The Prince2 problem

Last week I completed my course and exam for my Prince2 practitioner certification. Now it’s no secret to those that know me that I have reservations about Prince as a methodology and over prescriptive ways of working, leaning more towards agile approaches as a rule. But any methodology is just a tool and, despite what others may say, a tool is only as effective as its application and the makeup of the team using it. Prince2 is no exception.
Here’s the revelation, Prince2 is not as bad as I first thought, there is a lot there that makes sense (if applied correctly) but, there are also a couple of pretty major gotchas as well.

So where does that leave us, Prince2 is a valid and useful means of getting things done, if applied properly (a whole different subject), its definition however has lost its way a little, time to get back on track fellas.

The manual.

Let’s start with the manual, as it’s likely anyone’s first exposure to Prince2 will be through the manual.  Be it guide or manual the tome reads like a book written by a crowd, a crowd that like to use a lot of words.  As a result the manual is badly written it, repeats itself often and end up confusing the reader rather than informing and assisting. Even if you make allowances for the fact that it’s written as a reference guide not a linear read.  The manual desperately needs to be designed (note, designed not re-designed) the structure needs refining, information design is vital in products like this and this needs to be added as part of the requirements for future editions, the methodology may be mature but the reference manual most definitely isn’t.  But then you need to reference it on the exam, and that’s where it gets really interesting.

The course

Firstly the course, it’s taught in a classroom environment which on the face of it seems to fit the material, which can be bland and confusing and does not do the methodology, which is not bland and confusing, justice.  There seems to some room to spice things up a little, one of the elements of the agile movement that make it so attractive to its advocates, is its user friendliness. It set outs to make the Agile fun right from the start and its courses are designed to be fun (and a little embarrassing) Prince2 could do with adopting some of this learning, information is easier to assimilate when learn by doing as opposed to being lectured to, maybe that would help the bad rep that prince2s has as a boring management tool.

The exam

Finally you get to the exam, firstly you need to suspend reality for a while to believe that any exam is an adequate method for testing a candidates understanding of a subject.

In Prince2 you face a test the reaches new level of confusion. When you take the course they allow a day, yes a whole day, on how to sit the exam, on how to interpret the questions and decipher what they actually mean. Now, any exam that needs a day to explain how to answer the questions to relatively intelligent, mature candidates has a problem. The real scary thing is, you need that day, the questions are designed to confuse the candidate, the format, though based on a prescribed testing method, has been skewed to fit the ideas of the examiners.  The English used is deliberately confusing and as a result the test becomes more a test in your English and your ability to just pass the test, your Prince2 knowledge becomes of secondary importance, and your ability to apply the methodology isn’t tested at all.

Prince2 is a valid management tool with useful if a little over complicated processes, if it’s applied correctly but that’s a whole different discussion.

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