A Back to Front Approach to Teaching PRINCE2

Jan 2017

by Jorge Carrillo

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A Back to Front Approach to Teaching PRINCE2

Master PRINCE2 with a new way of learning

In this blog article I am going to talk to you about my way of teaching project management, in particular PRINCE2, The back to front way. Curious?

Project management is the planning, delegating, monitoring and control of all aspects of a project, and the motivating of those involved to achieve the project objectives within the expected performance targets for time, cost, quality, scope, benefits and risks as defined by PRINCE2. Yikes – this sounds all good stuff but rather tedious to learn!

Well – let’s wait and see!

Recognizing the professional and salaried benefits of learning the processes and methods of project management people across the world take project management courses, study for degrees in project management, gain professional qualifications such as PRINCE2 and PMP. And so they learn the processes and methods of project management. Critical path analysis and Gantt charts become second nature to them. They apply these processes and methods in simulated and sometimes real life situations. They may even secure internships which give them more hands-on experience. But it can be very dull if you spend your time listening to a lecturer and reading textbooks and just occasionally applying what you’ve learned.

What’s a lecturer to do to make project management more interesting?

If I was teaching project management at a hotel and tourism college I’d tie all the theory into the scenario of building a hotel in a remote part of let’s say the Amazon jungle. Students would have to conduct feasibility studies; identify all major tasks and then break these down into sub tasks and use Gantt charts to schedule them – which of course means teaching them how to use the appropriate software. Meanwhile they can work on the creative aspects of building a hotel – the design, the interior furnishings, menus, the guest experiences. This gives a purpose to learning the processes and methods. Bringing creativity into a learning environment facilitates learning and applying the techniques. But…

… how about something far more radical?
What if …
… what if you teach project management back to front??

It’s always been my experience that people learn best when they can apply their learnings and see how it can make life easier. I also like them to have fun and explore their creativity. So I started to teach back to front.

What do I mean by ‘back to front’?

Well, instead of teaching the various elements of project management and then getting students to apply the key concepts to a real situation I present them with the real situation. They do what needs to be done and then we explore what went well and what lessons there were to be learned. I then take them through some of the theory and techniques they could/should have been using. We then re-run the assignment and then discuss how much easier it was to deliver on the project when they applied project management techniques.

Here’s a specific example – one that came about quite unplanned – no Gantt charts here! Last Summer I taught two 50-hour courses in a Summer School programme in Prague.

One group of students were learning about Project Management and the second group were learning about Security and Privacy. I threw the first group a challenge - to create a short video or poster that would put into action the Project Management techniques they had been learning in class.

The second group were passionate about security and although they were not studying project management they insisted on joining in the competition. The videos and digital content from the two groups were posted on Facebook and peeps were invited to vote for the one they liked best.

Failure is not always a failure in Project Management

Don't Fail and join us


The video by the group of students studying security got the most votes! I then asked them to detail where they struggled. The students studying project management made notes from this and of course commented that it would have helped if the group had known and applied project management techniques but they also recognized that

knowing how to use many “techniques or tools” is *NOT* everything you need to succeed.

One of my colleagues, Gillian Pritchett, who was teaching a marketing course at the same time, made the comment:

“your students seemed to be having a great time and yet looking at their end of course presentations they evidently learned stacks about Project Management and how to apply all the concepts. When I taught it years ago I had some really bored students – I guess you have a very different approach.”

I have the back to front approach and I don’t have bored students!

So are YOU ready to experience project management taught back to front ?