Tanner James Blog

The PRINCE2 2017 Update: simplicity and agility replaces complexity and bureaucracy

Carley McHugh

Whether you have had great success with PRINCE2 or have struggled with practical application of the method, the 2017 update offers tremendous potential to improve how your projects are managed.

I personally introduced PRINCE2 to Australia twenty years ago.  Since then some departments and agencies have had great success with PRINCE2; others perceive it as complex and bureaucratic.

This month AXELOS is publishing a new 2017 edition of the PRINCE2 guidance, in addition to updating both the Foundation and Practitioner examinations.  I was a member of the global advisory board that developed the requirements for the update and reviewed the drafts.

The last PRINCE2 update in 2009 made the method more tailorable and scalable.  Nonetheless individuals and organisations took widely differing views about how much of PRINCE2 they needed to implement, and what it should look like in practice.

The 2017 update has clarified these things.

Simplicity not Complexity

Think PRINCE2 is all about process and templates?  Think again.

Here are some quotes from the PRINCE2 2017 manual itself to whet your appetite:

“If PRINCE2 is not tailored, it is unlikely that the project management effort and approach would be appropriate for the needs of the project.”

“Processes may be combined or adapted.”

“Requiring each project manager to work directly from PRINCE2 to create a management approach and controls for each project is wasteful.”

“Reports do not need to be documents.”

“The overarching objective for adopting PRINCE2 should be to improve business performance”.

The 2017 update features extensive guidance on tailoring, organisational adoption and application in practice.  It explains exactly how the method can be used for agile projects, simple projects, projects in a programme, and projects involving commercial suppliers.

Agility not Bureaucracy

PRINCE2 doesn’t work with Agile, because it is waterfall, right?  Wrong.  Very wrong.  PRINCE2 has never been “waterfall”, and so has always been compatible with agile, but the 2017 update explains exactly why.

The 2017 edition of the PRINCE2 Manual contains 125 – yes you read that right – separate references to, and explanations of, projects using an agile approach.

Here are some more direct quotes from the manual:

“Agile has a very strong focus on principles. The Agile Manifesto (2001) and most of the agile frameworks and methods all promote a set of principles in some form.  PRINCE2 principles align with these principles and are complementary to the agile way of working.  Some of the PRINCE2 principles are ‘very much agile’, such as continued business justification, learn from experience, focus on products, manage by stages, and manage by exception; the last being synonymous with giving people autonomy and empowerment.”

“PRINCE2 management stages can be aligned with a series of sprints or releases, introducing management control points to support a fail fast environment.  In situations that have a higher risk or higher uncertainty, the management stages can be of a much shorter duration.”

“Product descriptions (sometimes written as epics or user stories), quality criteria and quality tolerances can be prioritized and decomposed to provide flexibility in what is being delivered.”

“What does ‘fail fast’ mean?  Using timeboxes/sprints in agile delivery enables fast detection of possible failure of products.  This fail fast effect reduces waste of resources and can be a useful learning experience.”

Want to know about the PRINCE2 2017 update?

I will be running free information sessions in early June.  For more information or to book please click here to visit our website

If you would like to hear about the update personally but are unable to attend one of the information sessions, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

What do you think?

Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.

Deaf, Dumb and Digital

John Howarth


Digital transformation is great.  The world is being disrupted.  All the best companies are cool, they were only founded in the last few years, and don’t sell actual products.  Social media equals success.  The pace of change will only get faster.

These are the messages coming from the Prime Minister down, and we’re lapping them up.  The government is about to deliver simpler, faster and easier to use services left, right, and centre.  We all know it is coming, we all know how to do it, and we are falling over ourselves to be at the front of the change.  If you’re an SES officer or commercial provider involved in ICT, and you’re not continually spurting out the latest buzzwords and promising the world tomorrow, then you’re a nobody.

So this is all great and exciting right?  Well, I’ll let you into a secret:  it isn’t.

Digital Deafness

Listening seems to be turning into a lost skill.  I mean sitting with someone, face-to-face, paying attention to their words and their expressions.  Being curious.  Seeking to understand.  Not simply waiting for your turn to speak and tell them your view, or fiddling with your mobile phone throughout the conversation.

One-to-one transactions are becoming increasingly infrequent.  And when they occur, they are becoming shorter, truncated and interrupted.

What this means is that a great deal is getting lost in translation.  Does everyone in the APS really understand what The Hon Angus Taylor MP wants from digital transformation?  Do people working on projects really understand the “user stories”?  (Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that public service teams are attempting to get a grasp on what the users of government services want.  But my own personal experience - for example as a business owner, father of three, and son of two now-deceased parents – is that there is a long way to go.)

Project management suffers the same malaise.  People want to email each other, argue about meaningless labels (“waterfall” “agile”) or talk in jargon, rather than have conversations in plain English about what needs to be done, how, by who, and when, and what practically that will entail.

Digital Dumbness

Having such conversations requires… wait for it… two-way, face-to-face conversation.

Unfortunately, most of us have lost the ability to speak.  We now concentrate our communication energy into impressing the world on social media.  It seems to be the in-thing to post a daily update on Linked In along the lines of “Proud to… {insert bland activity here}”.  If one is unfortunate enough to get trapped in a face-to-face conversation with other humans, it seems best to stand on the side and throw the odd neutral but trendy phrase in.

Whatever happened to speaking our mind?  Tuning in to your emotions, your inner dialogue, and trying to express to others what you are really feeling and thinking in that moment?  People should be comfortable expressing disagreement in a group, but often they aren’t, especially if new trends are involved, or senior executives are in the room.  Who has the courage to sit down quietly with a senior executive and carefully explain to them why what they wish to do might not work?

What has all this got to do with programme and project management?

Everything.  Absolutely everything.  Listening and speaking clearly are at the heart of programme and project management.  You wont be able to transform anything if you are simply deaf, dumb and digital.

Want to get the real conversations happening?

Tanner James is available for short, sharp engagements to help you re-energise the way you manage your programmes and projects – big or small – based on the issues raised in this blog.

If you would like to know more, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

What do you think?

Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.

Why aren’t we getting better at programme and project management?

John Howarth


“If we have been using MSP and PRINCE2 in the public service for a while now, why aren’t we getting better at programme and project management?”

That was the question put to me by an agency head recently.  It’s a great question, and one I thought worth exploring.

Are we getting better?

My gut-feeling, not evidence-based, is that we are, but only marginally.

Here’s one example.  It is twenty years since we ran our first PRINCE2 training courses in Canberra (yikes!).  When we came to talk about the business case, a noticeable number of participants would pipe up and say “but we’re public servants, so we don’t need business cases”.  These days everyone accepts the need for a business case; but what is the quality of the business cases being produced?  Often they are marginal, and if I was being uncharitable I’d say a few are simply an ambit claim for funding rather than a coherent rationale to invest in improvement.

If you prefer evidence, I don’t think you’ll have to look too hard for reports from the big firms and others saying that we are still not getting programme and project management right.  And Professor Peter Shergold’s 2015 report Learning from Failure spells out the issues very plainly for the APS.

What is the problem?

To my mind the answer lies in the question:  if we have been using MSP and PRINCE2 in the public service for a while now…”.  Has the APS been using MSP and PRINCE2 for a while now?  I would argue it hasn’t.

What the APS has been doing is sending people off to courses to “get qualified”, building home-grown frameworks based on the methods (often awash with templates), and engaging contractors who are “MSP/PRINCE2-qualified”.  Project and programme managers, whether APS or contract, are then expected to use MSP or PRINCE2 to manage the programme or project on which they are working.

Well, here’s the news, and I’m very sorry for those people who have so far being nodding in agreement and saying to themselves “yes, that’s how we do it”:  doing those things is not using MSP or PRINCE2.  Not by a country mile.

What are we not doing?

In my blog, The one simple thing most SES officers get wrong with programmes and projects I wrote that “The dominant way SES officers should look at programmes and projects is as organisations.  Temporary ones.”  This is the most critical point.  Programme and project management isn’t a solo endeavour.  If we keep placing focus on the individual project and programme managers, we will keep getting it wrong.  It is about creating temporary organisations.

Tailoring the methods is also critical.  Knowing how to do so requires a good deal of experience.  Tailoring doesn’t mean re-writing chunks of the manual in your own words, creating additional processes and activities, or creating turgid templates.  How many people realize that PRINCE2 doesn’t contain any templates?  You can tailor the methods to create your own departmental frameworks, but creating a framework isn’t the same as making sure it is effectively adopted by programmes or projects.  You can also tailor the methods directly to suit an individual initiative.

Application is the other key.  Skillful application of the principles and themes.  There is a world of difference between the results of a well-run product-based planning workshop with the right stakeholders in the room and someone sitting at their desk for days on end word-processing a “plan”.

So unless you have properly established role-based temporary organisations, tailoring based on experience, and skillful application, in my opinion you are not yet using MSP or PRINCE2.  Hence you might be part of the average department or agency that is still not really getting better at programme and project management.

Want to get the governance , tailoring and application right?

Tanner James is available for short, sharp engagements to help you optimise the way you manage your programmes and projects – big or small – based on the issues raised in this blog.

If you would like to know more, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

What do you think?

Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.



Less management gives you more success

John Howarth

“We don’t have time for project management.”  “We can’t afford the overhead of PRINCE2, so we use a ‘lite’ version.”  “Our SES doesn’t want full MSP.”  “We use Agile so we don’t need project management, that’s waterfall.”

Over the years I have heard dozens of remarks like this, and while I usually politely smile when I hear them, inside I am shaking my head at the fundamental lack of understanding they reflect.

“We don’t have time…”

This is the underlying message:  we don’t have time.  It has become an everyday badge of honour in the workplace:  “I’m flat out / under the pump / getting smashed / in back-to-back meetings / haven’t looked at my emails” etcetera, etcetera.

Why has it become cool to be poor at time-management and setting priorities?  Why do people feel proud of the fact they are not spending time on things they should be spending time on?  Why are many managers and leaders so hopeless at saying no, or making commitments responsibly?

I make these observations simply to set the context:  “I don’t have time” is the bane of the modern workplace, and not simply something that affects good programme and project management.

The consequences

The consequences of not having time, or to be more specific not spending time on programme and project management, are severe.  Over the years many reports have made this plain, and I find it astonishing that the APS has done nothing in response to Professor Peter Shergold’s 2015 report Learning from Failure, which spell out the issues very plainly.  (Perhaps people haven’t had time to implement his report?!)

What are the consequences?  They are that people launch headlong into significant change initiatives based on bravado and hope, with no real idea what needs to be done, or how it will be done.  There is an absence of thinking and communication in the planning process, for which a high price is paid in implementation.  Yet people still spend a great deal of time and money filling in templates, and portraying what they are doing as programme and project management.  It isn’t.

So what should we be doing?

Effective programme and project management is really very simple.  Get the right people into the right roles, have them think and communicate based on a set of clearly understood principles and concepts to shape a plan, then exercise control against that plan.  The granularity of the plan must vary, with detail for the short-term and broader view for the longer term.

None of this should involve paying permanent staff, or worse still contractors or firms, to sit and write documents for you.  Having people fill out templates is a mugs game, and has nothing to do with professional programme and project management.

Instead, have people in the key roles think and communicate face-to-face, and only record their conversations with the bare minimum documentation to avoid misunderstanding down the track and provide an adequate audit trail.  How much time should be spent on such face-to-face communication?   – as little as possible, but sufficient to ensure everyone is on the same page.  Focus on the fundamentals, and don’t get caught in detail.  In other words, less is more.

Want to escape from the template-treadmill and get your time back?

Tanner James is available for short, sharp engagements to do a template detox and help you optimise the way you manage your programmes and projects – big or small.  If you would like to know more, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

What do you think?

Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.

What does the USA election have to do with the Australian Public Service? – a great deal, but that’s not why you must read this.

John Howarth


 The IPAA ACT 2016 conference took place on Thursday 10th November, and it was a superb event.  Congratulations to IPAA, the speakers and everyone involved.  The conference was filmed and video content is now available online, including a series of short and easily watchable highlights packages from each session and complete transcripts.  These are all available from the IPAA ACT web site at

Two things happened the day before the conference, both of which were very notable.  The first was the USA election, and the second was the speech given by the Australian Cabinet Secretary.

What does the USA election have to do with the Australian Public service?

The first was that Donald Trump won the USA presidency.  The primary theme of the conference was Thinking Big, very apt, and the speakers for the first session did a great job in ditching their carefully prepared speeches and instead offering their observations and insights into the global thunderbolt.

I recommend you have a look at the conference website, but for me a few critical themes emerged:

  • Trust – people across the globe lack trust in their governments.
  • Stakeholder engagement – governments must engage people more authentically.
  • Diversity – is vital to making better decisions.
  • Disruption, innovation and agility – are not words reserved only for digital trendies:  they are accurate descriptors of primary forces in health, socio-economics, education and disease.
  • Political volatility – is harming public policy, and making implementation difficult

    Policy Implementation Capability

    The second thing that happened the day before the conference was that the Cabinet Secretary, Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO, spoke at the Prime Minister’s Awards For Excellence In Public Sector Management.  A full transcript of his speech is available on the IPAA conference website, and again I commend it you.

    I was delighted to hear that one of the things the Prime Minister is being encouraged to pursue over this term is how the government invests more back into the capability of the public service.  He said that you can have great strategy, but if you can’t get it implemented or botch execution there’s no point.

    He referred to the work done over the last five years in the cabinet office to improve the project management capabilities of the UK Government.  They did this by investing in project management expertise within the public sector.  Not just seeking to outsource everything or outsource expertise, but actually build or rebuild the internal expertise.

    The Cabinet Secretary spoke about the importance of learning from failure (coincidentally, or perhaps not, the title of Professor Peter Shergold’s review).  The words that stand out are:

    “There are some things here like around the management of major projects that in my day job as cabinet secretary, I'm going to come back to with some of my colleagues within government because we're very keen to create that sort of sense of excellence in project management”.

    The current Australian Government is clearly committed to rebuilding that in-house expertise, so watch this space.

    Want to know more about improving your policy implementation capability?

    If you would like to know more about using programme management or project management to improve you policy implementation capability, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

    What do you think?

    Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.


    B is the most important letter in DTA

    John Howarth

    Last month in my blog I advocated a change of name for The Digital Transformation Office (DTO), and proposed it should be called The Government Transformation Office.  Well, it got its name change, though not the one I proposed – the DTO is to become The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA).  So what’s new and what’s the significance of the change?

    What’s new?

    Last week in a speech to the Australian Information Industries Association at the National Press Club, Angus Taylor, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, signaled major changes to how the government intends to pursue its digital transformation agenda.

    The DTO will morph into the DTA, with big changes involved not just a rebadging.  A new leader has been appointed - Nerida O’Loughlin, currently a deputy secretary for the Department of Communications and the Arts, will take over as leader from Paul Shetler, who is now Chief Digital Officer.  (Whether that is a high-powered advisory role or a euphemism for “Digital Special Projects Officer” remains to be seen.)

    Department of Finance functions related to ICT policy and ICT procurement will move to the DTA, reflecting a broader and more strategic approach.  There is also talk of a whole-of-government PMO function being a part of the mix following PM&C and Finance work in that area.

    While there are speeches and media commentary available, precise details of the structure and functions of the DTA have not yet been released.  What is clear however is that this is a big deal – if you are in the business of digital transformation in the APS you need to watch this unfold very closely.

    What’s the significance of the change?

    I was present at the AIIA lunch where Angus Taylor spoke, and I found what he said very heartening.

    I haven’t seen a transcript of the speech, but I can assure you he used the “B-word” many times – benefits, benefits, and benefits.  Did I mention benefits?!  It was wonderful to hear an elected member of the government stand-up and speak passionately and eloquently about benefits, business cases and programme management – and yes, he clearly knew exactly what those terms meant and used them in the same way as a competent programme or project management professional.

    I have written several blogs on the topic of digital transformation, but one thing is clear:  if you don’t know how to deliver benefits through programme management you might want to re-think your digital career.  It’ll be interesting to see who doesn’t come back after the Christmas holidays this year.

    Want to know more about managing digital transformation?

    If you would like to know more about using programme management or project management to manage digital (government) transformation in the APS, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

    Other blogs on Digital Transformation

    Is it time to drop the D from the DTO?

    What will the Prime Minister’s vision mean for programme and project management in the APS?

    How to create a Digital Transformation Plan

    This is why Digital Transformation Coordinators can’t sleep…

    Digital Transformation - War or Peace

    What do you think?

    Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.

    Zero to Hero - Do I have to do all of PRINCE2?

    Ray Ahern

    Do I have to do all of PRINCE2?

    PRINCE2 can be overwhelming to a new Project Manager in particular.  This is even more so if you start by believing you need to create a large wad of documents to be able to run a good project.

    You can cut through this fear by realising that some parts of PRINCE2 will offer the new project manager more value than others.  Your dilemma is that you need to work out which bits.

    Whilst it will vary from person to person and project to project, in my experience, a few parts of the method are the critical enablers that will get the rest of PRINCE2 working for you.  Looking to meet these challenges first can smooth the way for later:

    • Establish ownership and connections with the user and supplier environments - even an imperfect Project Board that can connect you with your users and the people who will supply the solution
    • Do product based planning – this will support you later with scope management, cost management, assignment of work, risk identification and later with any proposed changes
    • Structure work assignment and management – this sounds fairly obvious but seems to be one essential that many people forget
    • Establish change authorities– having authorities and limits of authority established up front will save you lots of time later by avoiding those awful arguments about who can approve a change.

    Most commonly when an inexperienced project manager hits a problem they will throw their hands in the air and forget PRINCE2; when actually PRINCE2 would give them a way of solving those problems.  Rather than making that mistake, an experienced PRINCE2 exponent will think about “what part of the PRINCE2 method could help me here?”

     If you start with the basics I’ve given you above and then every time you hit a problem look to the method to help solve your problem you will soon gain a lot of proficiency at using PRINCE2.  You will certainly be better placed than someone who tries to implement PRINCE2 by writing every document suggested by the manual!

    Is it time to drop the D from the DTO?

    John Howarth


    The Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is only 15 months old.  An infant.  It’s tough being a new kid.  Especially when you’re little.  The big kids push you around.  Sometimes you just want to flee back home.  But there comes a time when little kids need to grow up.  Which begs the question, is it time to drop the D from the DTO?

    Kindy is fun

    I attended the DTO Canberra Open House in July this year, and I have to say it was very enjoyable.

    Walking into the DTO takes you into a wonderful world of Kanban boards, user stories and all manner of wonderful visuals.  It has the same vibrant feel as a kindergarten – the walls are covered in colours and pictures, and all staff members are alive and enthusiastic with an energy that only people with great passion for their chosen field bring to a room.

    Workplaces inside and outside the public sector could do a lot worse than seek to foster this same sense of energy.

    So what’s the problem?

    While kindy is fun, you can’t stay there all your life.  You need to move on from small things to big things, and from fun things to challenging things.  As the years go by we lose the luxury of being able to spend lots of time and resources carefully crafting objects that others coo over.  We learn about dealing with large, complex issues, and working with insufficient time or resources.

    It seems to me that some of the kindy analogy applies to the DTO.  It has a loud voice, and has clearly had a beneficial impact in disrupting the ICT development status quo in the APS, and championing a commendable vision for simpler, clearer, faster public services.  But what it has achieved so far is small in comparison to the challenges faced when looking at whole-of-government change.  Alpha and Beta releases in a few targeted areas are a good start, but there is a need for substantial scale-up, in a governable and manageable way, before it can be said there has been major progress with the digital transformation agenda.

    Dropping the D

    I can’t blame the DTO for its name, after all, digital transformation is in vogue terminology the world over.  And the Prime Minster, no less, has created a cabinet sub-committee called the Digital Transformation Committee.

    Well Prime Minister – how can I put this delicately – you got it wrong.  The name shouldn’t reflect the technology, the name should reflect what you are trying to achieve.

    So here is my proposal:  that we drop the D, and replace it with G – the Government Transformation Committee, and the Government Transformation Office.  I think that might just capture the public’s imagination right now.  By all means press on with digital enthusiasm, but harness and direct it with strong programme management capability.

    I look forward to the Honourable Angus Taylor, MP; Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, lobbying to have his title changed!

    Want to know more about managing digital transformation?

    If you would like to know more about using programme management or project management to manage digital (government) transformation in the APS, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

    What do you think?

    Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.

    The role of the blueprint in MSP

    Matt Overton

    A common question I’m asked during MSP training is around clarifying the role of the blueprint in the design of a change programme. MSP best practice advises that you shouldn’t confuse the future state that the programme will deliver with how you’re going to get there. It is also suggested that you should focus on where you want to be before you agree where you are (the current state).

    The confusion is understandable considering that many change programmes are not as vision-led as we would like and instead are emergent, being derived from extent projects.In addition, we tend to conflate the roadmap of how we’re going to get to the end state with what that end state looks like.

    This is particularly true of the plan-on-a-page deliverable, which provides an all-in-one solution.

    My advice comprises three parts. Firstly, discuss the future state in the absence of a time horizon. You’re likely to have more free-form debate and ideation. Secondly, once agreement has been brokered, move onto the ‘how’ – the time and money – and ‘what’, including the incorporation of initiatives that are already in flight. Thirdly, focus on the current state since, from that, you’ll be able to judge the extent of the change and the speed by which it will need to be achieved.

    I’m less concerned about these three parts being combined into one deliverable providing that their intent is understood from the outset. It’s more about the talking than the typing…

    Matt Overton,
    Tanner James Principal Consultant and Trainer

    The new APS P3M Community of Practice and Centre of Excellence

    John Howarth

    In my last couple of blogs I wrote about SES officers (one simple thing they get wrong with programmes and projects and what happens when they speak freely about programme management or project management).

    While SES officers are critical to effective programme management or project management, the engine room is the community of APS practitioners who have a passion for making these disciplines cornerstones of high quality policy implementation.

    I was therefore delighted to see the Departments of Finance and Prime Minister and Cabinet have launched a renewed P3M Community of Practice and Virtual P3M Centre of Excellence to support APS collaboration in building P3M capability.

    P3M Community of Practice

    The P3M Community of Practice (CoP) is an APS wide network of P3M practitioners who come together to share, learn and promote good portfolio, programme and project management practices.  The vision of the enhanced CoP is to build a collaborative knowledge sharing network of P3M practitioners to strengthen APS delivery capability and promote greater recognition by the APS.

    Membership is voluntary and open to permanent or non-ongoing APS staff.

    Virtual P3M Centre of Excellence

    The concept of a virtual P3M CoE is to provide free exchange of APS focussed P3M advice; where professionals can connect and learn from each other, solutions can be developed to common challenges and P3M capability can be built across the APS.

    What will the P3M CoP and CoE achieve?

    In my opinion a great deal.  Much good work has already been done by the P3M CoP, and if you haven’t already been involved, I commend it to you.  It’s a great way to learn from the experience of other public servants facing similar challenges to the ones you face.

    As trainers and consultants we spend a fair bit of time “connecting” people in different parts of the APS to one another.  That’s fine, and it’s a role we’re very happy to perform, but it’s even better to see the APS establishing mechanisms by which the collective wisdom of APS P3M practitioners can be harnessed for the good of all.

    Note to SES officers – make sure you give your P3M specialists time to attend and contribute to time these initiatives (I couldn’t resist signing off on that note).

    Want to know more?

    There are more details on both these initiatives on this Department of Finance webpage.

    To find out more about the CoP, you can send a message to

    If you would like to know more about programme management or project management in the APS, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at .  I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

    What do you think?

    Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via Linked In.

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