Sunday, 7 November 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from PRINCE2

I've written about PRINCE2 before.  The choice to use the PRINCE2 project management methodology has to be made at corporate level; it is rarely used in archaeology because the nature of its activities and problems do not play to PRINCE2's strengths.  Nevertheless, the methodology is based on common sense and experience of project management, so there should be some elements which can be applied.

All projects involve risk
-and if this is true of something like decorating an office,  how much more true of projects where the nature and complexity of the archaeological resource is unknown, and the work is subject to weather conditions and logistical complications.  So how can we manage the risk?  We can minimise it, by ensuring that we exploit all available information, but we cannot eliminate it.   If we expect the unexpected, our best strategy is to empower those on the spot with the authority and resources to respond to the emerging situation, while being ready to provide support when needed.

Manage by stages

Every project in MAP2 and the IFA Standards starts with a big meeting of all the specialists who may be involved, from palaeo and flint expert to illustrator and archivist.  Luckily, in reality these meetings do not take place, because otherwise people would get even less done, without having any effect on the 90% of projects which do not in fact produce material requiring special consideration.  There are planning horizons beyond which the imponderables become so great that time spent planning is not just wasted, it's actually harmfdul, since it distracts from what can be planned for. 

Product-led planning

The end results of a project are the archive and reports.  Activities which do not contribute to either may well be pointless. Activities which do not lead to report content may also be pointless.  

Continuing business justification

Commercial archaeology is a business.  Projects which have ceased to contribute positively to the business (especially financially) should be closed down.  Projects which have achieved their objectives should be closed down.  It is easy to allow projects to run on to their allotted end-date, but doing so is wasting time and money.  Your time and money.

Learn from experience

Archaeological businesses live and die on the quality of their estimation.  Yet very few employ a formal process to review projects after the event to see whether the estimation was accurate.  It is notorious that some types of project (eg desk-top studies and watching briefs) are very difficult to complete to a professional  standard within the level of funding usually available. After a few have gone over-budget, maybe the lesson is that prices must rise or that this type of project should be avoided.  Was it not Santana who said that those who don't remember the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them?  (No it wasn't, it was George Santayana).

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Dave Maynard said...

How do Prince2 and Lean interact? Are they similar and work together, or does Lean try to throw off all the attention to detail of Prince2?

Where would the concept from marketing of 'Adding Value' come in? Is this something else that Lean would chuck out.

If a watching brief is carried out competently and to Lean characteristics, can the archaeologist record a few facts in the neighbourhood which are outside the development area? The direct client would not pay for it as it does not benefit him in the least, but the other customers of the archaeologist will perhaps thank him in the future.


Martin Locock said...

There's a good degree of overlap since both approaches are customer-focused, product-focused and business benefit focused, but PRINCE2 is more interested in managing unique projects while lean is more usually applied to standardised work processes.

Adding value by exceeding customer requirements would be treated a little differently. If the customer would expect you to deliver a comprehensive and more interesting report that inclusded some off-site info, then both lean and Prince2 would say that you should, even if that isn't what the curatorial brief required. If the desire to do more than the brief requires comes from somewhere else (an archaeologist's curiosity, perhaps) then under PRINCE2 it would for the project executive (representing the company) to decide whetherr the long-term interests of the business would benefit from the extra work (by creating a better brand), or whether its interests were better served by finishing the project ontime or early instead.

Lean in this case would focus attention on what the minimum would be, so that at least you would be making a concious decision to do more, rather than (as may ften occur) doing extra work by accident without thinking of the consequences.