The fine art of tailoring to suit the project environment

Red fabric laid on a wooden surface with two hands cutting it with dressmaking scissors alongside a tape measure

Those familiar with Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2® will know that the value of the universal, process-based project management method is that it can be applied to any project regardless of  type, organization, geography or culture. It can be used for any project because the method is designed to be tailored to its specific needs. Where PRINCE2 is not tailored it is unlikely that the project management approach and effort will be appropriate for the needs of the project; an aspect that no doubt would be identified when undergoing a structured gated assurance review process.

This lack of tailoring explains why some choose Agile (a delivery framework for iterative and incremental product and service delivery) thinking that their project can be delivered quicker and more easily by avoiding documentation. But this misconception is not an excuse for omitting documentation. If we look closely at the Agile Manifesto, it actually says ‘working software’ over ‘comprehensive documentation’, that is, “while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more". However this should not be interpreted as being at the exclusion of the opposing value. Any project documentation, therefore, should be focused on the information and decision-making  regardless of the project management methodology or product delivery framework being applied.

But before we go further, let’s define what good tailoring is. Tailoring refers to the appropriate use of PRINCE2 on any given project, ensuring that there is the correct amount of planning, control, governance and use of the processes and themes, whereas the adoption of PRINCE2 across an organization is known as embedding.

The purpose of tailoring is to:

1. Ensure the project management method relates to the project’s environment (e.g. aligning the method to the organizational processes that may govern and support the project such as human resources, governance controls and procurement policies and standards).

2. Ensure that project controls are based on the project’s scale, complexity, importance, capability and risk (e.g. the reporting and reviewing frequency and formality).

When tailoring PRINCE2, it is important to remember that it requires information and decisions rather than just documents and meetings. This is why the AXELOS Global Best Practice guidance includes product description outlines that should be tailored to the requirements and environment of each project. The focus should be on the product format and presentation as the management products are not necessarily documents, they are information sets that are used by the PRINCE2 processes so that the business, supplier and user interest roles can take action and/or make decisions. To ensure that all those people involved with the project understand how PRINCE2 is to be used, the project initiation documentation (PID) should state how the method is being tailored for that particular project.

In conclusion, the need to appropriately tailor PRINCE2 is paramount as it can be poorly implemented when project managers pick and choose elements of it without the appropriate support and guidance from a Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Office (see AXELOS’ P3O®) and project executive. PRINCE2 is not a series of isolated silos whereby any element can be omitted with no effect on the others. It is a web of interlinking elements: themes are used in processes; activities are undertaken to bring themes to life; and individuals fulfilling project roles create management products. If an element is omitted, effective project management of the project is at risk.

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts from Milvio DiBartolomeo

The good, the bad and the agile

Selecting a good senior responsible owner

What is good P3O® governance?

The value of gated assurance

Current rating: 4.8 (5 ratings)


4 Dec 2017 Agha Hussain Jafferi
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Good explanation Milvio. All that matters is clear understanding of the method
3 Jun 2019 Herman Brits
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Good article.
What I take from this is - You can simplify, BUT make sure all elements of Prince 2 are included.
21 Feb 2020 Milvio DiBartolomeo
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Thanks Herman. Yes, unless a project is following the 7 x PRINCE2 principles, 7 x Themes and 7 x processes and tailoring to suit the environment - its not considered a PRINCE2 project.
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