Blending PRINCE2 with Agile – Part Three 

 September 13, 2022

By  Dave Litten

Blending PRINCE2 with Agile – Part Three

The Business case and Plans theme

You are probably aware of how the business case is used in a traditional plan-driven waterfall project. The requirements are gathered up-front, the project scope is agreed upon, and the project plan is created. We then use the time scale and budget from the project plan to create the business case.

At the outset, the business case should be viable, desirable, and achievable. On the assumption that it is, the project starts creating the products. At key points throughout the project, typically at the end of each management stage, the business case is updated if needed and the project continues.

All of the above might sound very good, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life that many traditional projects come in late and are over budget. this of course infers that at some point the business case does not deliver the benefit expectations.

But of course, there is no such thing as a perfect plan, since, during the lifetime of the project, those requirements may change along with the scope of the project, and don’t forget that there is no such thing as a perfect estimate!

Now let’s look at a typical agile project with regard to the business case.

At the start of an agile project, the team will list all the feature ideas for the product, predict the cost and time of implementing each feature, and forecast the measurable benefit that each feature would give to the users.

In an agile environment, a project scope, and the associated benefits that such scope will bring, will probably be more likely to change than in a more traditional project environment as described above.

At the heart of what agile might consider being the business case, is the product backlog.

Those features, requirements, or user stories would be prioritized in a list, with the most valuable user stories that are therefore delivered first, at the top of this list.

It is the product owner’s responsibility to prioritize this list. At the start of each Sprint, the specialist team can only take user stories from the top of the product backlog, however, it is their decision on how many of these user stories can reasonably be converted into products for that given Sprint.

To remind you, these sprints consist of a short period of time boxed work usually lasting around a month, during which a potentially releasable piece of work is created.

Keep thinking about the product backlog as a form of the agile business case.

At the start of the first Sprint within a project, the team will choose those features which would bring the highest benefits or value to the users. At the end of the Sprint, these features can be released and people can start using wholly or partially the product (at least potentially).

When the team is planning the second Sprint, the process above starts over but the product backlog may now need to be updated, perhaps things have changed since the start of the project, for example changing technology, new competitors, user feedback, and so on.
It is therefore quite natural for some of the previously planned features might be removed from the backlog and new ones might be added. It is the product owner’s responsibility to continually refresh and re-prioritise the product backlog.

This process is called grooming:

Blending Prince2 With Agile

As a result of this, the project’s predicted scope of work and associated benefits might be different from what actually is delivered at the end of the project.

Since this reflects the business case at a particular time, the PRINCE2 business case should outline acceptable benefit tolerances. Far better to have a range of reasonable benefits rather than an artificially precise number.

In agile we have a term called the minimum viable product or MVP. This is defined as a product that has just those features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more.

To allow for this, the PRINCE2 business case should outline acceptable benefit tolerances which might be in the form of best case, expected case, and worst case for the project’s benefits, drawn from the project team’s initial ideas on the scope of the project.

This initial business case might also show the minimum number of benefits that the project needs to deliver to make the overall initiative viable.
The agile concept of delivering in short sprints is that it reduces the risk of rework. However, the business case should consider both the positive and negative side effects of incrementally delivering the product via sprints.

On the upside, users might get beneficial products earlier which could be used to fund subsequent sprints. On the downside, there may be a cost of releasing new products every month or so for example disruption to business operations.

Blending Prince2 With Agile

The plans theme

At the heart of planning within agile, is the prioritized product backlog. This gives a list of the requirements that agile calls user stories. Each user story describes the feature in a measurable, testable way, and gives an indication of the value of the item.

Blending Prince2 With Agile - Part Three Prince2

A common planning approach in an agile project would be for the project manager to create a high-level vision and product road map in the starting up a project process. This in effect would be the project product description, giving the overall purpose of the products to be delivered and a high-level description of what will be delivered.

In the initiating a project process, the product owner/project manager would create the product backlog, giving more details on the individual requirements or user stories that may be delivered along with an indication of the estimated value and priority for each one.

Blending Prince2 With Agile

That will then lead to the series of PRINCE2 management stages to deliver a release of the product. Each of these management stages might contain one or more sprints of work, lasting around two to four weeks.

At each Sprint end, a working release would be handed over to the users.

Before each Sprint, a Sprint planning process takes place. Here the team would work together to plan which requirements from the product backlog to deliver in the upcoming Sprint (remember these requirements have already been prioritized by the product owner).

The team would consider available resources and the priority of the requirements, and the output of this work would be a Sprint backlog:

If PRINCE2 product descriptions were created, the initial versions would only include the purpose and quality criteria of the products, with the rest developed during work package execution.

If there was only one Sprint per stage, this Sprint planning would be the equivalent of stage planning in PRINCE2.

For multiple sprints within a stage, stage planning would likely focus on the expected scope of the stage, including some ideas of minimum viable scope, and such scope may be adapted as the project team plans each Sprint within that stage.


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Dave Litten

David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of Project Management Masterclasses, under the Projex Academy brand name. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.

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