It was a great day for driving. The sky was blue and the sun was bright. It was early afternoon and it seemed a great day to be heading for a PRINCE2 Professional assessment centre in the countryside.
Driving into the car park and taking my bag from the boot I was reminded of the kind of camps we went on at school - wooden cabins with dormitory-style rooms huddled together under the trees.
After checking in and opening the room to my door, I was pleasantly surprised. It was modest but functional. Just the kind of room I would need for what was to follow in the next two days of my PRINCE2 Professional assessment.
Sitting on the grass outside the bar waiting for the first session to start I got into conversation with some of the other PRINCE2 trainers also attending the assessment. There was a bit of apprehension about what was to come.
Anyway, the clock ticked by and it was time to assemble for our first session. There were 16 PRINCE2 trainers, 4 evaluators and several moderators in the room. The evaluators and moderators all came from the APM Group (APMG), the PRINCE2 accreditation body. The APMG had organized the event and had invited PRINCE2 trainers (myself included) as guinea pigs to trial the new PRINCE2 Professional assessment.
The moderator was stern when explaining the process we were about to embark upon. Perhaps he came from a military background. I could imagine him in a uniform with stick in hand explaining his battle plan to his troops. The one thing which was repeated and which stuck in my mind from this first session was the statement that “you must show evidence. Remember, if you don’t show us the evidence then you will not pass the assessment and we will not be able to extract it from you”. I’m glad these words stuck in my mind so early because they were to prove very valuable in later sessions during the assessment.
What he was alluding to was the fact that to pass a PRINCE2 Professional assessment you must show evidence to the evaluators of your competencies for 19 different performance criteria. Of these 19 criteria, three of them (interpersonal skills, managing your own performance and managing team performance) are generic and not related to PRINCE2 per se. Since project management involves managing people, then it seems like a good idea to assess these competencies in addition to the PRINCE2 method itself.
We were to be separated into groups of four people for each session. There would be seven group sessions over the next two days along with one written exercise which was to be completed individually. The personnel in each group would be rotated as much as possible, giving candidates the opportunity to work with different people each time.
Not quite knowing what to expect, the meeting ended and we went for dinner. Over dinner, it was a good opportunity to clarify our understanding of the process with the other candidates and then it was straight into the first proper session. We were given the case study and told that we must prepare the Project Product Description for the project. During this and all other group sessions there was a whiteboard and flipchart with pens and post-it notes. This allowed the group to discuss ideas and plan our work appropriately.
After some intensive discussion and brainstorming we finished our task on the flipchart and then it was straight into some further questions. It turned out that if you had failed to show sufficient evidence of your competencies to the evaluator during the session you would face one or more further questions where you would be asked your opinion on a certain matter, or would be asked to clarify something you had said during the discussion. These questions were your opportunity to show more evidence to the evaluators if you hadn’t already done so during the session itself.
The session ended at 9:30pm and then it was straight back to the room for an early night. Wow - what an intensive start and we would be starting our next session at 8:30am the next day.
A full English breakfast the next morning was the right thing to eat before embarking on what turned out to be one of the most gruelling days of my life. There would be four more sessions, one of which stretched for three hours with the last session finishing at 7pm. We ended up designing the project management team, defining variances from corporate strategies, performing the product based planning technique, planning the project, refining the Business Case, preparing an End Stage Report and capturing lessons learned. In other words, we performed more or less the whole of PRINCE2’s Initiating a Project process in one day!
I should have pointed out that after the mammoth three hour session where we planned the project we had a 45 minute written exercise where we had to write one of the PRINCE2 management products based upon the case study.
A final debrief session wrapped up the day and it was time for dinner by which time it was almost 9pm. Time for a swift drink in the bar with my fellow students (PRINCE2 trainers) to try to digest the day’s events. There were times during the day when the intensity of concentration required was quite staggering. The day certainly required a lot of stamina and by the end of it I was more than ready for a well deserved pint in the bar.
The second full day started off with an individual interview with the evaluators. These started at 8am, but luckily for me, mine was at 9am which meant I could have one more hour in bed when compared with some of the other students. The interview was short - maybe 20 minutes - and the evaluators focused on questions which had arisen during the previous day, as well as putting me on the spot by giving me some additional information to consider and then asking me what would I do in this situation. I think I handled it OK, because when I finally got my marks just before Christmas, I had managed to get the requisite marks to pass.
Anyway, there were still 2 more two hour sessions to go before the end of the day. These seemed easier than the sessions on the previous day possibly because the day was much shorter and possibly because on the previous day I had found the whole assessment quite exhausting. We had to prepare a Work Package and apply the issue and change control procedure.
We finished with planning and conducting the Closing a Project process where we had to write an End Project Report and Lessons Report. Finally there was another de-brief and at 4pm we were able to leave.
It had been an absolutely exhausting 48 hours but also quite exhilarating at the same time. Having your knowledge and understanding of PRINCE2 challenged by other candidates and evaluators was very stressful. On another level, it was also highly satisfying knowing that you had been really stretched to show your understanding and application of PRINCE2.
To be honest, I had no idea if I would pass or not, but when the result finally came through just before Christmas I had not only passed all 19 performance criteria but I had also scored considerably more than the 1.6 average mark required for all criteria.
So, would I recommend that people attend one of the new PRINCE2 Professional assessment centres? The answer is definitely yes. With almost 250,000 people holding the PRINCE2 Practitioner certificate in the UK alone, it’s becoming harder for a job candidate to differentiate themselves from all other candidates holding the PRINCE2 Practitioner certificate. Knowing how difficult the PRINCE2 Professional assessment is, anyone who passes, in my opinion, really does have a good grasp of how to apply PRINCE2 on a non-complex project.
Posted by Simon Buehring