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PRINCE2, Agile & Scrum - do they Mix?

Views of the leading agile project management experts presented by guest author Rex Gibson, Managing Director of Focus on Training.

Rex Gibson | 13 July 2015

Rex Gibson is Managing Director of Focus on Training. Focus is a provider of both PRINCE2 courses and Agile & Scrum training, partnering with most of the leading training and consultancy specialists in these fields.

PRINCE2, Agile & Scrum - do they Mix?

PRINCE2 Agile™

PRINCE2 is all about the structured management of projects in "controlled environments".

Agile and Scrum are all about flexible project execution in the face of fast changing market requirements and enabling technologies.

PRINCE2 is the most widely adopted methodology for major projects.

The majority of organisations now use Agile and Scrum techniques when it comes to systems development projects.

PRINCE2 helps organisations administer projects with the right degree of governance, communication and control.

Agile empowers project team members to take direct responsibility for delivery of workable solutions.

Must I choose one or the other?

Or do they mix?

I have asked leading agile project management experts what they think. They each have extensive experience of advising organisations, large and small. They each have deep knowledge of both traditional and agile project methods.

Peter MeaseyPeter Measey | CEO of Radtac

A certified Scrum Trainer and a PRINCE2 Practitioner, Peter works worldwide with numerous global organisations and has written many papers on Agile.

Must organisations choose between PRINCE2 and Agile?

The purpose of PRINCE2 is to provide a project management method that can be applied regardless of project scale, type or organisation. This is possible because PRINCE2 is principles based. There is nothing in the 7 PRINCE2 principles that enforces waterfall and nothing that prevents agile being implemented effectively.

One of the PRINCE2 Principles is "Tailor to suit the project environment". The assumption that PRINCE2 equals waterfall is erroneous.

But doesn't one approach compromise the other?

Implementation of delivery and governance frameworks is not about doing the framework perfectly. It's about using that framework in the most effective way that will work in the real world to improve delivery. If the business mandates the use of a project governance framework like PRINCE2 the most appropriate reaction should be to figure out how to make the different frameworks work together – then continually and consistently transform through to delivery and beyond.

So would you always advocate use of PRINCE2 to some degree?

No. Nor would I always advocate use of Agile. I am not a method fundamentalist. That leads to a negative focus on why other frameworks are wrong. Most method frameworks have something to offer. None is compulsory.

Allan KellyAllan Kelly

As a coder Allan realised he could fix code problems but saw that the more significant problems were what and how he was building. That led to an MBA, Product Management, Agile and two books.

You wrote an influential critique of PRINCE2 some years ago. Are you still opposed to PRINCE2?

I always recognised that PRINCE2 offers a solid framework for managing projects. However it’s a framework based on a set of assumptions that often do not apply. Some parts of PRINCE2 may be useful but in the Agile world things must be done differently.

So do you think Agile and PRINCE2 can be mixed?

It's the wrong question. It's more important to ask "Is it worth it?"

Mixing Agile and PRINCE2 can have significant cost; you may end up running two parallel project management approaches. But it will also create conflicts, what happens when they disagree?

The real question should be: "What is the benefit of mixing the two?"

Beyond cost do you see other constraints on blending Agile and PRINCE2?

If you have both a Project Manager and a Scrum Master it creates confusion among those doing the work, how is the project actually being managed?

Should they follow to the Agile philosophy of tackling risk head on and trusting in the team's ability to change to tackle problems. Or, should they seek to manage risks away and trust in the project manager to foresee and plan around problems.

Agile is very team focused while PRINCE2 is hierarchical and manager focused. Agile emphasises the simple and "do slightly less than you think is needed". PRINCE2 is complicated and perhaps erring on the side of over completeness.

Agile does deliver on schedule, it does provide control, it does create communication, it can be governed effectively. Sure it does these things differently but it does do them.

For me perhaps the biggest reason to not mix the two is that adding PRINCE2 strips Agile of many of the benefits it delivers. And if you want traditional style control, communication, governance, then why risk adding Agile to Prince?

Peter Measey and Allan Kelly have different perspectives on PRINCE2 and Agile. However, both recognise that there may be occasions when each can add value. Both emphasise the need to match project method to the project and organisational setting. Both steer towards empowered teams applying iterative techniques when it comes to project implementation.

The thorny question of how you retain the benefits of Agile or Scrum whilst working within a PRINCE2 project environment has been taken up by Keith Richards. PRINCE2 Agile from Axelos provides an introduction to a wide range of agile concepts and suggests how they can be integrated with PRINCE2.

For many PRINCE2 Practitioners who have watched the rise of Scrum and Agile with bemusement this manual will be a godsend. It explains the underlying principles of Agile. It's not simply aimed at software developers. It's not a new set of highly prescriptive project management processes. Whilst not promising an easy and standard solution, it does provide practical advice on how to harmonise processes, roles and project structures.

Keith RichardsKeith Richards | Founder of agileKRC

With over 30 years' experience in IT and project management Keith specialises in using agile approaches to improve the way organisations work. He was selected by Axelos as author for their latest best practice guidance, PRINCE2 Agile.

Keith takes the view that Agile is very wide ranging but mostly about product delivery

There is no project management in Scrum and there isn't supposed to be. Conversely PRINCE2 focuses on project management and direction. It allows delivery to take place however it needs to.

Most of Agile is a set of techniques. And there is no reason why many of those techniques cannot be used in a PRINCE2 environment. The bigger challenge is culture. In an organisation where PRINCE2 has been implemented poorly, the very concept of variable product scope can be difficult to embrace.

One of Keith's favourite analogies is the fighter aeroplane with short delta wings:

It's unable to fly other than through constant and automatic adjustments to its wing profile. It's very agile but it only works because there is precise governance and appropriate control.

PRINCE2 Agile manual

The recently published PRINCE2 Agile manual is over 300 pages long so we cannot do justice to it here other than sample a few salient extracts.

What to Fix and What to Flex?

PRINCE2 Agile is built on the concept of prioritising what is delivered. In PRINCE2 language this means applying flexible tolerances to the quality criteria and the scope of deliverables. The tolerances for time and cost however are fixed.

Fix and Flex diagram

The reason for this is that Agile accepts that change is inevitable.  There must be a response and this must be in a controlled way which protects the level of quality and does not compromise deadlines.

PRINCE2 Agile Behaviours

PRINCE2 incorporates a lot of definition of structured processes – each with its own set of inputs and outputs. PRINCE2 Agile adds a greater emphasis on behaviours.


Share information; make it visible; encourage openness


Motivated and empowered teams working closely together, and with the customer

Rich Communication

All means of communication are not equal. Keep face to face where possible but use a blended approach – each form of communication has its merits.

Self Organisation

Scrum teams often have a real “buzz” and it has a lot to do with being trusted to deliver with minimum external control


Learn from frequent iteration and feedback

ScrumMaster and Project Manager Roles

Common Agile guidance does not have a project manager role. "Agile delivery teams should be led and coached as opposed to managed". In practice there is always some degree of management structure and PRINCE2 Agile suggests options for integrating the Agile and PRINCE2 roles. For instance, if the Team Manager is highly collaborative and facilitates self organisation of the team he or she may be embedded within the Agile product delivery team.


Both PRINCE2 and Agile place emphasis on planning – they have many similarities but they also support different perspectives and time horizons.

Agile planning is often steered by experience or empiricism and is at the product delivery level where a series of Sprints predominate. Concepts such as “velocity” provide guidance as to rate of progress. This concept of empirical or emergent planning fits less well with a traditional mentality where a project plan with fully defined end date is the norm.

PRINCE2 is built to support any approach to a project and the tailoring of PRINCE2 Agile allows it to embrace the delivery focused planning approach whilst at the same time placing this within the total project context.

Project plan diagram

The issue of when and how to mix Agile and traditional project methods is central to project management best practice at the current time. I hope you are stimulated to explore the debate further. There’s no universal answer but there are well developed tools, processes and techniques to draw from. There’s scope for all project professionals to make a contribution in their own business context. A great first step would be to read the PRINCE2 Agile guidance and/or attend the new PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner course.

PRINCE2 Agile™ is a trade mark of AXELOS Limited. Images reproduced from the PRINCE2 Agile manual © Copyright AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

Rex Gibson

Rex Gibson

Managing Director of Focus on Training

Rex is Managing Director and co-founder of Focus on Training. Passionate about professional skills development, his specialisms include project management, agile, and business analysis. In his earlier career he successfully executed major business change and IT projects, and has managed international engineering companies with significant IT dependency.
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