Tanner James Blog


Ray Ahern

Stepping from the Training Room to the Real World

Tanner James trains and consults in a number of proven, best-practice approaches to programme and project management.

In our training we present models that often represent an “ideal world” and sometimes, when training, I get comments along the lines that ‘implementing these approaches would never (fully) work in my department, because …’

There are many reasons why implementation can be difficult for a middle manager, and there are probably even more ways of breaking through those barriers.  I’ll deal with three that I think are the most common:

Lack of knowledge

It may surprise you but senior executives don’t always know everything!  Many senior executives in Canberra have heard of PRINCE2, Agile and MSP but often their knowledge is patchy and sometimes they can even have strange notions like assuming that these ideas are mutually exclusive.

Fortunately this is the easiest problem to start breaking down.  Tanner James provides expert, targeted Executive Briefings for Senior Executives who find themselves cast into senior project and programme roles.  These briefings are very powerful for starting executives on a knowledge journey and setting them up to start operating effectively in those, often unfamiliar, roles.

Tanner James includes a free Executive Briefing with all in-house courses, but they can be organised separately for any organisation.  As they are typically between 2 and 4 hours duration, they are an effective use of Senior Executive time and money.

Passive resistance

Often Senior Executives, because of their role, will believe they know how to fulfil programme and project roles effectively.  This can make them resistant to new ideas.  In the absence of an Executive Briefing, I typically suggest implementation by ‘stealth’ at first.  That is, the practices in MSP and PRINCE2 (for example) are valuable and applicable in any environment.  Sometimes the answer is to ‘manage upwards’ and provide best-practice examples to those executives.  I’ve often had executives who started out resistant and later become big supporters of best-practice once they’ve seen good examples.

We offer one-hour free support from your trainer for every course participant – perhaps one good use of that would be to seek advice on an example you’ve prepared for the boss.

Active resistance 

Sometimes Senior Executives will actively say things like “we’re not going to use PRINCE2 here”. 

Usually that’s because they’ve had a bad experience, and usually that is with large documents, poorly formed Project or Programme Boards or other amateurish implementation.  Hopefully you’ve come away from your course understanding that using best-practice shouldn’t result in any of these things.

My response to the problem is typically to do the same as I do for more passive resistance but I won’t  reveal the approach I’ve used until after the Executive says something like “hey that was a really good Project Plan”.  Often a good example will run so counter to their previous experiences, that the Executive will seek more information.

Doing a great example may require a more help than the one-hour freebie, but that might be a good place to start your thinking.

Tanner James provides an Implementation Checklist with every Foundation course and includes a free Implementation Workshop with every in-house course so that we can help you work out solutions to whatever problems you’re facing.  

If you’re on one of our courses (or even working with our consultants) and have these nagging doubts, please raise them and we can help you to design an effective solution.  We’re even happy to have a chat if you’re not one of our existing clients.

Would you like some Benefits with that?

John Howarth


“Hello, welcome to the ICT area, may I take your order please?”

          “Hi there, I’d like a large digital transformation, with big data, plenty of agile, and I want it now”

“Would you like some Benefits with that?”

          “Errr, sure, why not – get someone to cook them up and put them in a separate wrapping”

Unfortunately this is a prevalent attitude in Australian government department’s and agencies today.  Does that statement sting?  Read on…

The Black Art of Benefits Management

Unfortunately some people like to make things complicated, and benefits haven’t escaped their clutches.  Sure, there is some considerable thinking behind benefits management.  There is also considerable thinking behind financial management – yet people have no problem with the concept of simple procurement or buying something on a credit card.  However when it comes to benefits, people love to complicate things.

Have you ever experienced any of the following:

  • A consultant who professes to be a benefits management specialist explaining why you don’t understand what benefits are?
  • A large firm or company spending months producing benefits documentation that would be sufficient to paper the walls of a good size home?
  • A corporate area that insists all benefits must be financial and anything can be translated into a hard dollar value?
  • A PMO who have created a template-driven benefits management framework that no-one else can understand?

It really doesn’t need to be this way.

Back to Benefits Basics

A benefit is a measurable improvement resulting from an outcome perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders.  In other words, benefits are why you do the project – expressed the way users want, using words they understand.  No clear benefits?  Then don’t embark upon, or continue, the project.

How do you ensure the project stays focussed on benefits?  Create a simple Benefits Management Approach:

  • Check users and business areas really understand and own benefits – that they haven’t just nodded politely in an endless series of externally facilitated workshops.
  • Identify what actions are required to ensure benefits are likely to be achieved.
  • Identify how the realization of each benefit will be measured (and capture the current baseline).
  • Agree the timing of benefits reviews – ideally during the project at stage boundaries.

These words are taken from the 2017 edition of the PRINCE2® Manual, which now includes creation of the Benefits Management Approach as part of refining the Business Case.  So if your current project Business Case is simply a vehicle used to secure funding commitment, it’s time to think again – be authentic about the ownership, definition and realisation of benefits.

Want to know more about a simple approach to benefits?

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.

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.

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.

This is what happens when SES officers speak freely about programme management or project management

John Howarth


In my last blog I wrote about the one simple thing most SES officers get wrong with programmes and projects: they don’t think about programmes and projects as organisations.  (Read that blog here.)

This observation generated quite a lot of interest, and so this month I thought I’d share with you what happens when SES officers are given the opportunity to speak freely about programme management or project management.

“SES officers speak freely?  Yeah right!  Like that’ll ever happen…”

If that was your reaction, and you wouldn’t be the first person I have known to react that way, then I would invite you to (re)open your mind.  Senior executives are humans like the rest of us, and they have thoughts and feelings that are not necessarily evident simply from observing what they say and what they do.  If you have the capacity to develop trust, respect and rapport with your SES, you are far more likely to have an effective engagement with them where they say what’s on their mind.

Assuming the pre-requisites are in place for an authentic conversation to occur, let’s examine what happens when the door closes and the conversation begins.

How do you start an executive conversation about programme/project management?

Hello, my name is John and I’m here to tell you all about PRINCE2.  It has seven principles, seven themes and seven processes.  I’m going to explain all those to you and we’ll look at the templates as well.”  That is about the worst possible opening line I can imagine.  It might be somewhat exaggerated, but it is painfully close to some of the internal presentations I have witnessed.  What is the single most common flaw?  Launching into an explanation of {insert PPM topic of your choice here} without first establishing any context or ascertaining what those present want to get out of the discussion.

What is the right way to start the conversation?  Assuming you have dealt with “meeting hygiene” factors such as how long the discussion will take, introductions etc, how about inviting each participant to briefly address:

  • What brought them to this conversation;
  • What programme/project management means to them;
  • What experience they have in programme/project management;
  • Topics they’d like to cover in the discussion; and
  • What they want to take away from the discussion.

If you have limited time, a killer question which I picked up from an executive coach years ago, and still use to this day, is:  “what would make this conversation most useful for you?”

The things SES officers are usually seeking

Context.  It is no use launching into the specifics of MSP, PRINCE2, P3M3, your framework, why benefits management is important etc etc, if you haven’t first established where the discussion fits into their world.  For example, most SES discussions touch upon the concept of “run the business versus change the business” very early on.

Purpose.  Before explaining the “what” of programme management or project management, you need to understand the “why”.  Did you notice I didn’t say explain the why?  Your job is to understand why the topic at hand is relevant and useful to the executive(s) you are speaking with.  This requires you to have a practical understanding of their role and their challenges, so you can correctly position your PPM topic as a means to assist.  If you can confidently identify with and articulate the problems they have, and explain why programme management or project management can help address those problems, you have a firm foundation for a productive conversation.

Mental Model.  SES officers are busy people, they have to cover a vast array of topics under great time pressures.  Most likely they don’t have the time or inclination to absorb the detail, so you won’t be thanked for droning on about detailed terminology definitions and nuances for hours on end.  They are seeking a simple mental model that allows them to relate the disciplines you are intimately familiar with to the context and challenges they face.

Practicalities, Problems and Perceptions.  Theory is fine, but you need to know how to make these things work in practice, and how to address known problems and perceptions.  Some examples:

  • We don’t have time for this;
  • We have enough templates to sink a ship and they don’t add any value;
  • Qualifications don’t prove anything;
  • This is important but my staff can handle it on my behalf;
  • Our superiors have said we’re not going to have one of those; and the timeless classic…
  • We don’t do it like that here.

What happens

If you start the conversation effectively, understand what is being sought, and know your PPM back-to-front, then in my experience what happens is a very powerful conversation.  Lightbulb moments.  Ah ha moments.  Engagement.  Understanding.  Excitement even.

It is hardly ever about the detail.  It is virtually always about the fundamentals, for example:
  • Using a role-based temporary decision-making structure that cuts across organisational boundaries.
  • Effectively engaging people from the real business areas.
  • How to avoid death-by-template.
  • Making benefits and products real.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there, and save the rest for future blogs.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about engaging SES about programme management or project management, 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 will the Prime Minister’s vision mean for programme and project management in the APS?

John Howarth

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

I was delighted to attend the Prime Ministers address to the APS in the Great Hall of Parliament House two weeks ago, and before I say anything else I must congratulate IPAA for arranging such a tremendous event.  It is impressive that over 13 secretaries and heads of agencies attended.

In his address the PM shared his vision for a 21st century Public Service.  There were over 800 people present, so there will be over 800 individual interpretations on what this means.

Here is my interpretation of what the PM’s vision will mean for programme and project management in the APS.

Key elements of the Prime Minister’s vision – transformation and leadership skills

The PM said that we live in a time of rapid transformation, and that plenty is changing for the APS.

He spoke at length about digital transformation, saying that it must be at the heart of government and therefore must be whole of government.  He said that “we must all commit to learn about the technology at our disposal.  That is non-negotiable.”  He spoke highly of the Digital Transformation Office and encouraged everyone to familiarise themselves with its work and to engage with the DTO.

The PM spoke about there being plenty of technology, plenty of imagination, but not enough technological imagination.  He invited everyone to open their minds and be bold.

Referring to the Prime Ministers Awards for Excellence in the Public Service, he observed that it takes a high standard of leadership planning and governance to bring ideas to fruition, but the results are outstanding.  The PM said he wants to see more of this within the APS.

The PM quoted directly from the State of the Service Report released last year by the Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd when referring to capability gaps in the use of technology, training and leadership due to the rapid and exhaustive nature of the changes we face.

The PM said “I want to encourage each of you to take stock of your leadership skills and see where you can improve, and I mean each and every member of the APS because I expect leadership to be shown at every level”.

I think it is also worth noting that in his opening remarks Dr Parkinson as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said:

We provide the government with an engine room to conceive, test and implement ideas”…”Yet, sadly, we are not as good as I think we can be or we need to be if we are to deliver what Australians expects of us.  This will be an ongoing priority for me as Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.”

A third-party view of Digital Government transformation

A recent Deloitte Access Economics report (available here) suggested that estimated new benefits of $20.5 billion can be achieved through digital government transformation.

The report acknowledged that there are many challenges facing digital transformation, and identified six main barriers to change in government:

  • Policy bottlenecks and bureaucratic inertia
  • Budget and capability constraints
  • Digital exclusion and divide
  • Lack of competition
  • Privacy and security
  • Transitioning government staff to new roles

The report included a recommendation that:

To encourage long-term digital transformation, business cases should allow agencies to offset agency savings against ICT investments (where they cannot already do so). In cases where this is not viable, government agencies can consider new forms of ICT project management and implementations that require lower specifications that are agile and innovative and lead to direct efficiency savings, which can be utilised to yield larger investments in the future.

A third-party view of government processes for implementing large programs and projects – (the Shergold Review)

Last month I wrote in my blog about the report “Learning from Failure”1 by Professor Peter Shergold AC, and I asked the question “How might the SES now learn from programme and project failure?”.  I will repeat just a few of the key points here.

The report made it clear that large government policy initiatives should be implemented as programmes and projects, and said:

  • As the public service fully commits itself to measuring results by outcomes, program management needs to be accorded far greater professional status.
  • Project and programme managers require minimum standards of competency and ongoing professional development.
  • The importance of formal qualifications should not be underestimated.  One of the best levers to mitigate risks associated with programme delivery is to have properly trained and certified practitioners.
  • Agencies need to be discerning consumers of the training products on the market, and access the best ones that can be tailored to APS processes

What the PM’s vision will mean for programme and project management in the APS

Putting all this together…

The Prime Minister is clearly committed to digital transformation.  There are huge benefits to citizens and huge benefits to government on offer.

The Prime Minister, the Australian Public Service Commissioner, the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet want the APS to improve their leadership skills in order to be able to implement policy well in a time of rapid transformation.

Professor Shergold has advised government that large government policy initiatives should be implemented as programmes and projects, and that this requires professional skills, formal qualifications and competence.

To me this means that programme management and project management disciplines should now be of great interest to all SES officers involved in policy implementation or digital transformation.  Each and every member of the APS must take stock of their leadership skills and see where they can improve – noting  those are the Prime Minister’s word, not mine.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about how you can improve programme and 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.

Digital Transformation - War or Peace

John Howarth


Unless you have been hiding under a rock recently, you will be aware that the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) was established on 1st July 2015.  Paul Shetler arrived as the new CEO shortly thereafter.  Just a couple of weeks into his new job and with the agency only officially 28 days old Paul gave a powerful speech at an Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) breakfast event.

Paul delivered a simple and compelling message about digital transformation in the APS:  people are online, the majority of people who try to use online government services face a problem, and therefore the APS must do better.  He went on to say that the opportunity to do so is immense, and that the way to approach things is to put users first, think big but start small, and deliver quickly.  He told the audience that Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

The digital transformation agenda and the messages delivered by Paul in his first speech seem straightforward and logical, and set-out an obvious direction that the APS must take.  Yet when you read commentary on the internet and talk to people in Canberra it is clear there are significant challenges lurking below the surface.


What’s the problem?

Actually, there are several problems.  Let’s consider the main ones.

People.  People do not act because something is straightforward and logical.  They do not do things because they have been told to do them.  People do things based on a complex mix of wants, needs, emotions and perceptions.  Much of the foundation for their decision-making comes from relationships.  Relationships that shape the data and information they notice and consider, the judgements they make, and the opinions they hold.

How we do things around here.  Canberra is a great City.  Of course, it isn’t really a City.  It’s a Country Town.  We all know each other.  We know how Government works, we know how the APS works, and we know how things really work.  Collectively speaking that is.  Individually this is a difficult place to grasp – I’ve lived here 25 years and I think I’m just about beginning to understand what I don’t understand.

Teams.  The modern public service is sufficiently complex that no one individual has the time or expertise to be across all the issues for a particular topic – be it a policy area, technology platform or process matter.  This means that work must be done in teams, and indeed in teams of teams.  Much depends on how teams are structured, and how they think and communicate – both internally and with other teams.

Framing.  What I mean by framing is how people look at the world.  Different people with different backgrounds and experiences will inevitably look at each situation with a different perspective from those around them.


I thought we were talking about digital transformation?

We are.  The point being that digital transformation is not about technology.  Technology is the exciting fun part where it’s easy to paint a picture of a digital future to which we should all rightly aspire.

The toughest challenges faced by the DTO, and all agencies involved in digital transformation, are not about technology.  They are about people, how we do things around here, teams and framing.

If the DTO is to be a successful catalyst for the digital transformation agenda it must build relationships – and many of them.  I don’t mean digital relationships - blogs, feeds etc- useful as they are, I mean real human relationships.  So while I applaud the “Engage” page on the DTO website, I am hoping to see all you DTO-ers drinking gallons of coffee in the far-flung reaches of Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Woden.

I am hoping there will be high-performing digital transformation teams that arise from coffee-shop conversations.  Teams within teams that are small and large at the same time.  Teams that span agency boundaries.  Teams made from people with different backgrounds and experiences that have established the trust required to underpin common vision, innovation and success.

I am hoping there will be a vigorous debate about how we can have the best of both worlds – the agile, fast-paced can-do digital world, and the more measured, structured, process-conscious and accountable world of the government bureaucracy.

War or peace?

I see a risk here, and the risk I see is that there could be war.  Old versus New, Digital versus Paper, Modern versus Ancient etc.  People could yell at each other about who is right and who is wrong.

I think that would be a shame, because I personally fully subscribe to the need for digital transformation in the APS, and believe that if we get it right Australia can become the best in the world at delivering digital public services.

I am just one person, with my own wants, needs, emotions and perceptions, who frames things based on my own background and experiences.  But with that caveat, I can say with my hand on my heart that I believe PRINCE2 Agile offers the opportunity for peace.

Let the conversations begin - peacefully!


Let's Chat About PRINCE2 Agile

Ray Ahern

As a PRINCE2 trainer for many years, I have often been asked whether you can use Agile delivery in a PRINCE2 project management environment.

I typically give the ‘short answer’ – ‘Very much so; in fact they are very well suited to one another’,

More often than not this has inspired lots of challenging questions about the apparent contradictions between the ‘control’ provided by PRINCE2 and the ‘freedom of expression’ provided by Agile delivery.  I think it’s not exaggerating to say some people see PRINCE2 as ‘ancient thinking’ and Agile as ‘modern thinking’.

I am often led to suggest that I could expand on my explanation if the participant was prepared to buy a bottle of (quality) chardonnay and we can chat for a few hours in front of a nice toasty fire, for I certainly see no contradiction.

Enter Kostas!

Quite recently I googled the word ‘Axelos’ – the owners of a new approach called PRINCE2 Agile - and turned up the name “Kostas Axelos (1924 to 2010)”.

From my limited readings, Kostas was a modern Greek philosopher who tried to reconcile the “ancient thinking” of Heraclitus with the “modern thinking” of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, and others in order to gain a new perspective on some of the problems of Marxism during his time. Kostas engaged with contemporary thinking and the emerging global world by seeking to discover the "unseen horizon encircling all things" (1964), further refining his method as a ‘continuous wandering through the splintered "wholeness" that surrounds contemporary human beings(1) .

Essentially he recognised that what appeared to be contradictions were not necessarily contradictions at all.  It drew me to wonder if Kostas liked chardonnay.  I have a feeling I’d like him, but I digress!

As the Chardonnay flows

For those now enjoying a Chardonnay, or a hot chocolate if you prefer, or sitting at work now thinking about warm fires, I thought I might outline why PRINCE2 and Agile have always been well suited.

The ideal management environment sees Executives who lay out the direction and then trust the people at the coal face to do what is required.  The Executives ensure that they are well informed without excessive interference with the work at hand.  Good executives see their role as facilitating effective delivery by setting direction and removing barriers.

In return those doing the work undertake to keep Executives informed and to raise any killer problems before they kill!  The workers are encouraged to use their skills and experience to deliver the best solution.

Such a world of trust encourages common vision, innovation and success.

PRINCE2 and Agile approaches share all of these underpinning aims.  There is no contradiction to be found between the approaches at this level.  If there are contradictions they are only to be found in the mechanics of implementation.  The relationship at the philosophical level is the thing that naturally binds the two approaches.

Now that relationship has been formalised with clear guidance on how to use Agile delivery approaches within a PRINCE2 environment and how to best establish use of PRINCE2 to support agile delivery. 

Axelos Launches PRINCE2 Agile™

Axelos (remember them?) has formalised that relationship by launching its latest best practice product, PRINCE2 Agile™.

PRINCE2 Agile is primarily targeted at organisations that have implemented PRINCE2 to at least some degree.  It is ideal for organisations looking to take advantage of Agile delivery practices or those who currently use Agile and wish to formalise the linkages to their PRINCE2 Project Management framework.

The good news is that, in Australia, most government departments and many successful businesses have already invested in PRINCE2 and many are experimenting with a range of Agile approaches so are well placed to take advantage of PRINCE2 Agile.

PRINCE2 Agile is not a substitute for PRINCE2, nor is it an ‘alternative’ to Agile.  PRINCE2 Agile is an adjunct to both which describes how to use Agile approaches within the PRINCE2 method.  The PRINCE2 Agile Guide positions PRINCE2 as providing core Governance and Project Management functions and Agile as providing the product delivery approach.  It then focuses on blending the two.

The Guide examines each of the seven themes of PRINCE2 and answers a raft of questions that arise when blending Agile and PRINCE2, such as how to ‘blend and weave’ the governance provided by a Project Board with the innovation provided by self-organising delivery teams of Agile.  It also explores what needs to be agreed in advance and what can be left to innovation during delivery.

PRINCE2 Agile shows very effectively how the philosophies of PRINCE2 and Agile are not contradictory at all when we come to understand the intentions behind each. 

The Guide also addresses the process model of PRINCE2 and highlights how a range of Agile approaches might be used to fulfil the expectations of the seven PRINCE2 processes.  After all, PRINCE2 has always been clear that the processes must be tailored to suit the environment.  PRINCE2 Agile simply outlines a range of approaches that can be used in an Agile environment to meet that need.

There is quite a lot of focus within the guide on the most common Agile techniques such as Kanban and Scrum.  It puts such techniques in context in both a theoretical and practical sense. 

The Guide pays substantial attention to Agile concepts such as Rich Communication and User Stories.  It also introduces the ‘Agilometer’ that helps determine risks associated with introducing Agile and approaches to deal with those risks.

PRINCE2 Agile fills a void that has been obvious to many practitioners for a long time.  Hopefully it will help to dispel many of the myths surrounding both PRINCE2 and Agile.  PRINCE2 Agile has been one of the most anticipated releases from the Axelos product suite (which includes PRINCE2, ITIL, P3M3 and Managing Successful Programmes).  I don’t think it will disappoint.

Tanner James will be running FREE Introduction Sessions on PRINCE2 Agile. more information can be viewed here.

Ray Ahern is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with Tanner James Management Consultants.  He was one of the first PRINCE2 Trainers accredited in Australia and has vast experience delivering and consulting to projects ranging in value from $10,000 to $25 billion.  He has worked with hundreds of projects, both ICT and non ICT, and has particular expertise in the Defence-Aerospace domain.  Ray is an avid wine collector and prefers a rich, buttery style of chardonnay but is averse to over-oaking of wine.

Why i Don't Care for Risk Theory

Matt Overton

“Risk, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again,” as Edwin Starr never sang.

But, a bit like insurance, risk is one of those things that you wish you’d paid attention to after the fact. And it is a vital component of project and programme management regardless of the mental model you bring to the subject.

From the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) side of the house (and influenced by the PMBOK Guide), risk is a mandated core unit in BSB51415 Diploma of Project Management in the form of BSBPMG517 Manage project risk. For BSB41515 Certificate IV in Project Management Practice, it’s a Group A elective unit (BSBPMG415 Apply project risk-management techniques).

From AXELOS’ perspective, it’s a (governance) theme in MSP and PRINCE2 and influences its respective principles. Risk – or rather its management – can be a significant reason in your justification for setting up a P3O and the risk role can provide your organization with functional expertise that might be shared at the project, programme and portfolio levels. It’s a process perspective in the P3M3 framework also.

Risk is also an ever-present component in ANAO Better Practice Guides, among them Planning and Approving Projects – an Executive Perspective: setting the foundation for results, Commonwealth of Australia, 2010, and Successful Implementation of Policy Initiatives, Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. (One of my axioms is that they might be better practices, but what argument could you possibly advance not to follow government-endorsed advice?) So, rather than what is it good for, maybe the question would be better articulated as: why should risk matter to you, the practitioner?

The answer is: because you need to do something about it. This component was writ large in the Report of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (Commonwealth of Australia, 2014). Chapter 14 detailed the lessons learned; along with addressing the capacity of Commonwealth agencies and staff to undertake projects and programmes (section 14.2), emphasis was paid to the importance of risk (section 14.7). In particular, it pointed to the significance of having a functioning risk management process and for staff to be able to use the process.

And what about risk’s sometimes unloved and neglected cousin, issue? While I’m sure (I hope!) we all know the theoretical difference between a risk and an issue, in practice I don’t think it matters. I have been asked countless times whether you should have a combined or separate approach to risks and issues. My stock answer is: I don’t mind. I’d like to believe that your delegate feels the same way. The requirement is to have something; the unit of specification (separate? combined?) can be managed and decided at the task level rather than the escalated level. That said, another of the conclusions from the HIP Report (section 14.7.4) was that risk is holistic. Rather than it being the domain – or for the protection – of senior officials and the Minister, or for reputational and political purposes, risk impacts policy, business-as-usual and projects, and all of those people who are involved in these areas.

Accordingly, accepting this advice on face value, you should forget about which flavour of project or programme management philosophy you prefer. You need to ignore the delineation of whether the item under discussion would be better located in the risk management strategy rather than in the risk management plan. Instead, your approach to risk should focus on something that is usable, flexible and extensible, and at an appropriate level of specificity for the project/programme team, management and corporate governance. Far better to have something that is used and flawed (and can be improved) rather than a product that is robust, complicated and sits on the shelf. My view is that while it is great to have a comprehensive risk strategy, I would trade off some of that ‘great’ to have a good – think functional – risk management process that everyone knows and, even better, has adopted. Then you can join it up to the rest of your project and programme management framework as your maturity increases.

So, I started off opining that, for me, risk didn’t matter. Of course, it does, but more in practice than it does in theory. As a practitioner, trainer and educator, I’m more far more interested in the practicality of application (and response!) than I am in an esoteric discussion of perspective and approach. Perhaps that’s the lesson to learn in preparation for when your delegate asks you how confident you are of managing, mitigating and recovering from the situation in which you find yourself. Good in theory, better in practice...

Click here to access Tanner James’ collection of templates, which includes examples of a Risk Management Strategy, Issue Resolution Strategy and Risk Register and Issues Log for MSP, and a Risk Management Strategy and Issue Report for PRINCE2.

Process maps, explaining how risk and issue management fits in to both MSP and PRINCE2, along with their supporting documents, may be found here.

Matt Overton is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with Tanner James Management Consultants. He has spent the last 20 years delivering risky projects and programmes in the UK, the USA and Australia. Matt is an AXELOS MSP Accredited Trainer and PRINCE2 Registered Practitioner. He is an accredited trainer and assessor in the Diploma of Project Management and Certificate IV in Project Management Practice under the Australian Qualifications Framework. He welcomes feedback to the issues (pardon the pun) he’s raised and invites you to suggest subjects for future consideration.

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”??

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