Most of the PM’s I’ve worked with have learnt their role on the job. By observation, practice and a lot of luck. So it was slightly bizarre sitting down in a classroom last week to be ‘taught’ how to do project management. When you’ve heard enough people say it’s a soft skill, you start to dismiss the idea that anyone who doesn’t work in the industry would be able to teach you how to execute projects. A week of intensive classes and two exams later - i can confidently say that is not the case. If you’ve been thinking about doing the PRINCE2 foundation and practitioner courses, then maybe the below will help steer your decision - sufficed to say, it’s definitely worth your time.
First and foremost, a little bit about Prince2. Here’s the intro straight from the manual: PRINCE2 (Projects in a Controlled Environment) is a structured project management method based on experience drawn from thousands of projects - and from the contributions of countless project sponsors, Project Managers, project teams, academics, trainers and consultants.
The method consists of 4 integrated elements:
Principles: 7 guiding obligations that define whether the project is PRINCE2. Whether you’ve studied the method or not, the likelihood is that these 7 principles are present in your project. They consist of things like Business Justification, Managing By Exception (time, cost, scope etc) and a Focus on the Product.
Themes: Aspects of projects that are continually assessed through it’s life cycle, such as Change, Risk and Progress.
Processes: Checklists of recommended activities that help forumlate a step-by-step flow for the project and it’s major decision points.
Tailoring: An emphasis on tailoring the method to the project context.
Which neatly brings us on to myths. I’ve been told a lot of things about the method, and there’s a couple that I’m going to focus on…
Myth 1. - “Prince2 is a formal methodlogy that no one really uses in advertising production…”
One of the defining principles/elements of Prince2 is the practice of ‘tailoring’ the methodology to the project. The processes, themes and principles are designed to be flexible so you can ramp up or down the suggested activity to suit your needs. We’re constantly striving to be agile and flexible, reduce our documentation needs, and speed up our process. Just because Prince2 uses a whole host of documents that probably never get used in the industry, it doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate for our rapid development environments - it’s simply a case of figuring out which elements are feasible within your timescale, while maintaining a reasonable level of control.
Myth - “It’s all just common sense!”
I heard this a couple of times before doing the course, and it’s regularly implied about project management in general. Without getting into the philosophical definition of ‘common sense’, the gist is that you don’t really need to have any specialist knowledge - just a rational approach to finding solutions and reacting to change.
It stands to reason that any methodology is going to have ‘common sense’ at it’s root. Who would follow an irrational methodology?? If you’re doing the Prince2 exam, i strongly suggest doing the pre-work, or at least a little study into it’s core principles. Simple common sense isn’t going to help you when they ask how the theme of change is effectively applied in a Communication Management Strategy. In regards to general project management, there’s a core principle to Prince2 that effectively demonstrates why common sense isn’t enough to deliver campaigns. That principle is ‘Learned Experience’ - the obligation to seek out lessons, record them and act upon them throughout the project life cycle and on future projects as well.
It’s something we all try and exercise in our day to day management. We mentally log our mistakes, and make sure we don’t make them again. Sometimes we go as far as formally documenting our experiences for the benefit of the department. Our ability as project managers isn’t judged on the success of our campaigns, or the uneventful seamless delivery of our projects, but on the way we react to change, disruption and risk.
Our ability as project managers isn’t judged on the success of our campaigns, or the uneventful seamless delivery of our projects, but on the way we react to change, disruption and risk.
There are a lot of great elements in Prince2, but ‘Learned Experience’ is definitely the one that hit home. Digital is constantly changing. Every project is different, and every project throws up new scenarios for change that we have to address effectively. There’s a great quote in Ghostbusters that i’m constantly reminded of when shit hits the fan at work. The stay puft marsh mellow man is approaching our heroes, and Venkman asks Egon for any suggestions. Egon’s utterly deadpan response:
“Sorry Venkman, I’m terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought”
Common sense often goes out the window when we’re presented with scenarios for change - especially if we have no experience in reacting to them.
Digital is constantly changing. Every project is different, and every project throws up new scenarios for change that we have to address effectively.
So the next time one of your resources suggest they could do a better job at managing the project - let them have crack at it. They’ll soon realise that common sense by itself really isn’t sufficient. Unless of course they’re lucky enough to get a project where everything goes exactly to plan, with zero change or issues from the client side…
So how does this education affect my projects going forward? Probably not as much as I’d like it too…
Introducing process is simpler than it sounds. Theoretically, the PM should be given the freedom to define best practice, but every change in process has to be adopted, enforced and accepted by every other department and role. And that’s tricky. However, that’s not say there can’t be some quick wins that may make a difference. I’ve pulled out a couple of simple actions from the PRINCE2 rulebook that any project manager can use with minimal effort, that might benefit your projects and reduce that all-too-common stress factor.
Action - Lesson Logs
Every agency should do wash-ups. But the practicality and feasibility of the whole team having time to do a full project review at the end of it’s life cycle is often unrealistic. But Learned Experience is probably the most important principle when running digital projects.
Create your own lesson log. It’ll benefit your future projects, and help you write kick ass risks and assumptions when putting together those rushed SOWs.
I’ve made a simple excel doc here with common headings.
[button link=”http://nerdyproducer.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/LessonLog.xlsx” style=”download” color=”silver” window=”yes”]Lesson Log[/button]
Action - Risk Register
We often feel the onus as project managers to acknowledge risks and deal with them ourselves. Our ability to asses and react to risk is one of our most important talents, but it should also be a shared responsibility. Defining a risk owner and a risk actionnee will free up your mental power to concentrate on the bigger issues.
Defining a risk owner and a risk actionee will free up your mental power to concentrate on the bigger issues.
This ties in with the lesson logs as well. Recording these bite size pieces of information might seem like a ball ache during the project, but it will tighten up your future SOWs and reduce the uncertainty factor that commonly leads to problems.
[button link=”http://nerdyproducer.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/RiskRegister.xlsx” style=”download” color=”silver”]Risk Register[/button]
If you’re planning on doing the course and exams, then check out Maven Training. Our instructor was a bloke called Neil Johnson, and he did a brilliant job of keeping everyone engaged regardless of their level or specialism. If you’re looking to rid yourself of some bad practices, or reinforce and develop the good ones, then check out PRINCE2.