What is PRINCE2?

We take a closer look at the project management framework

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PRINCE2 is one of the most widely used methodologies for project management, used across a range of industries and sectors. The methodology is often praised for being highly flexible, as it can be adjusted to fit highly specific criteria.

PRINCE2 is regarded as a ‘principles-driven’ approach to project management, involving the use of seven key principles that influence each stage of a project. Equally, a project must follow these principles throughout in order to qualify as being managed by PRINCE2 methodology.

The methodology can be traced back to a series of public sector projects run by the government in the 1990s. First owned by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), which originally conceived the ideas behind it, it was eventually acquired by AXELOS in 1996.

Today, AXELOS is responsible for developing the framework behind the methodology and creating its documentation. The most recent version was released in 2017, which introduced a number of agile-focused elements to help it keep pace with current trends. There are now over 1 million certified PRINCE2 professionals in 150 countries, according to AXELOS.

Principles

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PRINCE2 is classified as a ‘principles-driven’ project management methodology, built around the idea of seven principles interacting with seven themes and seven processes. These principles are designed to be universal in their application, able to be shaped to fit any project regardless of scope, application, language, or culture.

The seven principles are:

  • Business justification: the weighing of risks against potential benefits
  • Learning from experiences: building upon mistakes from previous projects
  • Defined roles and responsibilities: a clear organisational hierarchy - team managers that handle the day-to-day tasks, who report to project managers, who in turn report to an overriding executive board
  • Managed by stages: provide control points for the board to review progress to assess justification. Authority for managing the stages is delegated to the project manager
  • Managing by exception: the idea that authority should be delegated using 'tolerances' - threshold ranges for cost, time, quality, scope and benefits of a project
  • Focus on products: agreement on the amount and quality of the product being delivered should form the basis of any project and its reports
  • Tailor to the environment: PRINCE2 is generic by default, and needs to be tailored depending on risk, complexity, project size and importance

These form the fundamental philosophies that project managers should consider when approaching a task. However, the overall framework relies on the interaction between these principles, and what are considered 'themes' and 'processes', both of which are also split into seven elements.

Themes

Themes are a crucial part of any given project as they provide an invaluable direction to achieving the set goals. In fact, they help coordinate any priorities identified in the planning process as well as make sure that the team members involved all have the same idea in mind, especially when it comes to keeping deadlines and staying within budget. Simply put, themes should be interpreted as the most basic commandments for the project’s best practice.

The main themes worth considering when planning out a project are issues such as the costs and benefits, which is a classic business case pitch, but also organisation (the maintenance of a clear hierarchy of reporting), product quality (a focus on the product itself), plans (regular reporting between team members), risk (a clearly-defined plan for risk management), change (a comprehensible structure for facilitating amendments to the products), and progress (the continued communication about the progress of the project).

All of these should be thoroughly addressed when creating a business project.

Processes

While we compared the above-mentioned themes to commandments that should be strictly followed, the processes function as descriptors to the particular activities and stages which comprise a project. What's more, they should also name specific persons who will be responsible for making sure that they are handled correctly and in a timely manner. These include the following:

  • Starting up a project: initial information is filtered to the project executive board, so they can filter out good ideas from the bad
  • Directing a project: regular points within a project for the board to decide whether it has continued business justification
  • Initiating a project: this sets out the firm foundations for the project; it's when the project plan and the detailed business case are written, as well as strategies for managing risks, communication and quality
  • Controlling a stage: performed regularly by the project manager, it involves dictating the various responsibilities, including allocating work to teams, managing risks, and ensuring the subsequent stages remain within tolerances
  • Managing product delivery: during this stage, all the specialist products are designed, built and checked to ensure they conform to the requirements
  • Managing a stage boundary: performed by the project manager at the end of each stage, this prepares the information required by the board to help them decide whether to continue
  • Closing a project: involves gaining agreement from the users and operation teams that the products are satisfactory. It is also an opportunity for the project managers to report on the achievements of the project and any follow-up actions required

The Principles, Themes, and Processes combine to form a highly structured roadmap that a project is able to follow in order to meet its goals, as well as ensuring a high level of visibility and frequent opportunities to assess progress and make changes. 

Certification

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Since its conception almost three decades ago, PRINCE2 has grown to be one of the most widely-used project management methodologies in the world, making it an established and acclaimed certification with a multitude of benefits for its holders. Its flexibility and universal application has made it an attractive tool for companies undergoing change, particularly through businesses transformation. If you're looking to go into project management, a PRINCE2 certification looks great on a CV. But depending on the type of project you're looking to manage, you might be better served by an agile methodology. Check out our article here for how to generate buy-in for an agile approach.

AXELOS operates its own exam-based certification programme available through its website. However, there are hundreds of accredited course providers throughout the UK, offering opportunities to learn either online or through weekend classes - just be sure to look out for the AXELOS accreditation badge.

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