25 May 2011

Project Governance by the Prince

Posted by Paul Atkin

The Organization Theme and Governance by the Prince

“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Any modern project manager will sympathise with these sentiments yet they were written 500 years ago by Nicolo Machiavelli in his self-help book for Italian rulers;  The Prince.

Machiavellis Prince

Prince version 1. The original Project Manager's guide?

Written after Machiavelli’s, arrest, torture and banishment from Florence (aka ‘a negative project review’), this ‘Prince’ is his attempt to please his sponsor; the Duke, Lorenzo de’ Medici, by explaining how rulers should focus on getting things done, whatever the cost or methods employed.

At this point you may be thinking ‘how little have things changed.’

Machiavelli wrote more about modern project management than he probably knew!  Today’s projects, whether in Canada, Italy or somewhere else, usually have lesser penalties for failure – but the stakeholders can be just as demanding as the Medici – and are probably more numerous.  Today, to govern effectively, a project manager must recognize the different competing interests which can affect or influence the project and work out how to get them round the same table and working together.

PRINCE version 2 achieves this goal perfectly with its Organization Theme, which is closely linked to the Principle of Defined Roles and Responsibilities.

PRINCE2’s Organization Theme starts by defining that the project has 3 primary stakeholder interests.

  1. Business – think of this as our ‘Prince’ – representing the interests of the organization and requiring a project which provides value for money and benefits to the corporate body.
  2. Users – those who will use the products of the project
  3. Suppliers – those who create the products of the project

In this context, Machiavelli nailed it when he wrote; “A prince ought to have two fears, one from within, on account of his subjects (the Users?) the other from without, on account of external powers (the Suppliers?)(The Prince)

These interests are then represented on the PRINCE2 Project Board, which is made up of the following roles:

  1. Executive – representing the business interest
  2. Senior User – representing the user interest
  3. Senior Supplier – representing the supplier interest

This means that all the 3 interests are included and involved in the governing body of a PRINCE2 project.  Or, as Machiavelli himself put it:

“…when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check” (Discourses on Livy)

BTW, Machiavelli did _not_ say “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”  That was Michael Corleone

In a PRINCE2 project there should only be 1 Executive but there can be more than 1 Senior User or Senior Supplier although it is advisable not to have too many as this may turn the Project Board into a talking shop rather than getting decisions made quickly.

The other roles within the PRINCE2 Project Management Team structure are:

  • Project Assurance – Provides the Project Board with a second opinion and advises and guides the other members of the team. Project Assurance is the responsibility of the Project Board although the may delegate it to other individuals.
  • Project Manager – Runs the project on behalf of the Project Board on a daily basis. There can be only 1 Project Manager in a PRINCE2 project.
  • Change Authority – This is an optional role. Making decisions on change is the responsibility if the Project Board but they may delegate some of that authority to other individuals. These individuals would then make up the role of the Change Authority.
  • Project Support – The function that provides administrative support tot the project. This may be separate individuals or if the organization has a Project Support Office. If either of these are not available the role will be performed by the Project Manager.
  • Team Manager – Manages the work of the specialist teams creating the projects products. If we do not have separate Team Managers the Project Manager will fulfil the role. There can be any number of Team Managers in a PRINCE2 project.

PRINCE2 provides template role descriptions for all these individuals and training courses give you the chance to practice creating project teams.  And no blood needs to be spilt!

Prince Writer Machiavelli

Nicolo Machiavelli 1469 - 1527.

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