The Australian public sector is one of the world’s biggest strongholds for PRINCE2. John Howarth, executive director at Tanner James, explains why it’s become so vital to successful project delivery.
Ever since the principles of the PRINCE2 approach to project management were conceptualised in the late 1990s there’s been an appetite to use them in the public sector in Australia.
Today, the Australian government and its departments are among the biggest proponents of the PRINCE2 framework globally. It has widespread use at a state level, not just at federal level. According to the IT dashboard for the Victorian Government, 85 projects have adopted the PRINCE2 method, accounting for 30% of all projects - the highest for any one method.
The financial scale is quite significant too. The same data shows that the total lifecycle cost of active projects is $851m, while the cost of completed projects totals $27m.
It’s not happened by accident either. The adoption has been driven by a clear understanding that when you apply a consistent framework to managing projects you achieve successful outcomes. It’s therefore used across the board from local government projects to multi-billion-dollar defence programmes.
It’s this scale of application that has ensured the use of PRINCE2 nationally. Over 20,000 people have been trained and there isn’t a federal department that hasn’t adopted it. From taxation, social service and health through law and order, to defence and agriculture, it’s a method that public servants trust, whether they be in IT, policy or a business role. Often, they apply it throughout their careers, taking it with them from department to department.
Why has PRINCE2 become so integral?
There are several reasons why PRINCE2 has become so important:
- It gets people on the same page
PRINCE2 provides the structure for agreeing a common understanding of the end result (‘product’), which supports more autonomous decision making and cuts through the red tape of hierarchy. I like to call it the ‘digital camera moment’. It’s that single snapshot of the goal everyone is working towards.
As a result, people – no matter their level in the organisation – are clear and both empowered and supported to make decisions. What’s more, people with the right skills and capability are gathered together for the project. The net result is not just smoother project delivery but fewer conflicts.
- The power of a common language
Terms like product, activity, resources, stages, project boards and service users are all defined, understood and used as part of everyday lexicon, regardless of the project or department. This consistency in terminology is powerful. It strips out any ambiguity and ensures a fast start to projects.
- The process for managing change is clear
This is understood and always familiar. There is a structure and governance everyone works to. Roles are well defined, from the sponsor and project executive board to the project manager onwards. This means roles and project expectations are defined and supported by a governance structure that sets out the moment-by-moment steps that form the agreed route to achieve the vision.
The reality of using PRINCE2
It’s a common misconception that projects are delivered successfully with training and templates. In my experience quite the opposite can be true. While they are both essential for applying PRINCE2 they can’t deliver the project alone. It’s a trap too many organisations fall into.
Instead, I recommend following a three-step philosophy:
- People - Understand. Individuals must be trained in and understand the framework, learn from global best practice, and become familiar with the repeatable elements. When the organisation has a trained cohort of accredited PRINCE2 practitioners, it provides a lasting foundation for success.
- Projects - Apply. No two projects or departments are the same. The work to introduce a taxation change is very different to delivering a bush fire readiness plan. There are different experts and technologies involved, variations in funding models, as well as a multitude of different environmental pressures. It’s therefore imperative to take a tailored approach. This allows PMOs to sensitively manage the nuances of the business, the people involved in it and the task ahead.
- The Organisation - Embeds. While PRINCE2 provides the templates for managing processes and capturing milestones, project managers need to adjust and tailor it to fit the existing corporate processes and culture. There is no point pushing a square peg through a round hole. This takes skill and experience and is often something supported by dedicated coaching.
It’s advisable that any organisation considering adopting PRINCE2, public or private, does so with these steps in mind. But it must also have top executive sponsorship. The organisations that apply PRINCE2 most successfully are the ones that have embedded it throughout the whole entity and use it to underpin strategic delivery.