Positioning PRINCE2 In An Unforgiving Business World


The objective of this paper is to provide the project management practitioner with some practical advice on ways to gain business approval of PRINCE2. This paper focuses on practical methods to ‘sell’ PRINCE2 to senior management, particularly in an environment where a number of past projects have failed or were closed prematurely.

When a project fails, how do you separate the methodology from its implementation? Quite often the project management methodology is blamed for the failed project, making it more difficult to recommend the methodology for future projects. This reaction is similar to throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water.

There is a real challenge in trying to re-introduce a project management methodology after it has been applied on a failed project. The business world is often quick to condemn and slow to forget.

Why projects fail

In reality, project failure (or premature closure) is quite often the result of a number of factors:

• changes in a business’ strategic direction
• lack of senior management support and commitment
• lack of commitment from project team members
• poor selection of project team and board members
• unrealistic delivery timeframes and expectations, and
• lack of project management experience.

So how does a project management practitioner go about positioning PRINCE2 in an unforgiving business world?

Positioning PRINCE2

One of my colleagues convinced their senior managers to attend the PRINCE2 Foundation course. This was very enlightening for the senior managers, and also gave them a chance to network and hear about success stories from participants and the course facilitator. The senior managers were more receptive to adopting PRINCE2 after attending the course. I believe that the multiple-choice style exam of the foundation course, in contrast with the practitioner’s written exam, also played a part in convincing the senior managers to attend the foundation course.

In my experience the project start-up process is arguably the most critical factor that determines whether a project will fail or succeed. Nothing much can be achieved without a valid business case and the attendant executive commitment. Applying key performance indicators that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) will facilitate successful project execution and realisation of business benefits.

The PRINCE2 impact analysis method together with other methods such as SWOT and PESTLE also come in handy when discussing internal and external factors that impact an organisation. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats while PESTLE stands for Political, Economical, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental.

Exposing executives and senior management to catchy acronyms works well and resonates with them. Executives and senior management are thus able to communicate in “project-speak” giving them the view that they have expertise in the area, in addition to their usual field of expertise.

Another approach to get executives and senior management on side is to build a case for applying a standard project management methodology across the organisation. The project management practitioner conducts research into the organisation’s use of standards in areas like risk, quality, business processes etc.

The intent of this research is to determine the organisation’s propensity to adopt standard methodologies. If the outcome of the research efforts is favourable, the project management practitioner is then able to promote the case for adopting a standard methodology like PRINCE2.

One other approach is to adopt the good old “change management” techniques, where nominated senior managers act as advocates, change champions/agents within the organisation to ‘sell’ PRINCE2.

Making the Business understand

Risk is a familiar concept in the business world. Business owners are regularly finding ways to minimise, avoid or transfer risk in their daily activities. Therefore, risk management resonates well with the business community. PRINCE2 goes a long way in addressing risk in project management. By emphasising PRINCE2’s management of risk, the project management practitioner will reinforce the advantages of adopting the methodology.

Further, by practising PRINCE2’s management by exception the project management practitioner is telling the executives that s/he realises that their time is important and will only be required if things deviate from the plan. Executives like to know that other people are aware that their time is precious.

PRINCE2’s control mechanisms facilitate communication between the project management practitioner and executives. Communications plans serve as a good tool to manage business involvement, commitment and input. Use of a communications plan clearly demonstrates that some thought has been put into the project execution regime, together with providing avenues for communicating project status to the executives.

Dichotomy between Project Management and Business

It is important for project management practitioners to recognise the dichotomy between them and business senior executives. This is most evident in terms of typical thought processes for both groups. I don’t want to paint a negative picture of the business world, seeing as I am a business owner. I am also a practising project manager. As a result, I have to see things from the business perspective as well as from the project manager’s perspective. There is clearly a dichotomy between both worlds.

I have had instances where my business side has questioned decisions made by my project management side and vice versa, depending on what “hat” I had on at the time. However, before I run off to a therapist complaining of a multiple personality disorder, it is best to examine what drives either side.

My project management side is driven by the familiar six tenets: scope, benefit, resources, quality, time and risk. Typically, with project management there is a clear starting point and target. The emphasis is at the departmental level and relates to execution of set tasks.

On the other hand my business side is driven by that old cliché, the bottom-line. There are other factors that come into play: big-picture strategic thinking, risk management, long-term business goals and vision. The emphasis is at the corporate level and is more abstract.

The dichotomy between project management and business can be summed up as follows: the project management side focuses on getting the job done while the business side focuses on ensuring there will be jobs to get done.

Both sets of drivers are not necessarily mutually exclusive, however, they do not always co-exist comfortably. For example, I recall a situation where I was wearing my project manager hat in an end-stage meeting with a client’s project board. One of the board members wanted to know why my company had submitted a time-and-resources contract on this occasion rather than a fixed cost contract. This occurred about a quarter way into the project.

The project manager in me would have said something like “this particular project relies heavily on your staff being available for business requirements definition and testing, therefore it is difficult to fix how much of our time will be spent with your people.”

I realised I was dealing with business-minded people and needed to wear my business hat very quickly.

After a brief pause I explained that the contract was written specifically for this project, that my company was fully committed to achieving the client’s business goals, and we were showing this commitment by making our people available as and when required by their people. In other words, “you only pay for what you use.”

I doubt whether my project manager’s answer, while factually correct, would have resonated well with the project board.

As it turned out, my business answer was well received, which came as a small shock to me. I was gearing up for what could easily have turned into a minor client management situation. Thankfully, that was averted in this case.

I have learnt some things through regularly switching between project management and business focus. Open communication and empathy go a long way towards bridging the gap between both sides.

Empathy in this case is not so much sympathy or compassion as the ability to see things from someone else’s perspective and the ability to present information in a language and style that they prefer. This can be very difficult to manage especially where the other person’s perspective is in direct contrast to yours.

It is almost as if you have to mentally separate yourself from the words coming out of your mouth. While all this may sound rather difficult, I would like to end on a happy note. It makes your job as a project management practitioner a lot easier when you realise these differences and can make the separation. As a further comfort, it is helpful to realise that you are simply packaging information in a different bias to yours. The facts have not changed, what has changed is the inevitable and attendant bias around the facts.

Remember that people tend to be more receptive when you “speak their language” and you show that you appreciate what they have gone through to get to where they are.

By Dayo Sowunmi

This article has been published at:

1.  www.pm4success.com  – website owned & managed by APM Group – official PRINCE2 accreditation company based in the UK. (Editor: Tony Kippenberger)

2. PM World Today www.pmforum.org


3. PM Mundo (Brazil)  http://www.mundopm.com.br/destaque2Ed14.shtml

4. Boston University (USA)  http://butrain.bu.edu/Project-management-training-courses/positionprince2.asp

5. Gestion De Project (Luxembourg)  http://www.projectmanagement.lu/cms/gestiondeprojet/publishingfr.nsf/id/WEBR-6YSDZU

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