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My PRINCE2 Classroom Certification Journey

Have you ever thought about undertaking PRINCE2 training? If so, you’ve likely spent some time on the fence. When you’re looking to get certified, how to be sure what’s best between the e-learning course (allowing more personal time to complete but requiring more self-motivation) and the classroom-based version (the more intensive option, requiring up to five straight days of your time before becoming qualified in PRINCE2 Foundation & Practitioner)?

This blog has been written especially to help guide your decision by providing an insight into the realities of the PRINCE2 classroom experience. This is the first part in a series of posts following my personal journey from project management novice to PRINCE2 delegate and through to certified Practitioner. If you’ve ever considered a classroom course, the information provided here will certainly grant you a better idea of what can be gained from the experience, as well as how to make the most of it!

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The story of your training begins when you’ve registered for your Foundation & Practitioner classroom course. You will soon receive, just like I did, your very own PRINCE2 manual. This is a large book of over 300 pages – appearing quite intimidating in size and heft at first – which you will be encouraged to get to know before attending your training sessions. Alongside this tome comes a pre-course guide provided by ILX, containing references to key reading material and questions worth remembering, helping break this introduction down into manageable portions: Projects, Themes and Processes.

Commuting for two hours to the training session in London from my hometown in Norwich afforded me valuable time for reviewing this information. However – and here’s your first insider tip of this blog! – I would soon find out that the two hours’ sleep I missed in order to make the commute may have been more useful to me.

Make no mistake: if you face the prospect of a long journey to a course beginning in the morning, consider staying somewhere near to your training centre the night before. You should be well-acquainted enough with pre-course materials by that point, and those extra hours of sleep will make a difference. Even if you aren’t a complete PRINCE2 novice like I was, on the course there is a lot of information to digest and you’ll feel grateful for every advantage you can give yourself.

Naturally, I was not yet aware of any of this, being at the very beginning of my journey. I arrived at the Imparando Learning Centre (a short wintry walk away from Liverpool Street Station where I had disembarked) slightly bleary-eyed but ready to learn. In contrast with the freezing cold streets, there was no lack of hospitality within the Imparando lobby. Amongst the first to arrive, I was given a discrete and professional introduction to the building’s layout and facilities, then supplied with a special key-code for getting past certain doors before being directed to the location of our dedicated training room for the week. Inside the well-lit and spacious training room our ILX-provided trainer, at his desk and whiteboards, was front-and-centre. He, in turn, was surrounded by a perimeter of tables and chairs which would slowly and surely be filled by the PRINCE2 delegates as they trickled inside.

As is often the case in any scenario involving a group of unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar environment, there was a palpable initial quiet. But our trainer, Mr. Dennis Sheehan – whose name is sure to feature a lot in this article – knew this to be the perfect atmosphere for an ice-breaker. So with name-tags handed out, scrawled on and displayed proudly on our desks, we began proceedings with one-by-one introductions. We gave our names and our backgrounds along with our reasons for undertaking the training and what we hoped to get out of the experience, all of which served two purposes. The first: of warming the room; the second: of giving Dennis some valuable insight into every delegate’s objectives and project management requirements.

Then it was straight into learning, getting quickly and deeply involved in the basics surrounding PRINCE2’s Themes. Led wholly by Dennis’s east end tenor, we utilised a slideshow and some booklets that were provided containing abbreviated notes for each slide. This would be our first introduction to the relentless pace of the course. Dennis was able and ready to provide the most general, top-level view of each section of our hefty manuals, highlighting only those areas that would be most beneficial to us in the exam and in the application of PRINCE2’s lessons. We were also fast familiarised with Dennis’s knack for the analogy. The practicalities of project management were to be regularly illustrated with anecdotes from his domestic and business past, if not cleverly tailored to fit those aforementioned objectives and expectations of the delegates.

After a solid hour of training, we adjourned for our first break. This would allow us delegates to meet and greet with others, to get our bearings around the facilities and establish our routes along our soon to be routine caffeine stop. The delegates that I met were diverse in their backgrounds and their reasons for pursuing PRINCE2 training, and they were universally friendly when spoken to. With a deadline set, though, we were soon compelled to cease conversing and return to our training room with coffees and teas in tow. There, Dennis would lead us through the gritty detail of the Organization theme, defining a project’s roles and responsibilities.

During our coverage of this theme, Dennis was an expert in proving the importance of the “tailoring” aspect of PRINCE2 management. By always encouraging questions and interruptions for clarification, he could provide examples of alterations and allowances to the PRINCE2 formulae that might be made in any delegate’s specific case. If you said your company is too small for a dedicated Admin Support role, you would be provided with a workable solution. And if there was no specific example for Dennis to riff off, a handy allegory or anecdote was never far from hand. You might think this could be abstract or distracting. But on the contrary, these often humorous illustrations would always come back to an adequate balance between fine detail and wide overview, while ensuring a constant eye on candidates’ objectives and their upcoming Foundation and/or Practitioner papers.

Time flies when you’re learning PRINCE2. The lunch hour arrived suddenly. Hot food was provided at the Imparando Centre, and though you can’t please everybody, there were free beverages and dessert options, too! Additionally lunchtime brought a great chance to get to know fellow delegates. Here you’ll glean some insight into the range of uses for your training by chatting with your peers, hailing from distinct self-employed, public sector and corporate worlds. At this point in the day, with two whole Themes under our belt, I noticed a lot of typical UK modesty abound, with fears and self-doubt expressed about the intensity of the sessions. The food and the tea/coffee for refuelling was therefore much appreciated by all!

Returning from lunch, we delegates were thrust into our first bit of group work. In this exercise we began to practice project management as a collective. Together, armed with markers and a whiteboard or flip-chart in our respective corners, we got to define the roles and responsibilities within a hypothetical project of the fictional ACE Computing business. Debating amongst our colleagues allowed us to witness the wide applicability, seeming complexity and reassuring mutability of the PRINCE2 model. We got to see first-hand the many legitimate ways of arranging a project, to practice the system’s methodology and see the reasoning behind its workings.

Following another vital caffeine break, Dennis made short work of PRINCE2’s Business Case theme, highlighting the key points and necessary details to be remembered for Practitioner level. Then we were handed another case study, this time about the Starting Up A Project process. This allowed us to divide into groups again and benefit once more from the insight given by delving into the practical side of PRINCE2 projects. These group case studies were, in my opinion, to be absolutely invaluable to the classroom experience. They didn't make project management look easy, but the questions and queries thrown up by wrestling with a practical problem really helped to solidify your grip on what you did and did not yet know.

With Dennis making the proposal, it was then agreed by all in attendance that we would leave early in order to make progress on some practical past papers. This would leave time in each delegate’s evening for a bit of personal study and revision. It would also offer us the first test of strength for our ability to retain the information so far. Included within our past papers was a booklet containing answers and the rationale for each answer, so we could mark ourselves and also highlight any areas of confusion for covering first thing the next day. Homework might be a thing of the past for many, but to ensure a pass mark, we would soon get used to confining ourselves to a small space to contemplate and analyse the extent of our PRINCE2 education. For me, that space was in a hotel room nearby. Though others on the course had a commute to endure, all would return for day two thirsty to close any gaps in their learning…

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Summary: A project management novice learns that staying near your PRINCE2 classroom course is an advantage; that an ILX-provided trainer can be extremely adept in his role; that caffeine can be a blessing, and that project management can be a tricky proposition which PRINCE2 training provides a great deal of information towards circumnavigating.

In the next blog of this series, this delegate covers his second day of training followed by the third, in which the Foundation exam is finally faced head on.

If you would like to learn more about what our PRINCE2 Foundation & Practitioner Classroom course has to offer, just follow the link!