Tanner James Blog

Stakeholder Engagement - "Have we got there yet"?

Barry Anderson


We are all very familiar with the childhood phrase “have we got there yet”?

Whilst most of us associate that question with our childhood it is a question; nagging our parents on a long drive, we should continue to ask for the rest of our life.  Whilst the child in an exasperated way is asking have we achieved our goal by undertaking the journey and arriving where we want to be, it is the same question that in later life will confront everybody who is involved with a portfolio of investment, the management of a change initiative or the oversight and conduct of a defined work package or project.  Have we made the investment of thought and effort to define the end game and planned methodically how we are going to actually get there??

Programme and project management and the APSC Structuring Work learning program all challenge us to focus upon the benefits we claim to be providing as part of change initiatives and to improve stakeholder engagement.  Whether that engagement is for a major programme or defining the outputs of a project or using our learning from the structuring work program to analyse bodies of work “Have we got there yet” requires us to focus on the outputs, outcomes and benefits that will actually satisfy the criteria for success.  What does success actually look like and how (as they perceive it) will the “lived experience” of stakeholders actually be different??

When we define performance measures with stakeholders we achieve a benefits led focus on doing the right things the right way.  Remember that stakeholder perceptions rule so focus upon the following points:

  • What do they (as well as you) believe should be measured, monitored, why and how?? 
  • Assess what is being measured and monitored now and how effectively?
  • Honestly evaluate how well we (them + you) are doing?
  • Evaluate priorities to focus upon where effort of all types is to be applied to optimise investment and the realisation of benefits.
  • Remember successful benefits management seeks to optimize rather than maximize benefits realization.  It is a balancing act of the bang achieved for the bucks expended.

A focus upon extensive stakeholder consultation will ensure fit-for-purpose solutions and the certainty that we can say “yes” when senior executives ask “have we got there yet”??

6 Things to Avoid When Implementing PRINCE2

Daniel Oyston

Last week we hosted a webinar and heard from the world’s foremost expert on PRINCE2. 

Known as the ‘The Yoda of PRINCE2’ (well that’s what we call him in the office), Colin Bentley wrote all the early versions of the PRINCE2 manual and was the lead reviewer and mentor to the 2009 revision to the PRINCE2 manual for the OGC. 

He was also the Chief Examiner for The APM Group until his retirement in 2008. 

Colin’s latest publication is titled PRINCE2 Rollout Approach and in this webinar he addressed the things that are essential to avoid when rolling out PRINCE2 to into an existing environment. 

You can view a recording of the webinar (video and audio only) as well as the slides below



Click the icon below to access an audio only file of the webinar.


The 2012 PRINCE2 Manifesto - Free eBook

John Howarth

We have pulled together all the content we have shared about PRINCE2 on our blog this year. For those that are close followers of our work, you’ll notice that we have simply collated some of our blog posts and put it into a handy format.

What that means is we haven’t scrubbed and polished it so that it reads like yet another boring theoretical project management manual. Instead, this eBook pulls together our real-world advice.

The kind of hints and tips we give to people over coffee or on-site while consulting or in the classroom. Practical not pretty.

The articles are designed to answer the most common questions and challenges we see you facing as you use PRINCE2 in the real world. As such, they can be useful conversation starters for how you and your team apply PRINCE2 and how you can get the most out of it.

So feel free to share it as you see fit. If you only want to share one or two articles then head along to our blog where you can then share the individual page.

A big thanks to Dave Bryant, Dave Schrapel, Adrian Booth, Gavan Murphy and Ray Broadbent. They all contributed blogs throughout the year and I am very appreciative that they were willing to share some of their views with you.

A big thanks to myself also as I wrote most of them (modesty has never been one of my strengths).

I hope you find it useful.

Do you have a unique environment with unique challenges? Or have you always been a little unclear about an aspect of PRINCE2? Then simply let me know by leaving a comment below.

I would be happy to write a blog post addressing it for you.

The 5 Most Important PRINCE2 Activities

John Howarth

If you are familiar with PRINCE2 you will know that the method has 7 processes, each of which comprises a number of activities. I counted the activities the other day, and there are 40 of them. I have been quite vocal about the need to apply PRINCE2 skillfully and tailor it to suit, so I thought to myself “What if I only had 5 activities? Which would I choose to best manage a project?”

This proved harder than I expected, but here’s what I came up with, and why.

1. Appoint the Executive and the Project Manager

I think this is probably my least contentious choice. As the PRINCE2 manual says: “to get anything done in the project, a decision maker with appropriate authority is needed”. It then goes on to say (fairly obviously) that “the appointment of a Project Manager allows for the project to be managed on a day-to-day basis on behalf of the Executive.

As I say, probably my least contentious choice. Nevertheless, I do worry how many Project Managers are out there happily trying to use PRINCE2 without a Project Executive, or at least without a Project Executive who understands their role and discharges it diligently.

Moving right along…

2. Update the Business Case

“CHEAT!” I hear you cry. How can I update a Business Case that hasn’t been prepared in outline (SU) or refined (IP)? Well, I could argue that a little poetic licence is a blogger’s right. However, I would also argue that in practice I’d rather people have a proper focus on the business case while the work is underway than do it at the beginning of a project just to get funding then sit it on the shelf, forget about it and press on regardless.

Whichever activities you would choose for your 5, the business case had to be addressed somewhere. After all, that is the purpose of a project – delivering products according to an agreed business case. Hands-up those who currently have an up-to-date rock-solid business case which everyone knows in essence – you do all have your hands up now don’t you?!

3. Plan the next stage

I’m quite proud of myself here, a bit of a sneaky choice this one. You see, “Plan the next stage” in PRINCE2 doesn’t just involve producing the Stage Plan for the next stage. Among other things it also involves reviewing:

  • any change to the customer’s expectations, acceptance criteria or project approach;
  • the relevance and suitability of the strategies and controls; and
  • any change in the project management team or their role descriptions.

The PRINCE2-pedants reading this will pick me up on the fact these things haven’t been created but the same basic argument as I put forward for updating the Business Case applies – better late than never!

The other great thing about this activity of course is that it invokes the product-based planning technique where the real planning work occurs and the team gets clarity of what actually needs to be done.

4. Review the stage status

There are 8 activities in the process Controlling a Stage but for me this one (Review the stage status) is the heart of the machine.

The objective of the activity says it all – “to maintain an accurate and current picture of progress on the work being carried out and the status of resources”. If you care to delve deeper, the PRINCE2 manual recommends a comprehensive range of actions to be undertaken to form that picture, and based on that analysis, to decide whether any actions are required.

5. Give ad-hoc direction

Not much point having a Project Executive if you aren’t going to engage them so I felt I had to pick my final activity from the process Directing a Project.

I have seen more than one project where the Project Manager doesn’t speak to the Project Executive between one formal stage boundary meeting and the next. The PRICNE2 manual identifies a variety of circumstances that might prompt ad hoc direction, including:

  • responding to requests, e.g. when options need clarifying or where areas of conflict need resolving;
  • responding to reports; and
  • responding to external influences.

Which 5 activities would you choose?

Well, there’s my suggested list of the 5 most important of the 40 PRINCE2 activities. 5 was a totally arbitrary number but it certainly exercised my brain picking the list. I’d like to hear from you about which activities you would choose and why.

I know there are a number of my fellow PRINCE2 trainers and consultants out there who keep an eye on my blogs so they are welcome to throw their views into the ring also.

New approaches to major public projects?

John Howarth

The Best Management Practice products from the UK Cabinet Office are now widely accepted across Federal and State government agencies – including P3M3®, MSP® and PRINCE2®. What is less widely known is what is being done to fundamentally change the way major government projects are run. 

Will we see these approaches adopted in Australia?

A new approach to leadership

Earlier this year the UK Government unveiled plans for a new Major Projects Leadership Academy which will be created and delivered in partnership with Oxford's Saïd Business School. The new academy will build the skills of senior project leaders across government to deliver complex projects – reducing the over-reliance on expensive external consultancy further and building expertise within the Civil Service.

In future no one will be able to lead a major government project without completing the Academy.

Quotes from the website make it clear that the focus is on building world class project leadership skills within government agencies and thus reducing the reliance on “expensive external consultants”.

Improving project performance for the taxpayer

The Academy will be managed by the Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority (MPA) which was launched in 2010 to oversee major projects and ensure they deliver for taxpayers.

The MPA represents a sea change in the oversight of central government’s Major Projects at both an individual and a portfolio level and aims to address the findings from the NAO report Assurance of High Risk Projects and from a Major Projects Review.

It is a collaboration between the Cabinet Office, HM Treasury (HMT) and Departments with the fundamental aim of significantly improving the delivery success rate of Major Projects across central government.

The MPA is supported by a clear and enforceable mandate and has the authority to:

  • develop the Government Major Projects Portfolio, in collaboration with departments, with regular reporting to Ministers;
  • require Integrated Assurance and Approval Plans for each Major Project or Programme including timetables for Treasury approvals and validation by the MPA and HMT;
  • make a Starting Gate Review (or equivalent) mandatory for all new Projects/Programmes;
  • escalate issues of concern to Ministers and Accounting Officers;
  • provide additional assurance and direct involvement where Projects are causing concern including the provision of commercial and operational support;
  • require publication of project information consistent with the Coalition’s Transparency agenda;
  • work with departments to build capability in Projects and Programme management; and
  • publish an annual report on Government Major Projects.

The Australian approach

Australia has had a number of agencies at both federal and state levels focussed on improving project performance – including the PM&C Cabinet Implementation Unit the AGIMO-led Agency Capability Initiative and DoFD reviews and assessments.

The question is, will we see these current initiatives develop into an Australian Government Major Projects Authority, with an associated Major Projects Leadership Academy? 

And if we do, will that be a good thing? 

What are your thoughts?

How to Handle Project Issues

Daniel Oyston

This is a guest post by our good friend Gavan Murphy.


We’ve all got them, and projects are no different. They’re like weeds - you can pretend they don’t exist until they take over your garden (or project).

Some projects are so dynamic there’s a multitude of issues to juggle on a daily basis. Other projects work at a different pace, or have much longer time frames and potentially fewer issues.

Regardless of the style of project you’re running, a Project Manager ignores issues at his or her own peril. 

Don’t fall into the traps

Like most things in life, the more mistakes you make experience you have the better you become at noticing the weeds in and around your project environment. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that lots of project issues is a bad sign for your project.

Nor is the opposite true, that few issues means the project is running well.

It’s ultimately your judgement, responsibility, and dare I say it, honesty as a PM what you choose to notice, raise and manage through to resolution.

How do you tell if you’re dealing with issues effectively?

Three measures I regularly use are:

  • if I can’t succinctly tell a stranger what the three major issues I’m dealing with on a daily basis are, I’m not on the ball;
  • if I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about work, whatever it is that woke me up is an issue that needs some (more) attention; and
  • if an issue hasn’t been updated in more than a month, I’m in denial or it’s not really an issue.

I’ve also discovered, the better systems I have in place for managing issues the more willing I am to be honest about them.

Make sure all the verbs are covered

From the good book (PRINCE2) your issue management system needs to cater for all the verbs: 

  • capturing;
  • describing;
  • prioritising;
  • assigning responsibility;
  • monitoring;
  • reporting;
  • resolving (as quickly as you can); and
  • escalating issues if they get beyond your remit. 

The importance of software

I’ve been using Atlassian’s JIRA for managing my project issues for more than 18 months now. In short it’s brilliant! It handles each of the issue management verbs competently, except automatically recording issues for me J.

There’s a large number of tools available for PMs to use, but issue management software is one of the most important in my opinion, because it will do all the heavy lifting for you.

If you have the discipline to capture and update issue details then:

  • reporting becomes pain free;
  • prioritisation is much easier because you can see all the issues in one place; and
  • escalation is a matter of assigning the issue until resolved.

Using an issue management tool leaves you free to focus on project delivery - the stuff you get paid for!

Garbage In and Garbage Out

Of course the old adage applies: garbage in and garbage out. Your issue management system won’t replace face-to-face conversations or the need to wear out shoe leather engaging those involved in issue resolution.

But it does record history, reduce email spam, diminish finger poking and blame. If used effectively, it makes people accountable for their part - you included!

Effective issue management won’t necessarily guarantee a successful outcome for your project, there’s a lot more to it than that. Some project issues are so intractable, for all sorts of reasons, that they require constant advocacy and energy on your part to get them resolved.

However without a willingness to tackle them, or get a handle on their management, it will be increasingly difficult to see the garden for the weeds.

What approaches work best for you with issue management? Have you got any horror stories to share?


Gavan started his passion for Project Management 20 years ago, initially in engineering projects, and then following his interest into ICT communications, infrastructure and software development projects. 

He has a knack for building high performing project teams and when given enough rope, has delivered some really challenging project outcomes. Most of his project success has come from a preparedness to learn (and learn fast), anticipate where things are heading, diligence and seeking out opportunities to build strong working relationships. 

He shares common sense insights based on his experience, hard knocks and snippets of brilliance he has picked up from other PMs along the way.

How To Apply PRINCE2 Better, Immediately

Daniel Oyston

Last week we hosted a webinar: How To Apply PRINCE2 Better, Immediately. Thanks to everyone who logged in and participated.

For those that missed it, or those that want to see it again,  I recorded the webinar and have posted the video below. I’ve also uploaded an audio only file and posted it along with a copy of the slides. 

Our next webinar is going to be a cracker - 6 Things To Avoid When Implementing PRINCE2 on Thursday 15 November 9:30am (30 minutes).

This webinar is an excellent opportunity to hear from the world’s foremost expert on PRINCE2. Known as the ‘The Yoda of PRINCE2’ (well that’s what we call him in the office), Colin Bentley wrote all the early versions of the PRINCE2 manual and was the lead reviewer and mentor to the 2009 revision to the PRINCE2 manual for the OGC. He was also the Chief Examiner for The APM Group until his retirement in 2008.  

Colin’s latest publication is titled PRINCE2 Rollout Approach and in this webinar he will address the things that are essential to avoid when rolling out PRINCE2 to into an existing environment. Don’t miss this opportunity.

WEBINAR VIDEO - How To Apply PRINCE2 Better, Immediately


Click on the icon below to download the slides. 


Click the icon below to access an audio only file of the webinar.


Why do PRINCE2 training?

John Howarth
Why do PRINCE2 training? It’s an obvious question if you are moving to a project or organisation that uses PRINCE2. And it’s obvious what the answer will be if you ask a provider of PRINCE2 training.  

Or is it?

Someone said to you: “you should do the PRINCE2 training”

Let me guess. Something just happened in your working life – you left a job, got a new job, moved to a new area of your organisation etc. You mentioned your changed situation to a friend or colleague and they said to you “you should do the PRINCE2 training”. You are now trying to figure out whether to follow that advice.

I see a lot of people in this situation, so here are some pointers for when you should or shouldn’t contemplate PRINCE2 training.

I want to enhance my professional skills

Perhaps you have been working on projects a while but have never obtained a formal qualification.  Or you are a contractor looking to make your skills more marketable.  Or you are working in a project-based organisation and would like to know more about project management.

Whatever your situation, if your main driver is professional development, my recommendation is:

Yes, do PRINCE2 training.

My organisation uses PRINCE2

PRINCE2 has been widely adopted as a corporate standard, and therefore many people find themselves moving into an organisation which uses the method, either as an employee or a contractor.

People in this situation can find themselves faced with unfamiliar jargon and ways of doing things. This can be particularly unsettling if you are an experienced project manager. You may feel that you are not being as productive as you would like to be or that you are unable to operate to your full potential.

Should you do the PRINCE2 training?  Probably a better question is “what is the best way to find out how this organisation uses PRINCE2 and what is expected of me?”  It might be that everyone is expected to arrange their own PRINCE2 training, but it might be that the organisation has an induction program or similar in place.  That might include for example a briefing from the PMO and an in-house course.

My recommendation is:

Talk to your manager, your Project Executive (Sponsor) or the corporate PMO.  They should be able to let you know what arrangements are in place for PRINCE2 training in your organisation.

I have been given a project to run

Projects are now the accepted way to introduce change into organisations, and as the amount of change increases more and more people are finding themselves being given the task of running a project.

If you are in this situation you might be wondering whether PRINCE2 can help you, or whether you should start with a more general grounding in project management.

My recommendation is:

Do PRINCE2 training, but be realistic in your expectations (see blog – Beyond the Classroom).  In all probability you will need to find someone else in your organisation to provide further assistance post-training.

I want to be certain my project will succeed

I am sorry, I have some bad news: there is nothing that can guarantee project success.  If you have read through this blog so far, and you have most closely identified your need as being aligned to this heading, then I think you must reflect carefully on your need.

What is driving you to focus on success? Do you have a concern that for whatever reason – e.g. scale, complexity, risk, resources etc – your project might fail? Or is the project simply so important that you cannot afford for it to fail?

My recommendation is:

Carefully consider what you are seeking to achieve; although PRINCE2 training might help, there are may other ingredients that contribute towards maximising your chance of project success. PRINCE2 training is not a panacea

If you are undecided about PRINCE2 training

If having read this you are still undecided about undertaking PRINCE2 training, I suggest you do two things:

1. Think about what it is you are seeking from the training – perhaps have a chat to colleagues; and
2. Talk to some PRINCE2 training providers about what they offer – and yes, sometimes their answer should be that they can’t help you!

Real Managers don’t use soft benefits

Daniel Oyston

written by David Bryant

“If it’s not cold hard cash I’m not interested”. They say real programme and project managers don’t use soft benefits.  But should they?

What is a soft benefit?

A popular misconception is that a soft benefit is a benefit you can’t measure. However, in the PRINCE2 and MSP worlds, a benefit must be measurable.

So does this mean that soft benefits don’t have a place in the PRINCE2 and MSP worlds?

Not at all.

What is a soft benefit in the PRINCE2 and MSP world?

According to John Ward, in Building Better Business Cases for IT investments, benefit measures can be categorised on a continuum from Financial (Hard benefits), to Quantifiable and Measurable and finally through to Observable (Soft Benefits).

With Financial Benefits, the financial value can obviously be calculated by applying a cost/price or other valid financial formula to a quantifiable benefit e.g. reduction in staff needed.

A Quantifiable Benefit is where there is sufficient evidence to forecast how much improvement/benefit should result from the change(s) e.g. reducing the average wait time by 10 per cent.

A Measurable Benefit occurs when the aspect of performance is measured but sometimes it is not possible, or very difficult, to accurately estimate how much performance will improve e.g. increased staff morale.

An example of an Observable (soft) Benefit might be specific individuals or groups using their experience or judgement to decide the extent the benefit will be realised e.g. asking line managers whether there has been an increase in staff motivation.

Soft benefits often relate to changes in individuals behaviour, which in many projects are critical to the achievement of business cases. The challenge is how to find valid ways of measuring such benefits – proxy measures often work, for example surveying the perceptions of individuals affected by a change before and after the change has been implemented.


It is hard to imagine a business case that won’t include a good mix of hard and soft benefits.

Just make sure you always have some form of measurement and that it is your best effort to make it realistic and valid.

This blog was written by David Bryant.

David Bryant | Consultant & Trainer

David specialises in maximising the Return on Investment by working with organisations to better align activities with the organisational objectives. David holds an MBA as well as PRINCE2, MSP and P3O qualifications.


PRINCE2 Training - Beyond the Classroom

John Howarth

Thousands of people undergo project management training every year in Australia. They sit in a classroom or undertake online learning and attain a qualification. 

If you are one of those people, the interesting question is: what happens when you leave the classroom?

In the beginning

Before looking at what happens after a newly qualified person leaves the classroom, we should look at what happens before they enter the classroom.

The first question to ask is “Why is this person on a project management training course?” 

Here are some of the responses that we often hear:

  • I am a contractor and I will be able to charge more if I am qualified in PRINCE2;
  • I have just been asked to run a project and I know nothing about project management;
  • we have a big government reform to do and the department uses PRINCE2;
  • I did a course years ago and this is a refresher;
  • I will be leaving my job soon and a project management qualification will help me; or
  • my boss sent me.

These are all perfectly reasonable statements, but none are much use to the training provider. Things need to be much clearer if the trainer is to deliver on the expected learning outcomes. My tip here is to remember that the trainee is not the only party involved - the person paying for their training, e.g their employer, and the training provider should all be clear about the expected learning outcomes.

So if you are a trainee, please sit down with your employer and ask them what it is you are expected to be able to do upon completion of the project management training and make sure someone has conveyed this to the training provider.

The myth of the five-day miracle

Person with zero project management experience enters classroom on Monday morning at 9am. Same person exits classroom on Friday afternoon at 5pm fully equipped to run any project. 


No, but that is the myth of the five-day miracle: someone can be turned into a project manager in just five days. I have been involved in project management for over 25 years and I still have plenty to learn. So no-one is going to walk into a classroom with little or no project management knowledge and walk out with nothing else to learn.

What should I be aiming for?

So what is a reasonable goal for, say, a five-day course? That goes back to the question of “Why is this person on a project management training course” and also what experience and knowledge they already have. So the answer must be an individual one. However, there are general outcomes that are common to most project management trainees which can provide a useful starting point, for example:

  • the ability to determine what should, and what shouldn’t, be managed as a project;
  • an understanding of the structure and elements of a specific project management approach (e.g. PRINCE2, PMBOK).
  • an appreciation of the need to tailor the approach to suit the nature and context of a specific project. Note: the trainee is unlikely to be equipped with the ability to do this without assistance;
  • an understanding of the roles involved in managing a project and the responsibilities associated with the role they will personally fulfil; and
  • an action plan for what they will do post-course to translate their learning into the workplace.

This last point is probably the most important. My recommendation is that this is considered before the training course and not during the course - or worst of all, after it. This is where the trainee can look to their employer for support and guidance with such questions as:

  • which project(s) will I be expected to apply the learning to when I return to the workplace?;
  • what will my role be on the project(s)?’;
  • are there specific project management processes and/or deliverables which I am expected to follow/deliver?  Are there any deadlines associated with them?;
  • how much time do you expect me to spend applying my new project management skills?;
  • who will be available to support me if I need assistance?; and
  • what are you hoping will change once I have undertaken my training and start to apply it?

Back in the workplace

Your action plan should form the basis for translating your learning into the workplace, and with the right involvement of your employer before the training, you should be set for success.

To execute your action plan you will need to set aside time for post-course reflection, practice, discussion with others and further learning. Make sure you are disciplined with the use of this time because the old adage applies: “use it or lose it”, which is not something you want to happen with your new project management skills.

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