No two organizations work in exactly the same way. There will almost always be processes, procedures and terminology which are unique to individual organizations. Therefore, when applying any best practice guidance, it will be important to take unique factors into account and ‘tailor’ the guidance accordingly.
The PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) project management methodology provides best practice guidance on managing successful projects – and it’s certainly no exception to this rule. Some practitioners have been known to cherry pick any bits of PRINCE2 they consider useful, thinking that this amounts to ‘tailoring’, but this is not what it is really about.
When tailoring PRINCE2, it is important to keep in mind that all aspects of it must be tailored. For starters, the 7 Principles of PRINCE2 will always apply, as you will either be supporting them or not.
This also applies to the 7 Themes. These are aspects of a project that must be addressed whenever PRINCE2 is applied. For example, leaving out the ‘Progress’ theme would leave you unsure about how your project is progressing, and you would lack any set tolerances to work within.
The 7 Processes should all be addressed too, as leaving any of them out could result in a number of key activities not being covered.
So, if you can’t eliminate anything, where should you begin with tailoring PRINCE2?
Before any thought of tailoring begins, you will first need to understand the ‘project context’, as this will decide your best options for tailoring your approach.
The most important question to start with is: “Is this project part of a wider program?”
If the answer is ‘yes’, you will have to consider elements of ‘program governance’. This will influence the project’s governance, as well as the terminology that team members will need to use and what documentation will be required, as the project will have to include everything specified by the larger program.
The next question is: “Will the project take place in a commercial environment?”
A commercial environment will typically be implemented via a strict contract by either a customer or supplier who is external to the organization.
It will be important to consider whose governance, processes, procedures, terminology and documentation will apply to your project, as you will want to make sure you are speaking the same language and following the same procedures.
If you are working on a standalone project, the next question will be: “What corporate governance will apply to the project?”
Most organizations have policies and procedures in place that apply at corporate level. Some of these may apply to projects as well, so it will be worth establishing what you will need to take into account before getting started.
Then ask: “How complex will this project be?”
Depending on the complexity of your project, it may well require tighter governance, greater formality and more varying and specific documentation.
Another question is: “How big/small is the project?”
If a project is fairly small and informal, you can relax some of the formality and reduce the amount of documentation used.
And finally, ask yourself: “How do we want to approach the delivery of the project?”
Will you follow a more traditional waterfall style, where you and your team deliver everything at the end of the project? Alternatively, you may choose a more incremental approach, with deliveries made at different stages for the sake of keeping stakeholders engaged. Again, your choice may impact the levels of formality and reporting that will be required.
Tailoring PRINCE2 the Right Way
Once you have answered these questions, you can start thinking of how to tailor the PRINCE2 approach while taking the unique context of your project into account.
While all the themes must be applied, you may want to consider adjusting the controls for each theme depending on the formality required. Some projects may even need additional themes in order to cover areas such as Procurement, HR, Legal and Health and Safety, to name a few.
Each theme also has recommended management products which can be used to document project information. This information can be adapted and tailored according to the needs of a project, such as by combining a risk and issue register in a RAID log.
The processes, while all applicable, can again be adjusted through their controls, and you will need to consider how formal these will have to be. You may even find that you need to add some extra activities to your project if a greater degree of rigour and meticulousness is required.
Next, consider the terminology that will be used for the project. Are there any variations that will apply? For example, do you want to call the ‘executive’ the ‘sponsor’, and do you want to have daily ‘stand-ups’ instead of ‘checkpoints’ or ‘highlight reports’?
The documentation used for each project can also be adjusted. It’s not uncommon to find that some forms of information can be amalgamated together, such as by having RAID logs instead of separate logs, or a definition document that includes extra information. However, it is still recommended to have a standard set of templates to follow for the sake of consistency.
Finally, roles and responsibilities may also need adjustment. Some roles may be combined; for example, on a project board, the roles of Executive and Senior User could be taken by one person. Other roles that can be combined include Project Manager and Team Manager, as well as various project support roles. A Project Board can also carry out the responsibilities of Change Authority and Project Assurance roles if you choose not to appoint separate individuals for each job.
In short, tailoring PRINCE2 is not simply a matter of choosing which parts to follow, but of tailoring each and every part to suit your project.