Back in 1975 IBM did not have a standard method of project management. It was ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ and the wheel was reinvented by every project manager. Project managers were technicians, programmers who had never received any training in project management. After I had been a project manager for 18 months the company sent me on a management course, which was just about dealing with people.
A fellow manager, Ted Hall, saw the weakness and put together the basis of a project management method. He decided to leave IBM and make his fortune with this method, and persuaded a few of us to join a new company called Simpact.
With a bit more work the method became PROMPT II. PROMPT stood for Project Organisation Management Planning Techniques – quite a mouthful!
There were originally going to be 3 layers of PROMPT. PROMPT I was to cover the management of computer operations, but it was allocated to the company’s Assistant MD. Nothing ever happened with it. PROMPT III was to be the high level programme and strategy method. Ted did some work on it, but never enough for it to be a runner. So PROMPT II became the main and only product of Simpact. We lectured on it widely and sold the method to a few companies like Honeywell Controls in 1979.
The original method was strictly for the development of large IT systems. Its stages were the old software development ones, Specification, Design, Development, Testing and Installation. It had the organisation roles, planning and control, very much as they are now, but no Risk chapter or Business Case, although even then it stressed the importance of this. Again, very little has changed about dealing with the Business Case since then. It was not free, clients being charged £9,000 per annum for its use.
A sale that was to become the turning point for the method was a sale in 1979 to the CCTA (Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency), part of the British government’s Treasury. This became the standard project management method for all government information system projects, including the Ministry of Defence.
Simpact ran into management problems and the company was sold in the 1980s to a Canadian company, LBMS. They carried on marketing it without any serious changes.
There were some disagreements between LBMS and CCTA on the future course for PROMPT II, resulting in a parting of the ways. In 1989 the CCTA version was renamed “PROMPT IN the CCTA Environment” (hence PRINCE), not an easy mouthful. When the CCTA decided to make the method available to all, a competition was run in the Civil Service College to rename the method. The winner stuck to ‘PRINCE’ but this now stood for “Projects IN Controlled Environments”. It was still a method for computer system development. The only documentation available for the method was a box set of 5 manuals, costing £100, from The Stationery Office. It was written by technical authors who didn’t understand the method. When I read it I offered to NCC Blackwell to write a simpler, readable book to explain the method. They took up my offer. This was to be a significant point later.
Project managers from other disciplines began complaining about the need to use PRINCE for computer system development, but having to find another method for their non-computer developments. At the same time they said that there were many good things about PRINCE that they wanted to use. CCTA (now OGC, the Office of Government Commerce) continued to develop the method, and PRINCE2 was launched in 1996 in response to user requirements for improved guidance on project management on all projects, not just information systems. This development had a chequered history. A company called Duhig Berry led a small consortium to design PRINCE2. At this time the project manager for the CCTA met me by accident, had read my book and told Duhig Berry that they could only keep the contract to develop the revision if they took me on to do the actual writing. This Duhig Berry did. My first instruction from the CCTA project manager was to ignore the design!
Two men, Tony Berry and Chris Ferguson, from Duhig Berry had independently produced an idea for a series of processes, covering the generic development cycle. I took this and it became the basis of a set of processes that have lasted until today with minor changes. I was also told to add a summary of the government’s Management of Risk, which was a big move forward for the method. We also incorporated chapters on product-based planning – a technique that I have found amazingly good – and configuration management. The manual was (and still is) called ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’.
On the second revision we added the business case, a ‘must’ since we had been insisting on its importance since the start!
I note that from the 2009 version the acronym has been slightly changed to be “Projects IN a Controlled Environment”. The 2017 manual is much more tightly written. The Management of Risk theme has been rewritten to reflect the new thinking of the team controlling MoR®, and the product-based planning technique and configuration management have been downsized, again something with which I would disagree.
A chapter on tailoring the method was added in 2009. The 2017 revision has added tailoring points to each theme, defining what the minimum requirement of each theme is in order to be applying PRINCE2 correctly.
At 405 pages the 2017 version is a weighty tome without adding much to the method, apart from the tailoring additions. There are many references now to Agile terms, though they have not been incorporated into the method. AXELOS have another manual, PRINCE2 Agile®, which attempts to combine the two, but this is still PRINCE2 with references to various Agile techniques, but very little actual merging of the two methods.
Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 is the official manual on the most successful project management method ever launched. It can be ‘heavy going’ at times to read, and there are some other books on the market that offer an easier read – and usually add a case study to illustrate each point.
About the Author:
Colin Bentley started in data processing in 1965 with English Electric-Leo-Marconi, rising to chief programmer. He moved to IBM in 1969 as a development manager. He moved to be a Director of Simpact Systems in 1975, working on the development of the PROMPT II project management method, the predecessor to PRINCE.
He has written over twenty books on project management and authored the original PRINCE2 manual. He was Chief Examiner for PRINCE2 for eleven years until 2009 when he retired. Before his retirement his clients included The Stock Exchange, Tesco, NHS in Northern Ireland, the BBC, Microsoft and Ordnance Survey.