PRINCE2 Project Management

What is PRINCE2?

PRINCE2 is a methodology for project management. It has its roots in the original PRINCE system that was developed in the 1980s by a government agency in the UK. PRINCE was initially intended to provide a framework for managing IT projects.

In 1996, PRINCE2 was released with the methodology expanded in scope and more generic in nature. PRINCE2 is used as a standard methodology for managing all types of projects. PRINCE2 has undergone changes since the 1996 release to cater for changing business practices and environments, and to streamline the method. It was decided to keep the “2” designator to show that the fundamental principles of the methodology have remained the same.

PRINCE2 – The Method

The popularity of the widely applied PRINCE2 project methodology results partly from the fact that it is a generic project management method that can be adapted to fit any size and type of project environment, within any organization or industry.

The Structure of PRINCE2

PRINCE2 Project Management methodology consists of 4 integrated components. These components are: principles, themes, processes and the tailoring of the method to suit the needs of the project environment.

The Principles

The principles must be adhered to to ensure that the project complies with the PRINCE2 project management objectives. All seven principles must be applied to all projects. These principles are:

  • Ongoing business justification – PRINCE2 projects must have ongoing business justification.
  • Learn from experience – During a PRINCE2 project, lessons are actively sought out, then recorded and taken into account as long as the project is ongoing.
  • Defined responsibilities and roles – All roles and responsibilities are defined and agreed in a PRINCE2 project.
  • Manage by stages – All PRINCE2 projects are planned and controlled on a stage-by-stage model.
  • Manage by exception – Each objective in a PRINCE2 project has specified tolerances that identify the delegated authority limits.
  • Focus on products – The focus in a PRINCE2 project is on defining and delivering products, and especially their quality requirements.
  • Tailor to suit project environment – The size of a project, the environment, the complexity, the capability, the risks, and the importance are all factors that should tailor the method in any PRINCE2 project.

The Themes

In PRINCE2 project management, seven themes are identified and they have to be continuously monitored throughout the project’s life. The themes, and some of the questions they are designed to answer, are:

  • Business case – why should the project be undertaken?
  • Organization – Who will undertake the project?
  • Quality – How will quality be measured?
  • Plans – How will it be done, how much will it cost, when will it be done?
  • Risks –What if? scenarios
  • Change – What impact will this have?
  • Progress – How far have we come and where are we going? Is it working? Is it right to carry on?

The Processes

The PRINCE2 Process Model (below).

PRINCE2 process model

There are seven processes in PRINCE2 project management. We will examine each of them in a bit more detail. The processes are:

  • Starting Up A Project
  • Directing A Project
  • Initiating A Project
  • Controlling A Stage
  • Managing Stage Boundaries
  • Managing Product Delivery
  • Closing A Project

1. Starting Up A Project
Starting up a ProjectThis process is the very inception of a project, when the idea is first mooted. It is in this process that a project team is assembled and a project brief is drawn up. The project brief will contain an outline of what the project intends to achieve, and why the business requires this project. A key question to be answered is “Do we have a worthwhile project, and is it viable?”

The key activities carried out in this process include appointing an executive to oversee the entire project, appointing a project manager, identifying and assembling the project team, establishing the approach the team will take to the project, and preparing the project brief. The next stages of the project are also planned during this process.

2. Directing A Project
Directing a ProjectA Project Board is established to oversee the project. In this process, the activities of the Project Board in taking overall control are described. The focus is on the necessary decision making for the Board members to meet their accountable targets. It is important to understand that the Project Board’s role is a supervisory one. The actual management of a project should be delegated to a project manager.

3. Initiating A Project
Initiating a ProjectThis process builds on the foundations created by the activities in the first process. During the initiation process, the project brief is developed into a business case. How the project will identify quality issues is agreed, and overall project control methods are also agreed. The plan for the entire project is specified, and all necessary project files are created. The plan for managing stages is formulated.

When quality assessment, project control and project scope have been identified, the project proposal may be presented to the Project Board for approval and authorization.

4. Controlling A Stage
Controlling a StageAs we have seen, one of the principles of Prince2 Project Management is to break projects down into a stage-by-stage model. At the fundamental level, the Controlling a Stage process determines how work packages are authorized and completed. The Controlling a Stage process describes how each sub-process, or stage, will be managed, and how progress will be determined. The project manager will manage the execution and delivery of the stage, and report progress, and possibly exceptions, to the Project Board.

The key activities involved in the process include work package authorization, progress assessment, identifying and analyzing issues, and determining stage status. Additionally, this process will instigate corrective actions to handle problems, and, if necessary, escalate any problem. Finally, this process determines when a work package is completed.

5. Managing Stage Boundaries
Managing a Stage BoundaryThe Managing Stage Boundaries process determines what should happen at the end of a stage. While Controlling a Stage specifies the procedures, targets and aims within the actual stage itself, Managing Stage Boundaries is concerned with planning for what happens next. The process also measures progress in terms of the overall project plan. If necessary, the risk register will be amended, as will the business case.

The Managing Stage Boundaries process is also the process wherein decisions are made on what to do when a stage has moved outside its planned tolerance levels. It also identifies how and when a stage is deemed complete and reported as such.

6. Managing Product Delivery
Managing Product DeliveryThis process determines the link between the Project Manager and one or more Team Leaders in the project. The process sets out the formal requirements that govern the execution, delivery and acceptance of the tasks in the project.

The objectives behind this PRINCE2 project management process fall into four major categories:

  • To establish a mechanism whereby all work is authorized and agreed before being allocated.
  • To ensure that team leaders and team members, and service or component suppliers are fully aware of what is required to be produced. This should include expected costs and timescales.
  • To ensure that the products are delivered to specification and within the specified tolerance.
  • To make sure the Project Manager is kept appraised of progress at regular intervals so that expectations can be accurately managed.

7. Closing A Project
Closing a ProjectThis is a vital process that is often overlooked. Once a project has been completed, there should be a plan in place to formally close the project. This plan should include reallocating human and other resources used in the project.

The project itself should be reviewed, evaluated and audited at this stage. This process should also identify any follow-on projects that the business should now consider.


Since PRINCE2 is a generic methodology, it can fit in seamlessly with various techniques. Yet PRINCE2 specifically describes the following:

  • Product based planning
  • Change Control Technique
  • Quality Review Technique

Let’s us look at one of these techniques using PRINCE2 methodology as an example.

Quality Review Technique
The products created in a project have to meet the criteria specified and must also meet specified standards.

The Quality Review Technique is used to ensure this happens. The technique involves organizing a review meeting. The meeting is used to bring together end users or others who have a vested interest in the project’s products, and resources in the project team who are equipped to address any issues raised.

Any problems are identified at the meeting. It is not the purpose of the meeting to solve any problems, but only to identify them. Issues are then reported back to the project manager.


The PRINCE2 project management methodology is designed to be flexible, and this means it can cope with projects of all sizes. However, you will recall that one of the principles is tailoring a project to match the environment.

In effect, what this means is abandoning some of the PRINCE2 project management methodology for smaller projects. The ideal is to get the correct balance. This means not being over-controlling from an administrative point of view on smaller projects, while at the same time making sure larger projects are tightly monitored to prevent them from spiraling out of control.

Exams, Training and Accreditation

PRINCE2 has become a very popular project management methodology in many countries, and there are numerous organizations offering training. It is feasible for anybody who has a reasonable level of project management experience to undertake self-study courses.

To obtain accreditation, there are three exams available. The Foundation exam is a computer-based, multiple choice exam that lasts just 1 hour. The Practitioner exam is considerably longer at 2.5 hours. This exam is a paper based multiple choice type exam, where results are determined by computer. There are several different types of multiple choice questions in the exam. Candidates may have to select just 1 answer from the choices given, or select 2 correct answers from a choice of 5. Other questions challenge the candidate to identify the correct sequence, or to make true or false evaluations of assertions made.

Candidates for the Practitioner exam are presented with a project scenario booklet that is normally about 10 pages long. They need to read this, as the questions will be related to items in the booklet.

The Professional exam is much more comprehensive and consists of a 2.5 day assessment. Whereas the Foundation and Practitioner exams test the candidate’s knowledge of the PRINCE2 project management methodology, the Professional exam tests their ability to apply the methodology. These exams must be taken every 5 years to remain accredited.

Successful candidates are placed on a register that is available online. Candidates can elect to opt out of the list. However, this is an excellent way of demonstrating to potential employers that you have PRINCE2 qualifications. APMG will also undertake candidate validation to confirm a candidate’s status.

The APM Group Ltd. oversees the accreditation process for accredited PRINCE2 project management training organizations (ATOs), trainers, training materials and training standards. The standards have been developed in conjunction with an independent Examination Board.

Trainers have to undergo re-accreditation every 3 years. They are also subject to a practical check when either an assessor will be physically present when they are delivering part of a training course, or when they face a telephone test of their professional knowledge by an assessor. ATOs and their trainers are also subject to ad hoc monitoring.

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