PRINCE2® and the Australian Government
Four lessons learnt after 25 years of public sector practice
By John Howarth, Founder and Executive Director of Tanner James Management Consultants
PRINCE2 was first introduced into Australia in 1997, growing in popularity over the years. Today, it is the default project management framework for the Australian Public Service (APS), responsible for the public administration, policy and services of the departments and agencies of the Government of Australia.
As PRINCE2 has been a supporting pillar of the Australian Public Service's projects for almost 25 years, what are the four key lessons learnt after such an extended period of public sector practice?
Lesson 1: tailor PRINCE2 to the nature of your projects
PRINCE2 was first implemented in the APS through the Department of Defence, to manage the acquisition of military equipment. In this context, the Department of Defence managed large scale projects often costing over $100m. To tailor PRINCE2 to its needs, the Department of Defence created its own project management method. All the fundamental elements of PRINCE2 were retained but supplemented with specific guidance tailored to our organizational context. This included a knowledge base with specific hints and tips and templates, yielding great results.
Through this experience we learnt that, to tailor PRINCE2, it was best to run a few projects as pilots and then capture what worked to use as our guide. We added information and refined it as we went along. We started small, and evolved, rather than creating a framework up front that was too complicated for people to use.
- Practical tip: allow PRINCE2 to be tailored. It is not just that 'one size does not fit all' between organizations, but also that 'one size does not fit all' within organizations. Each organization must consider what aspects of their projects require a tailored application of PRINCE2 and allow for different approaches accordingly - it will come down to things such as size and project type.
Lesson 2: effective project management requires a good role-based team
Aside from the Department of Defence, PRINCE2 has been implemented across most departments and agencies in the APS. PRINCE2 has covered a diverse range of projects and areas over the years- education, industry and science, for example. All projects cut across internal and external organizational boundaries as they involve other departments and agencies in the Australian Government, as well as commercial suppliers.
To address the diversity and cross-functional nature of our projects, PRINCE2 provides for a temporary role-based project management structure. When talking about roles and responsibilities, PRINCE2 refers to the 'project management team' - and 'team' is the critical word. Our experience in the APS has been that, if those in project management roles came together into a recognisable and effective team, the project had a much greater chance of success.
How a team is formed is something worthy of close consideration, starting in the 'starting up a project phase' before the project has even begun. Some project teams take a mechanistic approach to project management roles with individuals assigned to roles, but without proper dialogue addressing what the 'live experience' of fulfilling the role is or how much effort it entails. Appointments always work best when they flow top-down, starting with a senior executive from corporate or programme management appointing the Project Executive, which is an essential role.
- Practical tip: to achieve a good role-based team, think of the project in the same way as if it were an element of the permanent organization. It can be fun! Setting up events like barbecues and morning teas (possibly virtual ones) are a great way to help build your project management team.
Australian Parliament House, Canberra. ©Australian Government
Lesson 3: simple projects can be managed using PRINCE2
PRINCE2 6th Edition talks about tailoring to suit specific projects, including:
- simple projects
- those projects using an agile approach
- projects involving a commercial customer/supplier relationship
- projects within programmes.
All these scenarios have appeared many times for the APS when using PRINCE2. Nearly all our departments and agencies run simple projects, regardless of organizational size. One of the important lessons for larger organizations is not to overkill the application of PRINCE2 by applying a corporate framework designed for large complex projects to simple projects.
- Practical tip: do not confuse the comprehensive nature of PRINCE2 with the way it is applied. Understand how the principles apply, then tailor the core elements of PRINCE2 - organization, plans and controls. For example, product-based planning may only require a handful of product descriptions and little else.
Lesson 4: keep templates to a minimum
Templates are a sharp double-edged sword! Since the early days, this was evident for the APS. A project managers' overuse of written communication (documents and email) can become a real impediment to good project management practice. The consequences of this are a lack or loss of engagement, an overhead in efforts, and a slow pace of delivery.
However, a well-considered template can be an effective mechanism to capture the key information required as a PRINCE2 project progresses.
- Practical tip: use templates, but do not make them the focal point of the project management framework. Keep them lean. Avoid inclusion of 'teaching text' (that tries to explain PRINCE2 concepts) or informational text (busy executives and managers hate searching through documents to find the key information they need).
- Develop templates based on the experience of the project team using PRINCE2 - but keep a close eye on the templates to make sure they do not increase in size as time goes on.
After the lessons learnt, how do we move forward?
In our 25 years of practice at the APS, we have learnt that:
- one size does not fit all in PRINCE2 - tailor, tailor, tailor for large and small projects
- understand the importance of a good role-based team which must be carefully designed and properly appointed
- agile projects can also be managed using PRINCE2; the key is to consider the touchpoints between project management and delivery
- keep templates to a minimum to keep engagement and save your efforts for other needed tasks and projects.
I wish you the best results!
About the author
John Howarth founded Tanner James in 1994, and subsequently introduced PRINCE2 into Australia. He is widely respected for his expertise in how best to apply PRINCE2 in the Federal Government context.
John works with individuals, teams and organizations at all levels to help enhance programme and project management capability. He has almost 40 years of management and leadership experience within the public and private sectors. John is passionate about helping Federal Government clients deliver strategic outcomes and benefits through the skilful application of programme and project management.
John was the first accredited PRINCE2 Trainer and Registered PRINCE2 Consultant in Australia. He is also a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (FAICD) and is a qualified workplace trainer and assessor. In 2016/17 John was a member of the AXELOS global reference group advising on the PRINCE2 6th Edition update.