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Author  Mark Aston-Smith – Senior Learning Specialist, QA

Senior Learning Specialist, QA

August 30, 2023 |

 8 min read

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If I tell you that PRINCE2 is a project management method, shouldn’t it be obvious what PRINCE2 is?

If only the world was that simple!

People who know nothing about it might understandably question what PRINCE2 stands for, where it came from and what’s the need for it. However, those who think they know about it can be subject to some confusion, often caused by terms such as “waterfall” and “agile”.

So, if my mission is to explain what PRINCE2 is – and what it isn’t – then let’s begin…

A method for managing change

Understanding why PRINCE2 came about in the first place needs a (very) short history lesson.

Once upon a time, when people and organizations were trying to introduce business change but products were failing, there had to be a better way of doing things. So, by looking at best practices across thousands of projects and bringing together this knowledge to codify the optimum way of keeping projects under control, PRINCE2 was born.

And, while it has become one of the world’s most widely-used project management methods for people with “project manager” in their job title, it’s also helped countless “accidental project managers” – people who’ve fallen into the role and are looking for structure in what they do day-to-day.

As PRINCE2 is principles and process-based, it’s like the Google Maps of project management: taking you through the journey of managing a project from start to finish. Using a method makes more sense than trusting to luck, which tends to run out at some point.

What are the elements that define PRINCE2?

PRINCE2 likes to do things in sevens: seven principles, themes and processes.

Following these Integrated elements throughout a project lets you know that you are applying the method successfully.

But perhaps the single most defining principle in PRINCE2 – in my opinion – is tailoring the method to suit the project.

In other words, the method gives you guidance to work within, but without demanding that you do it prescriptively.

For example, the method may suggest producing particular reports or documents during a project, but these could be delivered orally, discussed in a physical meeting, or combined. Tailoring what you do allows you to adapt the guidance to each project (regardless of size or complexity), to your organization, and within any regulatory framework.

Adopting this approach – and the PRINCE2 method overall – increases people’s confidence in what they’re doing; and their organization sees an improvement in business performance.

What PRINCE2 isn’t…

Rather than a project management method that claims to exclude all other approaches, PRINCE2 is flexible when it comes to incorporating other, complementary methods.

For example, it can work alongside an Agile delivery method such as Scrum; often providing the business case which wouldn’t otherwise be there. Therefore, it rather adds to the process of delivering change rather than being an obstacle in an Agile environment.  

Today, many more people may have heard of Agile but will shut down a part of their brain when they associate PRINCE2 with a waterfall approach only. The fact is, PRINCE2 works with both.

And one thing PRINCE2 certainly isn’t: it’s not the enemy!

Arriving at PRINCE2 with preconceptions or misunderstandings means people could miss out on the project management skills and structure it offers.

Equally, it doesn’t mean you need to give up using your existing approach to change or product delivery: and where your current method might have gaps, PRINCE2 gives you an opportunity to fill them.