprives the project, the customer and the development team of the opportunity to respond directly to changes in the environment and to the expected function of the product.

Conclusion

Neither PRINCE2 nor Scrum provides comprehensive, step-by-step instructions to ensuring project success. Both have been described as flexible, adaptable frameworks that provide role descriptions, sets of practices and management documents/artefacts.

While PRINCE2 focuses on the role of the project manager in planning, organising and adjusting the transformation of project inputs into product outputs, Scrum is designed to allow a freer reign to the team members involved on the project, enabling a more responsive and creative, as well as a more vulnerable, environment.

So, is there a half-way house between PRINCE2 and Scrum - one which is able to leverage the benefits of both approaches? I think there is and it's in the form of 'Agile' project management. Agile project management enables a project manager to gain both the benefits of a more predictive approach (PRINCE2) with the benefits of a more adaptive approach (Scrum).

Since first writing this article, it is interesting to note the launch in 2015 of PRINCE2 Agile™. This is an attempt to merge both PRINCE2 and agile methods together. PRINCE2 Agile argues that bringing together PRINCE2’s control and governance on projects with the flexibility and adaptability of agile is a win-win situation. So, rather than choosing between either a predictive or adaptive approach, you now have the option of choosing both together. This will ultimately benefit your organization which is the whole point of why we use something like PRINCE2 in the first place.