PRINCE2 7: the quality practice – “Ready, fire, aim”
Brad Bigelow – co-author, PRINCE2 7
Product orientation has always been a focus for PRINCE2: offering assurance that projects will deliver what customers need and obtain the desired benefits.
This makes the quality practice within the method indispensable: focused equally on the specification, development and approval of a project’s products and the necessary management elements.
If you took quality away from a project, then what would be the point? In PRINCE2 7, the presence and purpose of quality hasn’t changed, nor should it. However, the practice has been improved.
From a “ready, aim, fire” approach to “ready, fire, aim”
Previously in PRINCE2, there was – in the quality practice – a heavy emphasis on documenting needs up front.
However, when creating product descriptions as the reference point for developing a quality approach, it is subject to human error. We know from experience that humans tend to be poor at forecasting the future because of cognitive biases: being overly optimistic and/or overly pessimistic about the cost of loss or backing out of an activity.
The tendency for project managers to think they could “document their way to success” has been a criticism of PRINCE2. The new edition embraces the “ready, aim, fire” approach, which involves focusing hard on what will be delivered based on customer requirements, acting, and then evolving and clarifying requirements in a controlled approach through change control.
Today, Agile methods offer one example of how this paradigm is changing: instead, a “ready, fire, aim” approach prioritizes action without depending so much on the completeness of the documentation early on in a project.
The quality practice in PRINCE2 7: adapting to today's project/product demand
The longer projects run, the more they are subject to change. This means adapting to change in a controlled way as things become clearer.
So in that context, and with the idea that change control needs to be included from a quality standpoint, PRINCE2 7’s quality chapter provides a more practical approach.
As already alluded to, it’s less about documentation upfront but creating a framework to clarify what’s going on as you move through implementation. Therefore, quality is not just about testing and acceptance at the end of delivery but clarifying priorities and key requirements throughout the project lifecycle.
Users may have lots of needs and expectations from a project. But project management is still about management and there’s a point where requirements need to be documented and accepted as an agreement between customers, users and the project management team.
Consequently, the “Ready, fire, aim” approach is a control framework that deals with change throughout, rather than fixing scope at the beginning without recognizing what could change.
Adding a product register to the practice
By adding a product register to PRINCE2 7, the method provides a checklist of what the project will deliver and when these products will be inspected and accepted.
Most projects will have something informally resembling that. However, if you’re going to have quality best practice you need a point of reference, which also improves the process of closure in a project and is auditable.
What will project managers gain from the updated practice?
Having spent most of my time working with project managers and dealing with the practical aspects of their work, my aim in the revised quality practice was to help project managers do their job better.
Faced with a customer who wants to solve a problem – and expects a product to be fit for purpose in all circumstances – the project practitioner needs to collect all the information that will remove doubt and reduce the unstated or unknown expectations of that customer.
For example, a typical contractor framework will include a statement of work (the description of how a job will be done) and specifications (details of the products required). Therefore, knowing what the detailed specifications are – and whether they are about function or compliance – is vital to quality.
The more practical guidance in PRINCE2 7’s quality chapter helps the project manager by stressing the importance of a control framework that enables change while maintaining a focus on satisfying requirements.