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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.

  3 comments for “The Prince2 problem

  1. November 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    As an accredited PRINCE2 trainer, I agree with a lot of what you say. I’d be interested to know what what you have identified as ‘major gotchas’ to see if they are things we already know about.
    The manual is verbose (particularly the definition of quality), but in its defence, it is also full of very useful stuff. One benefit though. I am able to advise Foundation candidates to choose the answer with most words if they have to guess!
    Some trainers try to make the courses fun, but it works best when the trainees are also contributing. However, we do have to impart a lot of information to get you through the exam.
    I believe that the practitioner exam does test ability to apply PRINCE2, but I agree entirely about the language being designed to trap the unwary. I teach many non-native English speakers and it’s particularly difficult for them. I am now on the review panel for new exam questions, and I am concentrating particularly on trying to avoid confusing language.

  2. November 22, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Your comments re course delivery could lead some to assume that there is a standard format for course delivery.
    All PRINCE2 Accredited training organisations are required to design their course materials based on a standard curriculum. The method of delivery is entirely the responsibility of the ATO and the trainer standing in front of the group. At FPMS we have designed our courses and delivery to ensure that participants are engaged throughout and our courses are percieved as brain friendly and enjoyable learning experiences

  3. jmorse
    November 25, 2010 at 9:19 am

    many thanks for your reply, principally the main areas that i notice when going through prince2 training (this is the second time) is that there is a separation between the course (the prince2 world) and real life.

    I understand that, as a trainer you have to teach the whole methodology as its is described, the trouble comes when the candidates go out in the real world and, despite everything you tell them either follow the manual to the letter or get it very wrong (I have never worked on a project that uses prince2 ‘properly’. projects reference prince 2 themes and principles but go only so far then it goes wrong, why is for a less public discussion). How do you fix that? good question, workshops, online training guides, a separate classroom session after the exam.

    Secondly the manual still reads like many authors have contributed, the references to documents is (IMO) confusing when earlier in the manual it states that information not documents is key (page 14). admittedly this may be just me and my particular focus on information rather than documents which become products in their won right and detract from the original intent, communication.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on the practitioner exam, to my mind its more a test on your knowledge of prince2 as opposed to a test of your ability to apply the methodology correctly. It is good to hear that there is work looking at the language used in the exam, the Spanish girl sat next to me on the course would have appreciated that ;). the trainer on my course mentioned something was being considered if i remember right.

    I’d repeat that the language and design of the manual could also do with an over haul, but i guess each journey starts with small steps.

    Again, thanks for the reply and if it helps, I’m more in favour of Prince2 than i ever was, when used properly ;)


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