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PRINCE2 and PMBOK: How They Compare

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Compare PRINCE2 and PMBOK

I was interviewed by Diego Nei for the Brazilian blog, Papo GP (Talking PM – I think I’ve got that right). We were talking about PRINCE2®, what it means to get qualified and how it compares to the PMBOK Guide®.

If you’re up for it, you can read the interview in Portuguese, but Diego has also sent me the interview in English and let me reproduce it here.

I have updated my responses in order to better reflect the PRINCE2 or PMBOK state of play as at August 2015 as the PMBOK Guide has been updated since this interview first took place.

Today, on our Project Management Methodologies Series, we’re going to interview Elizabeth Harrin, from the award-winning blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. Elizabeth is the author of Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World and writes widely on the topic of project management for a range of publications.  She is a PRINCE2 Practitioner.

Hello Elizabeth, thanks for coming, how are you?

Well, thank you!

Elizabeth, what’s the story behind the PRINCE2 methodology?

PRINCE2 stands for Projects IN Controlled Environments and is a widely used project management method.  First came PRINCE in 1989 as the UK government standard for IT project management.

Since then it has been adopted by the public and private sectors world-wide and revised several times; PRINCE2 was the most significant rewrite.  The most recent version was released in June 2009, which has split the manual into two, covering project managers and project sponsors.

In brief, how does PRINCE2 work?

PRINCE2 is processed based, with processes covering starting a project, directing a project, initiating a project, managing stage boundaries (sign off and moving between stages), controlling a stage, managing product delivery (there is an emphasis on product based planning) and closing a project.

This is all done in an environment of seven themes:  business case, organization, quality, plans, risk, change and progress.

How do these themes correlate to the project lifecycle we find in the PMBOK Guide?

There’s a lifecycle in PRINCE2 as well, the themes are the environment in which the lifecycle happens.

In PRINCE2 you start with pre-project, then the initiation stage, then the subsequent delivery stages (you might want several if the project is long) then the final delivery stage which includes closing a project.

What are the main differences between PRINCE2 and the PMBOK framework?

PRINCE2 offers a start-to-finish way to get a project off the ground, see it through and wrap it up, which is what some new project managers find difficult.

PRINCE2 includes a discussion of how to start up a project and practical detail on change control; something studying for the PMP exam alone won’t give you. So where the PMBOK Guide says you need an approach to manage project changes, PRINCE2 will actually tell you how to go about it.

There are other differences: the PMBOK Guide usefully covers procurement, whereas PRINCE2 assumes you are operating in an environment constrained by a contract, because of its roots in government IT projects.  You won’t find anything in PRINCE2 about people management or the soft skills of project management, although these are covered in other related books published by the OGC.

Are PRINCE2’s concepts exclusive or complementary to the PMBOK?

PRINCE2 isn’t exclusive, it will work with PMBOK Guide.  If you have the mandate and resources, there is no reason why PMBOK and PRINCE2 cannot be put to effective use on the same project.

In fact, a growing number of project managers are doing just that, and showing the value of using the PMBOK Guide and PRINCE2 to complement each other.

The key to making flexible methodologies like PRINCE2 and frameworks like the PMBOK Guide work together is in being flexible yourself.  Pick and choose the bits that will provide the most value to your project.

The PMBOK Guide has a huge amount of detail that will help you approach your projects in a professional way. Applying them all would be as unhelpful as it is unrealistic.

PRINCE2 is the same: there is no point in sticking rigidly to the workflow in the book if it takes you three times as long to get anything done.

What are PRINCE2’s strengths?

It’s very structured. It’s approach to running a steering group or project board is very clear and there is an emphasis on roles and responsibilities. There is a lot of documentation but you don’t have to do it all and what you do complete really helps people understand the project scope and get things right.

And what are the weak points?

As I said, PRINCE2 doesn’t cover working with people and as team management and getting the best out of the people is what we all do every day, this seems like a big oversight on the part of PRINCE2, especially as project boards form such a critical part of the standard.

The PMBOK Guide-Fifth Edition has a new section on stakeholder management, which is long overdue. In my experience a project board, or steering group, ensures much wider buy-in for the deliverables and benefits across the organization.

The downside of boards is that they are harder to set up and manage, and sometimes having one person who provides executive sponsorship can be all that is needed to make decisions quickly. Boards can also be overkill for small projects – as can a lot of PRINCE2 documentation.

Is there any kind of project where PRINCE2 is recommended over other methodologies?

No, not that I’m aware of.

What are the most used tools and software on PRINCE2?

PRINCE2 doesn’t mandate tools and software, you can use whatever you like – or nothing at all.

There are a set of useful document templates and organizations tend to pick and choose from those.

Where can we find those templates? Are they free?

They are on the PRINCE2 website, and yes, they are free.

If you sit the PRINCE2 exam you’ll get access to pm4success free for a year and there are lots of resources there.

If you don’t like the ‘official’ templates have a hunt online to see what you can get for free. I have some free project management templates, although they aren’t PRINCE2 templates specifically.

PMI regulates the PMP certification. What agency regulates PRINCE2’s certifications?

AXELOS administers the PRINCE2 exams and accreditation. It’s a joint venture company partly owned by the Cabinet Office of the UK government.

What is the process to become a Certified PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner? Are there eligibility requirements?

There are no eligibility requirements for either exam. Take a training course, or learn yourself from the manual, then sit the exam. You will typically get Foundation results back the same or next day. It takes longer to find out if you have passed Practitioner exams.

Still about certifications, what are the differences between the Foundation and Practitioner certifications?

The Foundation exam is about knowing knowledge, the Practitioner exam is about being able to apply that knowledge in practical situations to deliver successful projects.

A Practitioner training course is typically 5 days, where you learn the basics early in the week, take the Foundation paper on the Wednesday and then learn the more advanced stuff and take the Practitioner exam on the Friday.

As you would expect, the Practitioner exam is longer, more difficult and has a higher pass mark than the Foundation exam!

How do you retain the certification? Is there something like PMI’s PDUs?

No, there is nothing like PDU’s. You have to take the re-certification exam after 5 years. The re-certification exam is 1 hour long.

In Brazil, where can people take the exam for the PRINCE2 certifications?

There are Brazilian training providers offering PRINCE2. You can see the list on the AXELOS website, where you can search for providers by country.

How do you see PRINCE2’s growth nowadays, considering the high value the PMP Certification is getting over the years?

I don’t know where this view that PRINCE2 is ‘small’ has come from.  There seems to be wide belief in the US that PRINCE2 is used by a couple of people in a small village outside Tunbridge Wells, but that really isn’t the case.


PRINCE2 is used in 160 countries.  The exams are available in 9 languages and the manuals are available in 7 languages.  There are over 250,000 qualified candidates and 2,000 exams taken per week around the world. Globally people have taken a million exams in PRINCE2**.

There is 20% growth year on year, and as project-based enterprises are only increasing, I can see this continuing.

There are 660,338 PMPs*** and the PMBOK Guide is published in ten official languages. Looked at that way, there are more PMP certificates hanging on office walls, but PRINCE2 is growing substantially and isn’t the poor relation.

Where can interested people find resources to study about PRINCE2?

There is a lot of information on the official website.

Thanks a lot for the interview Elizabeth, it was a pleasure having you here with us on Papo GP! Would you like to share final considerations?

Another thing to note is that PRINCE2 is not a membership organization like PMI. You don’t pay a yearly subscription, you don’t get magazines or a conference. For this reason it is much cheaper, but if you want the networking side of a membership organization you have to find it elsewhere.

There are lots of places like this blog and my blog, and the #pmot group on Twitter where you can meet like-minded people at no charge!

** This statistic is from

***As at July 2015, statistics from PMI Today magazine.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.


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