PRINCE2 for schools (or, why don’t schools have project managers?)

I spent last week studying for and taking my Foundation and Practitioner PRINCE2 examinations. Programme and project management is an expected part of the world I now work; in fact, funding and facilitating projects too risky for institutions to take on individually is pretty much what JISC does.

PRINCE2 logo

PRINCE 2 is a project management method standing for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. It’s generic and applicable to everything from painting and decorating your house through to the machinations of multinational corporations. Granted, at first the rather abstract concepts seem needlessly convoluted (‘dis-benefits’ anyone?) but the commonality of language and ability to tailor a workable organizational structure make sense in the end.

What I can’t understand is why most schools shun formal project management methods? More than any almost any other type of organization, schools have to deal with constant change: personnel, curricula, buildings – so many different elements! Whilst it would be overkill (and the cost prohibitive) to have everyone within an organization PRINCE2-ceritified, I would definitely recommend the following:

Senior & Middle Leadership – full PRINCE2 Practitioner status

Teachers, Learning Support Assistants and Site staff – PRINCE2 Foundation status

If tied to professional development activities, the 7 PRINCE2 principles could really make a difference to organizational efficiency:

  1. Continued business justification
  2. Learn from experience
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities
  4. Manage by stages
  5. Manage by exception
  6. Focus on products
  7. Tailor to suit the project environment

The three I’ve highlighted would in particular benefit schools and make them much less frustrating (and much more productive) places to work. To explain those three:

  • Continued business justification – at the end of each stage the Executive (usually be the Headteacher) decides if the ‘business case’ is strong enough to continue the project.
  • Defined roles and responsibilities – project roles are based upon the ability of the person’s role within the school to allocate resources and carry out the task (and not on personalities).
  • Manage by exception – once each stage plan is agreed with specified tolerances, the project manager gets on with it, only raising exceptions to the Project Board if the tolerances (time, cost, scope) are exceeded.

I’ll explain more about PRINCE2 if there’s enough interest. I may not be qualified to give the training, but I am qualified to write explanatory blog posts. 😉

20 Comments

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  1. Hi Doug,

    I’d certainly be interested in some more info. I did have a quick look at their website following some of your tweets, but didn’t quite get what it was all about.

    I couldn’t agree more about your statement that schools need to be better at project managing. Having moved the other way (I worked in HE for four years before retraining as a teacher) it’s one of the things that most bemuses me about how schools are run, particularly the way in which many people seem to be promoted without training in these kind of skills.

    Good stuff.

  2. Great! Well, as I say, I’m no authority, but I’m happy to share what I know.
    :-)

  3. LOL! Thanks, Stuart. I had that on my desk for 18 months before switching to
    my current, “Quality isn’t Job One. Being totally frickin’ amazing is Job
    One.” ;-)

    Regarding PRINCE2, if it’s tied to performance reviews, targets and
    committees/teams, it’s got to work – hasn’t it? Perhaps this will be one of
    the positive outcomes of more business-focused Academies?

  4. I am a Business Director in a large secondary school and am on the second cohort studying for the Advanced Diploma in School Business Management run by the National College. This programme includes (among other things) training in Project and Programme Management and its application in the participant’s school or group of schools. Part of the role of the Advanced School Business Manager/Director is to bring new ways of thinking and working to school leadership.

  5. Got to agree, I came across project management though not Prince many years ago and it always seemed to me to be a sane way of making sense of the normally chaotic school environment.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you Doug. My wife is PRINCE2 qualified and when she told me about the content my first thoughts were about how this would be useful is schools.

    The problem in many schools is that many people who control the budgets have to see the advantage before they commit the funds and this is not always apparent with project management … If it ain’t broke etc. PRINCE2 is not cheap and when you add in the cover costs then it can be quite steep for a school. Of course this is justified by improved productivity, less wasted resource but if the powers that be don’t think there’s a problem then it’s difficult to justify this.

    Finally, it WILL change the balance of power in a relationship and some people aren’t always comfortable with that. A great tweeter once brought my attention to this [malware link removed] which I think is quite relevant.

    Stuart

    ps I would love to go on a PRINCE2 course!

  7. Hi Doug.

    I’m interested in PM stuff. I used MS Project a few years ago but it only seemed to make sense if you get a team using it together. Just an organisational tool otherwise.

    Therefore, I would like to know, in your opinion,

    1. How does prince2 differ to MS Project (if you’ve ever seen it?) ?
    2. Can team members use it via an introduction from a project manager – i.e. can you train one and get others active on it?
    3. Is there a tipping point on the life of a project whereby prince comes into it’s own? EG a project lasting one term – is it worthwhile setting it up etc.?
    4. A wider question: Having seen it in action, would it be the sort of thing you could apply to SIPs or DIPs?

    Dai

    • Hi Dai,

      1. PRINCE2 is a project management methodology – an *approach* rather than a
      product.
      2. Yes, I’m sure you could do that, but I’d recommend that people go through
      the Foundation route.
      3. I see what you mean. The methodology is supposed to be generic and
      applicable to any situation. I suppose by the time it becomes second nature
      within your organization you’d apply it to pretty much anything.
      4. I’m not widely experience in PRINCE2, but I think that it would be a good
      thing to get people singing from the same hymn sheet. Especially if it’s
      part of both CPD *and* performance management.

      As Ewan McIntosh and others have subsequently pointed out on Twitter, there
      are other project management methodologies available. I suppose my main
      point is that schools should adopt one – *any* one! ;-)

  8. This is really interesting Doug. As you, I think there is a lot to learn here for schools. Quite a number of the frustrating issues that come up in schools seem to stem from the fact that we are not explicit about issues such as the ones you highlight. An overview of PRINCE2 would be really valuable, particularly how you think it relates to schools.

  9. In noticing that most of the people who comment on your posts are men, I just wondered what the gender demographic of PRINCE 2 trained people looked like?

    • I’m not sure – what’s your point? We have the same issue with educational technology, don’t we? ;-)

      • My point is (and it seems dangerous to say it in a week when there’s been so
        much about equality legislation and how it trumps everything else), is that
        I was wondering if PRINCE 2 training is more of a mannish thing and that
        teaching, especially in primary schools where I work, is more of a womanish
        thing. We have lots of conversations in our staff room about the differences
        between men and women in terms of how we each work to get something done. Or
        maybe it’s nothing to do with gender – just the type of people who work in
        school tend to be people-focused and (I’m assuming) PRINCE 2 lends itself to
        more task-focused people.

        Just wondering is all.

  10. Hi
    I work in education in Australia and am writng a paper titled
    “A project management approach to career development in secondary schools” I was told by a friend about Prince2 and am very interested in hearing from people in schools who do use project managemet appraoches in schools or currently use Prince2 in schools. Are there educators out there doing this? Are there any good websites I could look at, I am looking for someone to point me in the right direction.

  11. Hi Doug

    I work in a college and am doing the PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner course now. I’ll be looking to see how this works in practice, if I pass and can get the college to adopt the principles that is.

    The education industry definitely needs some kind of formal PM structure. Bouncing around from one crisis to the next whilst implementing change is de-facto at the moment and I’m fed up with it!

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