What Is PRINCE2 Project Management Methodology? Pros, Cons & More

Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Michael Scheiner
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When it comes to effective project management in complex but controlled environments, one project management methodology reality sticks out. That is PRINCE2. 

But what is PRINCE2 project management methodology, you ask? This article will give you everything you need to get up to speed.

Here we look at PRINCE2 principles, themes, processes and tailoring, as well as talk about PRINCE2 pros and cons, and finally PRINCE2 certification. 

 

What is PRINCE2 project management methodology?

So, what is PRINCE2 methodology? There are various ways to use PRINCE2 methods. The most important thing is that this is a highly-structured project management method and used for complex projects in controlled work environments. 

It creates project role hierarchies with executives, project boards, project managers, team managers and team members. It also breaks down projects into stages with clear practices for each stage. 

What does PRINCE2 stand for?

Why is it called PRINCE2? PRINCE2 stands for projects in controlled environments. It was developed for the United Kingdom by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency as a UK government standard for project management. 

Today, Axelos, a venture firm, owns a big share of the PRINCE2 method. Also today, any thorough project management guide will make sure to include PRINCE2 among their top methods—it’s a methodology that has arrived.

When is PRINCE2 methodology appropriate?

PRINCE2 is most appropriate when you need to manage projects that will mostly require improvements or guidance only when they're needed. This means it’s often used in everything from governance, construction, finance, and IT. 

It is opposed to PM methods that are constantly managing and controlling all aspects of the project. These alternate methods would include things like ITIL, or the Information Technology Infrastructure Library system, or Scrum methodology, both of which are more services oriented. 

PRINCE2 examples

Here are a few PRINCE2 examples from the field:

PRINCE2 in government

Since PRINCE2 was founded in part by the UK government, it’s a proven great PM method for large-scale projects at the societal level. Its principles ensure the highest standards which governments must adhere to when engaging in huge projects.

PRINCE2 in construction

The PRINCE2 processes make this a highly effective PM methodology in the building and construction industry.  It is very common here because of its emphasis on stages, work packages, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities which are central for construction.

PRINCE2 in software development

Because PRINCE2 shares some qualities with agile frameworks, it is a great example in software development. This is so because there are protocols for constant reviews, quality controls, and change management baked into the PRINCE2 themes. The ability to tailor PRINCE2 also makes it an exceptional example for development.

 

Key PRINCE2 elements

The PRINCE2 project management methodology has four key elements. They are:

  • Principles

  • Themes

  • Processes

  • Tailoring

We’ll go into more detail about each of these PRINCE2 elements in the following sections, but for now, a quick rundown.

PRINCE2 principles are the guiding ideas of this project management method. They represent the overall commitment to certain styles of working, doing project plans, and collaborating. Principles form the foundation of PRINCE2, and they should never be changed or compromised in any way.

PRINCE2 themes focus on specific areas of attention that should be considered throughout the project lifecycle. They are not as high-level as principles but rather force the project team to continuously make sure these business purposes are respected. They can be modified and tailored according to the project.

PRINCE2 processes get closer to the  level of work activity and tasks. The processes are concerned with figuring out what needs to be done, who is responsible, and which team members will do the work. Principles are all about decision-making, and they can be tailored depending on the project.

PRINCE2 tailoring is the idea that one should never follow a boiler-plate blueprint across the board regarding all the PRINCE2 elements. The themes and processes can be changed or tailored to your business needs, environment or project scope. It’s only the principles that should never be tailored in PRINCE2.

 

The 7 PRINCE2 principles

There are seven principles of PRINCE2. Remember, if you are not adhering to these PRINCE2 principles, you cannot really say you are doing PRINCE2

  • Continued business justification

  • Learn from experience

  • Defined roles and responsibilities

  • Manage by stages

  • Manage by exception

  • Focus on products

  • Tailor to suit the environment

Continued business justification

This PRINCE2 principle forces you to constantly ask if the project is worth doing. You should consider if its prospective payoff is worth the cost, or if the end product is still going to be of value to the stakeholder.

There should be enough in the project brief or project mandate that you can refer to at several project stages. If the answer to this question of justification is not a big Yes, consider ending the project.

Learn from experience

Learning from experience is a project management tool similar to what you get in the agile methodology. When managing projects, you should keep notes and lesson logs and use these to clarify errors or problems and how they were dealt with so that you can apply lessons to the rest of the project and future projects. You also want to document and disseminate lessons.

Defined roles and responsibilities

Most great PM methods require some level of clearly defined roles and PRINCE2 is no different. There is the project board, which is sort of the executive overseer of the project, the project manager, and below them the team manager. People need to know who to look to when seeking authority, permissions and changes.

Manage by stages

This part of the PRINCE2 principles is all about project planning, monitoring project progress, and controlling the project regarding its schedules and budgets. You should work in stages, and with every new project initiation or when you are about to begin the next stage, have a good idea of risk management, resources, costs and timeframes.

Manage by exception

Manage by exception is a very unique PRINCE2 principle. This refers to the idea that all work and tasks should be delegated to the right team or team member along with clear expectations for scope, time and cost.

That team or individual should have a lot of independence and authority in doing their work, and should only seek management guidance when they believe that they won’t be able to accomplish their task outside of the tolerances set with the determined scope, time or budget. 

Focus on products

Projects sometimes tend to focus on the process, but with PRINCE2 one must always keep the end product in mind. The product is what brings value to the customer or stakeholder. Here quality requirements laid out in the project brief or project mandate play a role, as well as quality assurance. 

Tailor to suit the environment

This PRINCE2 principle is about being agile and ready to adapt. Every project is different, as is the project environment like the company or the general economy. A successful project management plan needs to tailor the processes and themes of the project, but not the principles, especially this one. 

 

The 7 PRINCE2 themes

Themes can also be considered tools. There are seven PRINCE2 themes. Remember, themes are specific zones of business activity, and these themes must be considered at many stages of the project. 

  • Business case

  • Organization

  • Quality

  • Plans

  • Risk

  • Change

  • Progress

Business case

The business case is for the stakeholders or management to have all the major resources and mechanisms by which to run the project. They include benefits approach, good governance, stakeholder engagement, partnerships and commitments regarding deliverables.

Organization

If the business case was about mechanisms, this is about the organizational structure of all the players involved. It can include things like suppliers, core groups, advisory groups, consumers, stakeholders, project board roles and a project quality assurance team.

Quality

The theme of quality is about staying on top of the question as to whether the product meets its requirements and satisfies its scope. There are quality management approaches using key performance indicators, quality registers, research, pilots, feedback, best practices, review periods and stakeholder engagement.

Plans

Plans are a core theme of project management. Who will do what, when, how long will things take, how much should they cost, etc. There are good templates for things like this including a Kanban board for more agile project management as well as network path diagrams and Gantt charts, all of which are often available with project management software.

Risk

Risk management is always its own theme. This theme encompasses a risk register to pick up on potential risks, a management approach to handling risks, risk mitigation techniques and lessons-learned from dealing with risks.

Change

Being ready and willing to make changes at various stages of a project lifecycle is a central theme to PRINCE2. The theme of change management includes having a change control approach, tool refinement, approvals, change recording, and change monitoring mechanisms.

Progress

Progress is the theme that involves monitoring the project and using the data to forecast how the rest of the project will go. You need to include baselines for progress control, review mechanisms like product status accounts and quality registers, and regular progress reporting.

The 7 PRINCE2 processes

Now we can turn to the seven processes of PRINCE2. They are:

  • Starting up a project

  • Directing a project

  • Initiating a project

  • Controlling a stage

  • Managing product delivery

  • Managing stage boundaries

  • Closing a project

Starting up a project

Project initiation is the first process in PRINCE2. The executive and project manager need to write the project mandate including scope, time and costs. You also lay out the project roles and responsibilities. 

Directing a project

Directing the project is where you keep in mind the alignment between the purpose of the project and the planning of the tasks and subtasks of the project. It also makes clear what kind of role and authority the project board will have.

Initiating a project

In this stage you create the project initiation document. You pick which tools and software the project team members will use, as well as the baseline for quality control. It is also here you figure out how and what to communicate with the stakeholders. 

Controlling a stage

In this PRINCE2 process, you plan your work packages and define the project stages and what activity you will undertake between each stage. You can set work tolerances here and also make basic risk management plans. 

Managing product delivery

In this process, the level of communication between project management and the team members gets put into practice. Project team managers get their hard deadlines and deliverables.

Managing stage boundaries

Stage boundaries refer to the in-between of project stages. It is all about doing project reviews and making necessary change approvals and adaptations for the next project stage. One also needs to reaffirm the principle of continued project justification. 

Closing a project

It is important in this part of the PRINCE2 process to understand a fixed end-goal of the project for the team to work toward. At this point the customer or stakeholder should be able to tell if the product was delivered as desired according to what was laid out in the project brief. 

 

PRINCE2 tailoring

Every solid PRINCE2 practitioner knows that perhaps tailoring is the most important part of their PRINCE2 elements. You can and should always tailor how things get done, by whom, when, with what tools, in which language, and many other factors. Just never compromise on the PRINCE2 principles.

To be specific about the conditions which can influence your project tailoring, here is a list:

  • Project size

  • Project environment

  • Corporate culture

  • Project complexity

  • Priority or importance of the project

  • The team’s capabilities

  • Project risks and potential consequences

  • Geography or location of business

  • Organizational maturity

  • State of the general economy

 

PRINCE2 advantages and disadvantages

Here are some pros and cons of PRINCE2:

PRINCE2 benefits

In PRINCE2 there is a clearly defined project scope.Project roles are well communicated so everyone knows who is in charge of what.

The model allows for good focus on output and final product delivery, and it’s agile enough for change management.

PRINCE2 drawbacks

There’s lots of planning involved in the PRINCE2 lifecycle. It can produce excessive hierarchy among workers, which might impact team cohesion.
The model can also produce a preponderance of paperwork.

 

What is PRINCE2 certification?

There are training courses you can take to become a project management professional or PMP. The Project Management Institute, or PMI, is a great resource to check out, along with their book, The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), now in its 6th edition. 

To get practitioner certification, you can also check out free project management certification courses, which can talk about PRINCE2 training and other methods like PRINCE2 agile hybrids. 

There is also the PRINCE2 Agile Foundation certificate from Axelos, one of PRINCE2's major owners. Two levels of certificate coexist: foundation, which covers PRINCE2 basics; and practitioner, which is more advanced.

 

Our conclusion on the PRINCE2 model

Maybe you want to become a PRINCE2 PMP, or maybe you just want to test out PRINCE2 methods on your next project. Either way, we trust this wealth of knowledge has helped you in your intellectual journey. 

As far as different project management methodologies go, the PRINCE2 system might be the best choice for you if you like planning, structure, hierarchies, checklists, but you also need to be a bit nimble and agile for today’s fast-paced work world.

Thankfully, it’s never been easier to implement. There’s a lot of project management software out there that will allow you to streamline use of the PRINCE2 model, or at least test it out as part of your work processes.  
 

FAQs

Is PRINCE2 a methodology or framework?

PRINCE2, or projects in controlled environments, is a project management methodology, and not a project management framework. A methodology gives best practices, processes, and structured roles to project management teams. A framework like agile is mostly just best practices which can be applied to other methodologies. 

Is there an easy way to remember PRINCE2 themes?

Yes, there is indeed an easy way to remember the themes of PRINCE2. It is this: P-Jester. It stands for: Product, Justification, Experience, Stages, Tailor, Exceptions, Roles. These words in the acronym do not correspond exactly to the order of themes commonly laid out, but this is helpful. 

Is there PRINCE1?

The prince project management methodology that we now know as PRINCE2 used to be simply called PRINCE, but it was never called PRINCE1. Today, not much is known about the shady origins of the earlier prince methodology, but truthfully, PRINCE2 is a better version anyways, so it’s a moot subject.

Is PRINCE2 outdated?

PRINCE2 is an established project management system used all over the world. The question of whether it is still relevant is interesting because nowadays, newer and smaller operations do not find it as useful as other agile systems like Scrum. It is still a long way from being irrelevant.

 

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