This week, February 8 to February 15, I went on a PRINCE2 training course with Benchmark Training in Bath. I decided to do this course so that I could have some formal project management qualification as I am trying to move my career from pure software development towards the business side e.g. Business Analyst or Development Manager. One of the reasons for this decision is because software development or programming is increasingly been seen as a commodity by upper management i.e. suitable for being outsourced to low cost centres such as India, China or even South Africa if they could find enough power. Maybe I should move back! There is an interesting article on this here.
The PRINCE2 training course consisted of two parts: the Foundation Exam on Wednesday afternoon that tests basic knowledge and the Practitioner Exam on Friday that tests comprehension, application, analysis and evaluation of the method. The Foundation Exam is multiple guess while the Practitioner Exam is a more complicated version of multiple guess (more options, multiple select, sequence questions etc). The Practitioner Exam used to be a three hour written exam but it was taking too long to get results so they changed it. To be honest I don't really feel that the Practitioner Exam gives a lot of benefit to anyone over the Foundation, aside from being able to boost your CV! It is a lot to get through in one week but was fun to do. I decided to go on a course despite the cost (£1639) as attempting to read the manual convinced me that independent study of the method wasn't practical. If you are considering just buying the manual and working through it, don't as it is the most dry, boring and confusing document I have read and don't forget I have read more than my share of management bingo while doing my MBA.
We had a quick meet and greet (which I missed due to an appointment with the doctor) and then it was straight into the the 8 processes (45 sub processes), 8 components, 3 techniques of the method. When I walked in I thought I recognised the trainer (Steve), it was only later in the week when I was extolling the joys of The Bell and bemoaning the horrors of the modern 'wine bar' that Steve and I realised we both recognised each other from The Bell! The rest of the group was very diverse: Leonard was Royal Navy who kept regaling us with stories about how badly the MOD runs projects (I think I should stop paying tax), Phil worked for a small company that does AV equipment installs in schools etc (he said 'but no software, that always goes wrong'), Julia worked for the NHS developing programmes to stop people smoking, Monica worked in Marketing (she was also a South African from Pretoria who has washed up on these shores and was very cynical about South Africa's future) and Linsey who was an accountant. Phil and Monica both only did the Foundation although Phil was planning to do the Practitioner in a months time. Steve was an excellent trainer and his hand drawn versions of the processes made the method a lot easier to understand as they included the products produced in each sub stage. Monday, Tuesday and most of Wednesday consisted of lectures followed by practice questions for the Foundation and Practitioner Exams (Steve included a Practitioner style case study as it aided understanding of the method). Lunches were included as part of course fee and were at some of the 'gourmet wine bars' in the area, the food was very fancy and quite good but I kind of miss the old bars that used to be there. On Wednesday we sat down to the Foundation Exam, Julia finished very quickly but the rest of us didn't finish much later especially since there was an offer of a beer at the bar on Benchmark waiting! We all passed without too much problems after 3 days of training, I got 67/75 so it can't be that hard.
On Thursday we were joined by a much larger group, the majority of which worked in the public sector for various councils up and down the country. Some even deliberately traveled to Bath to do the training even when they had a closer training centre as it was 'a nicer place to visit and the council's paying anyway', I think I definitely stop paying tax. The day consisted mostly of revision of what we had done, some practice at the new style questions and a mock exam of 1 hour instead of the three hours for the full exam. We had to do three questions in one hour (similar to the exam where you have to do nine in three hours) but I was showing off and went for four using the manual as little as possible (the Practitioner is open book). On Friday morning Steve gave us the results for the mock exam and as I had passed all four mock questions I was pretty confident going into the exam. I timed the exam well managing to finish all the questions virtually on time, however I'm not really sure how well I will do. I hope I will pass as I don't want to have to go back again, I'll have to see in three weeks time. The others said it was pretty easy, Julia finished 40 minutes early and said 'that was easy' on the way out, but I found a lot of the questions quite tricky. PRINCE2 says the Practitioner tests application but I'm not convinced, it seems to me that it really tests comprehension of English e.g. the addition of 'only' could change the answer from true to false. It must be very difficult for people who don't speak english. Also there were a lot of questions asking you what heading a particular item went in one of the PRINCE2 management products (basically documents).
In conclusion, I do think the PRINCE2 method has some very nice aspects e.g. Business Case, Issue Management, Change Control that make it a very good project management method. I also think the course was excellently run by Benchmark and Steve. Hopefully I pass the Practitioner and hopefully it will help me find another job.