What is the Difference Between PRINCE2 Agile and APMG Agile Project Management?

In this guest post, Simon Harris responds to a question from a reader about the two different Agile project management courses which are available.

What is the difference between PRINCE2 Agile and APMG Agile Project Management?

Well, an analogy would be if you were to compare two people in your family then their bones and organs are the same. Their heritage and their culture is shared and is different from that of someone from a far distant continent. Their personalities and preferences are separate but with many common beliefs. So it is with these two members of a divorced family.

A counterpoint would be that Agile Project Management (Agile PM) is based on DSDM Atern while PRINCE2 Agile “integrates any agile development approach you want”. Agile-PM’s inspiration traces roots from the 90’s while PRINCE2 Agile blends the 80’s and the noughties and 20-teen’s.

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Why Are They Similar? – A History Lesson in Authoring Methods

One reason for their similarity of the definition is that Project Management is in some senses a fairly closed set of steps, roles, techniques and tools and so is Agile. A second answer is both are the amalgamation by the same person (!) of agile and project management ideas and a third is that that person didn’t much change their mind about what matters between these manifestations of the same thing.

Would you recognise a piece of music by Handel, Dizzy Gilespie, The Stones or Adele by its style and structure? I’d guess so.

APMGDynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) was originally labelled as a Rapid Application Development approach. The RAD movement predates Agile. DSDM brought principles like “is this problem suited to a DSDM approach”. PRINCE2 Agile gives us the “Agil-o-meter” to allow us to ‘calculate’ the answer.

DSDM said “Build prototypes whose future is to be evolved into a delivered solution” (as opposed to the other approach to prototyping that is “this is a scale model so will be discarded when we’ve learned enough to build the full-scale solution”. PRINCE2 Agile says use Lean-Start-up and fail-safe and fail-fast to ‘build-measure-learn’.

Agile-PM uses DSDM’s defined roles such as Business Ambassador and Solution Tester. Agile gave us the Product Owner role which PRINCE2 Agile adapted to be the Customer Subject Matter Expert. New vocabulary, variation in manifestation but essentially different? Not really.

RAD and Agile are both reactions to the short comings of predictive engineering type project management approaches when applied to problems with emergent elements. Both are reactions to project management that assumes a centralised intelligence and a command and control structure that issues instructions to ‘doers’. Both promote a solution for a creative community of interdependent peer problem solvers. What’s the difference?

Why Two Products – A History Lesson In Product Sales and Marketing

AXELOSOnce upon a time APMG (which is APM-Group where APM doesn’t really stand for anything now because it was the commercial offshoot of the Association for Project Management but is not now related to APM) administered PRINCE2 and the family of related UK Government-owned methods.

There wasn’t an Agile offering but there was agile demand. So APMG being commercial put its own qualification in place. It was easy. APMG already had all the infrastructure and experience to write syllabus and exams and run the accreditation of trainers, training companies and exam candidates. Then it lost the contract to administer PRINCE2. The new owners, faced with a gap because they didn’t have a sexy, of-the-moment-titled product had to add an Agile strand to their product set.

Result: the Agile from the new owners is PRINCE2-Agile so the name enjoys PRINCE2’s brand awareness combined with trendy ‘agile’. Meanwhile APMG retains their Agile product rights and offering.

Exam Content

APMG wrote the syllabi for PRINCE2 and all the other products in their catalogue in their own style. Themes and Templates and Roles worked well as a product definition approach. It was logical. They administer both. Don’t re-invent the wheel. So Agile PM followed the style. When they lost control of PRINCE2 the syllabus and the style, structure and major characteristics of the syllabus went with it and hasn’t changed since.

So both PRINCE2-Agile and Agile PM have closely parallel syllabi structure as well as syllabi content. Both are examined at Foundation and Practitioner level. Both Foundation syllabi say – paraphrased – “recognise the elements of the approach” where elements of both are principles and philosophy, life-cycles, ‘management’ products such as backlogs, roles and responsibilities. One has “an evolving solution” the other “a product backlog”. One has 8 Principles the other 8 Guidance points. Both share the imperative to “Deliver on time” “Never compromise Quality” so vary the scope delivered. One draws the relationship in a hexagon as a snappy graphic.

Both syllabi paraphrase at Practitioner level to “can apply the elements to work in a non-complex project” where elements are as for Foundation plus facilitate workshops, apply the MoSCoW prioritisation approach, use Timeboxes and iterative delivery,  test, estimate and measure progress and all matched to the same adaptations in Bloom’s 1956 Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

Agile PM’s Syllabus

DSDM did bring a specific model of its iterative life-cycle. Quite different in graphical representation to PRINCE2’s structure but in many ways not much material difference. Both support repeated timeboxed periods of activity albeit at different scale – a few weeks versus a few months typically.

When AXELOS, PRINCE2’s new owners commissioned PRINCE2-Agile it specifically constructed a complimentary offering to PRINCE2 that accepts any Agile family member (at the development level as opposed to the enterprise level). “An extension that describes how to tailor the PRINCE2 method”.

The main element to become invisible was the DSDM development life-cycle. There in Agile spirit but no longer the same vocabulary or graphics to portrait it as now just a viable choice. Now the main manifestation is either Kanban for flow-oriented needs or Scrum sprints and Release. Either integrated to PRINCE2 stages.

Likewise no more talk of a Solution Development Team with a Business Analyst role. Now Agile ideas of a cross-functional collection of “T” shaped individuals (depth of expertise in at least one area but breadth and flexibility to fill team needs in an ‘emergent’ manner). “T” shapes and “emergent” were not phrases of the RAD era but trendy phrases of the ‘Agile-Age’. There are a myriad details of this nature that separate two children of the same parent.

Perhaps a bigger difference is that DSDM is “an” agile method while PRINCE2 Agile works with “any” agile method of which there are many. The PRINCE2 Agile manual lists quite a few in the appendices without explaining them. PRINCE2 Agile focusses on explaining Scrum and its integration to PRINCE2’s control ideas. But then Agile PM training courses (rather than the Agile-PM syllabus) often include Scrum as a topic.

Which Should I Go For?

ABCIt depends! Of course it does, it always does. DSDM is now the Agile Business Consortium (ABC) because they want to stay relevant to the world today. DSDM was software oriented the ABC isn’t. APMG link Agile PM to the ABC. PRINCE was software oriented and now it isn’t. PRINCE2 has a reputation for bureaucracy but is a widely used recruitment filter for CV scanning and Agile is definitely a sexy CV buzz word.

At this point we might ask the recruitment trade for a perspective because knowledge and skill set wise the choice is pretty similar. At this moment in time, there is no one Agile project management related course which is the frontrunner in the recruitment market – yet Agile Project Management from APMG is obviously seen more because it is older. In fact many project practitioners are opting for SCRUM (10% of practitioners have undertaken this, figure taken from the latest Project Management Benchmark Report)

Let’s see how this pans out now AXELOS have released the PRINCE2 Agile Foundation course and examinations.

Further Reading


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