From time to time, I hear people argue that combining PRINCE2 and Agile (particularly Scrum) is fairly easy and by doing it you get the best of both worlds. The most common approach I have seen is to limit the use of Scrum to the “Execute a Work Package” activity in PRINCE2. By applying this approach, PRINCE2 serves as a governance wrapper around Scrum. In theory, this gives you a general level of comfort about the overall direction of the project, while being able to respond quickly to changing requirements. However I think there are a few, often overlooked, fundamental differences in the two methodologies that make combining them difficult at best.

Command and control vs. collaboration

PRINCE2 relies more on a command and control philosophy where managers and leaders exercise authority over the project and direct the work. PRINCE2 acknowledges the different interests of the stakeholders involved in the project. These are represented on the Project Board, where the Executive, Senior User and Senior Supplier play different roles and direct the project by setting tolerance controls on time, cost, scope, risk, quality and benefits. The Project Boards is not involved on a daily basis unless the tolerances are exceeded. The day-to-day management of the project is delegated to the Project Manager who, in return, reports progress and issues to the Project Board.

Agile on the other hand is built on a collaborative approach. The project team is trusted to self-organize and collaborate cross-functionally with key stakeholders to resolve problems and run the project as effectively as possible. The Product Owner represents the organization’s executive leadership working closely with the team on a day-to-day basis, and has the authority to make decisions on scope and other tradeoffs. In Agile, there are no tolerances on time and quality. Iterations have a fixed length to provide a steady rhythm in the project. Quality is considered non-negotiable because the Agile teams know that compromising quality will have to be repaid with interest sooner or later.

Planning vs. plans

Winston Churchill said: “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential”. In Agile, planning involving the entire team and is done as closely to the work being done as possible. When starting a new iteration, the team plans the work for that iteration. Often the team doesn´t plan all the work in detail, but enough to be confident about what needs to get done. In Agile, change is expected to occur and instead of wasting time and energy planning work that might not get done, more energy is devoted to develop innovative solutions.

In PRINCE2, a number of plan-driven artefacts are developed up-front, including a high-level project plan for the entire project. Most of the artifacts must be updated when changes occur. This makes late changes more expensive than early change and the Project Manager will be less likely to welcome the changes. Another difference between Agile and PRINCE2 is that the plans are primarily made by the Project Manager and doesn’t engage the team in the same way as in Agile. This limits the ownership of the plans by the team and supports the command-and-control philosophy where the Project Manager ultimately makes and is responsible for major decisions.

Conclusion

PRINCE2 is not explicit on how to “Execute a Work Package” and an Agile methodology like Scrum, therefore, seems like an obvious complement to PRINCE2. However the mind-sets (or philosophies, if you will) of the two is very different. PRINCE2 has a transactional predictive focus where Agile has a collaborative adaptive focus. Combining PRINCE2 and Agile can be like trying to blend oil and water. They might co-exist in the same container (organization), but they will most likely never become truly compatible.

This post was inspired by the whitepaper “Wrapping PRINCE2 around Agile” by Roger France.

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