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Why PRINCE2's Approach to Quality is Flawed

~ By David Hinde

A thumb pointing down signifying negative emotion

PRINCE2 has many excellent ideas for project management, but I think its approach to quality is at best weak and at worst entirely inappropriate. My first gripe is that PRINCE2 redefines what the word quality usually means. My dictionary defines it as a "degree or standard of excellence, especially a high standard." If I've bought myself a quality car, I've probably purchased something like a Mercedes or Rolls Royce. PRINCE2's definition is something that is "fit for purpose" of satisfying stated needs. So for example, according to PRINCE my Landrover is a quality product. It's not luxurious but, as a keen skier, I can use it to haul equipment to the Alps each year. This re-definition of the word quality often confuses people, before they even look at the detail.

At the beginning of a PRINCE2 project you agree with the customer a set of measurable attributes about the products you will build. These are called Acceptance Criteria. Later, when you deliver the products, the client will only sign them off if they conform to these criteria. This assumes that the client knows what they want. They often don't. When Henry Ford was designing the Model T car he was asked why he didn't consult with potential users. He replied, If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses!

Users' not knowing what they want is often a problem in groundbreaking projects. People in the early 1900s knew they wanted to get places faster, but their idea on how to achieve this was limited by their own experience. Another example is the project to create the iPhone. Steve Jobs did not consult with potential users. Instead he went through many iterations of building prototypes, playing with them, deciding what worked and what didn't, until he ended up with the final design.

So this idea in PRINCE2's Quality Theme, that you can simply ask a group of potential users at the outset, to specify what products they want, doesn't always work. PRINCE2 defines a project as a piece of work that is unique. The more unique and groundbreaking it is, the more difficult it becomes to define exactly what is required at the end. Project work is a creative process. Sometimes it takes trial and error and a certain amount of vision to create something the end users will eventually be satisfied with.

As I said at the outset, PRINCE2 has many useful ideas. But the Quality Theme should be used with caution. In groundbreaking projects, they can hinder the creation of products the client is going to be satisfied with.

David Hinde is a recognised expert in management development and executive coaching in the UK. He founded Orgtopia in 2003 and since has helped many organisations such as the BBC, Citigroup and the British Army to develop and unlock their leadership and management potential.


Comments (2)

Topic: Why PRINCE2's Approach to Quality is Flawed
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9th September 2016 3:53am
Bruce McGregor (Sydney) says...
PRINCE2 approach to quality stands on its own. Obviously any project outcome must determine what quality it wants. This article is subjective to the end resul, which goes straight for the "Rolls Royce" but does not look at the cost of the Rolls Royce.

In PRINCE2, I have always taken quality as a platform of acceptance that must consider the following questions which are critical factors to the desired result:

  1. What is the current solution?
  2. What are the desired solution/s? There is bound to be more than one.
  3. What is the cost to move to the chosen solution?
At this point the customer can figure whether it has the budget to afford the transition to the chosen solution. If there is enough money to afford the "Rolls Royce" then that becomes an option. If not, then one must go with best practice.

Quality will never mean opting for an "el cheapo" solution that will run its usefulness before the cycle end date.

PRINCE2 is clear on the subject of quality in as far as the solution fits the Triangle: "Time, Cost, Scope". Applying the triple constraint "Risk, Resources, Quality" assures that the expense should justify the solution.

I do not believe that every business on a whim will just throw money at a "Roll Royce" solution because everybody knows that time is the great enemy and every solution has a limited lifespan.

In IT, your redundancy is five years before technology advancement starts impacting on your solution. In construction is takes much longer.
29th May 2015 10:18pm
Kelly Atkinson says...
I think your assertions in this article are quite subjective. I find PRINCE2's approach to the 'quality' theme to be refreshing in that I use it to remind users that they have to continually think about defining what they want out of a product. You're right that they may not know what they want right now, but they can start with something broad, and refine over time using change control.

I do think your poke that the word "quality" is inappropriately redefined in PRINCE2 isn't based on sound thinking. "Quality" = "degree of excellence" and so if you have high expectations, you expect _high_ quality - not just the single word 'quality' by itself, which is usually a lazy way of saying "high quality". "Low quality" is a valid concept, too.

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