PRINCE2: 30 years-plus giving "accidental project management" coherent principles

Front of vintage mechanical typewriter viewed from above with the words 'What's your story' typed on paper inside

John Edmonds – who joined AXELOS in 2018 – was the classic, "accidental project manager" in an era before best practice and when project management was done through trial and error.

Here, he charts his journey to training countless professionals in PRINCE2® while also giving us an overview of the history of PRINCE2.

In my early career in the finance sector, I was given project management responsibilities but without training.

So, my “project management” was done by inventing things and almost always making lots of mistakes. Having accountability for this was quite scary; I’d come from a discipline I was trained in and knew what I was doing. Suddenly I didn’t know – but then nobody else did either.

At the time, project management courses had a construction/engineering bias which told you more about the mechanics of particular industries than offering generic skills.

However, they do say you have to “kiss a few frogs” to find your “PRINCE”.

PRINCE without a 2

The UK Government’s standard approach for IT projects was named PRINCE (Projects in Controlled Environments) in 1989. Previously, it was known as PROMPT II (Project Resource Organization Management Planning Techniques), first introduced in 1975 to help the Government gain control of IT projects. PRINCE was a new version of the method, developed by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency, to enhance project management approaches further. When made public in 1990, PRINCE was also used for major non-IT projects. Outside the public sector, it began to have a presence in other organizations as a project management method with a credibility beyond home-grown ideas.

I trained and certified in PRINCE and used it in the early 1990s on a four-year project for deregulation in financial services, which involved updating operating systems to survive and to do new things.

What PRINCE gave us was a governance structure for the project including defined roles and responsibilities, organizing steering groups and facilitating senior management involvement. As it made complete sense, it was readily accepted in the organization and helped us obtain buy-in, right up to CEO level.

While my career changed direction in the mid-90s, so did the evolution of PRINCE. In 1996, PRINCE2 arrived and – with the turn of the Millennium – I both certified and I started training others in PRINCE2 and this would continue for the next 16 years.

PRINCE2 and the growth of professional project management

The use of project management was growing in organizations in the early Noughties. The shift from PRINCE to PRINCE2 was a huge step forward; developed in conjunction with about 150 European organizations, it created something immediately understandable and applicable for anyone in any project role. It was built on a tremendous amount of common sense which, when combined as a whole, met a fast-developing market need and – ultimately – became a global phenomenon.

PRINCE2 training in the Noughties

People attending PRINCE2 courses would explore the value of project management best practice for their organizations and also for them as individuals.

I would see their confidence and skills increase and this meant many organizations invited us in-house to train other people and provide coaching sessions. Very soon, they also realized certain benefits: using a business case to justify project investments, the ability to articulate internally what a project could do and how it relates to the overall objectives of the organization, not just one department.

Towards the end of the decade, PRINCE2 also underwent significant changes that define the method today: the 2009 version went back to basics and – for the first time – articulated clearly its seven principles. This became fundamental after AXELOS was created in 2013 to manage, develop and grow the best practice, leading to PRINCE2 Agile (2015) and the new PRINCE2 6th edition (2017). In each case, the principles remain central to the method, making it fully flexible and adaptable for project managers worldwide.

A principles-based best practice

By making PRINCE2 principles-based, we wanted to convey clearly that a project manager doesn’t need to use everything in the guidance to be running a PRINCE2 project. The important concept is being able to tailor the method to the requirements of an individual project and organization.

Today, PRINCE2 remains a clear guide for project managers. And with the advent of PRINCE2 Agile®, there is guidance to use PRINCE2 approaches in conjunction with product delivery teams adopting Agile methods.

After more than 30 years – and several revisions – the existence of PRINCE2 means there’s no reason for project managers to be without the right advice and guidance. I certainly would’ve had a very different early working life if it had existed then!

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts by John Edmonds

Why projects need continued business justification

The Seven Cs of Programme Failure

Festival season - it's not all love and peace!

The Eurovision Song Contest - How to make it work using MSP

Beware - Disruptors at work in this area

AgileSHIFT – no, it’s not another Agile method

How can I be agile without going Agile?

A changing context – the reasons behind AgileSHIFT

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