PRINCE2 and Bureaucracy


PRINCE2® has the reputation of being very bureaucratic. It is a fact that a considerable number of implementations fail in a bureaucratic drama or in a situation where only on paper is worked according to PRINCE2® (PINO – Prince In Name Only). In numerous discussions about this subject there are also numerous reasons given, but only very rarely is the main problem touched, namely culture. PRINCE2® assumes a Customer / Supplier environment. When projects still act according to the traditional delivery philosophy, the added value of PRINCE2® is limited and many documents will be drawn up without understanding resulting in bureaucracy and ineffectiveness.

So what is wrong with the traditional delivery ways? I am convinced that this approach is the real problem behind failing projects. In a PRINCE2® the customer is behind the steering wheel. In a delivery focused project we ask the supplier for "customer focus", meaning we ask the customer in a friendly fashion what they want, to produce something according to our own perception By definition the result will not be what is required by the customer. But the customer never know what they want! In a Customer / Supplier environment this means that there is no request, so no project. In a delivery environment the wrong questions have been asked. But because of the distance created by these sort of environments, it is almost impossible to create the right question, so the customer ends up indeed not knowing what they want...

Who and why?

Also in a lot of cases PRINCE2® gets implemented by persons or functions that do not have direct interest. PRINCE2® has added value when the project manager understands the importance of the underlying principles. When the project manager is confronted with PRINCE2® under pressure of Quality Assurance, resistance is the logical result. Implementing PRINCE2® by Quality Assurance because of standardisation (a common language) therefore has a high chance of failure, also because standardisation in itself has no added value at all in a project environment, which is unique by definition. The result is PINO.


Often people talk about the "PRINCE2® format" and ask for templates. This is a too simplistic view on the approach and usually leads to senseless fill-in exercises of lots of documents. Added to that is also often the instruction that every single step of PRINCE2® is extensively followed (the PRINCE2® processes are prescribed as procedures). Sometime the method even gets tailored for the specific situation within the organisation. PRINCE2® is a generic approach where only the level of control determines how extensively the processes should be applied. The method describes a lot but does not prescribed very much. Because every project is unique (by definition that is the nature of projects), tailoring for the entire organisation does not make much sense. 


PRINCE2® describes a lot but prescribes very little. Many organisations however make the mistake of prescribing the generic processes as procedures. In this situation the following essential question, asked at several places in the manual, is ignored: "How extensively should this process be applied on this project?".

Lots of time and money is wasted in tailoring this generic method for the organisation as a whole. How can a generic project management approach be tailored for usage in a line organisation? Per project should be determined in what way PRINCE2® can be used in the most effective way.

Again: "How extensively should this process be applied on this project?"

A good approach

A good PRINCE2® approach is driven by results and awareness in using the numerous mechanisms and tools that PRINCE2® offers. When a carpenter has to knock a nail into the wall, he does not use every single tool that he can find in his toolbox.

There are two other important aspects to this discussion. First of all PRINCE2® is process-driven and talks about a controlled environment. There is a lot of theories about organisation thinking in processes rather than in separate task. These theories directly apply to using this approach which should be seen as a integral approach for the entire environment of the project. Not just the project manager should think processes and aim at the Business Case, but the entire project management team should have the same focus. According to PRINCE2® the Project Management Team includes the Project Board and the Team Managers (if included in the project organisation).

Another important issue is that of the project manager. This job should have recognition as a proper job. Not everyone has the personality and the personal skills to be a project manager and still a lot of organisations look for the best technical person to run a project. This only leads to lack of project management and emphasis on the best technical solution regardless of added value.

About the author

Specialist in effective change.

Accredited MSP™ and PRINCE2® trainer.

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