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Maturing your organization's project management capabilities using PRINCE2, PMP and Agile White Paper

White Paper

Maturing your organization's project management capabilities using PRINCE2, PMP and Agile White Paper

White Paper

  • White Paper
  • Agile
  • Business solutions
  • Capabilities
  • Project management
  • AgileSHIFT
  • PRINCE2 Agile

Author  Patrick Von Schlag – President, Deep Creek Center

January 5, 2021 |

 21 min read

  • White Paper
  • Agile
  • Business solutions
  • Capabilities
  • Project management
  • AgileSHIFT
  • PRINCE2 Agile

Organizations look to project management certification to allow them to identify, acquire and develop their human resources and thereby enable them to successfully execute projects and generate business value.

There are a variety of different project management methods, frameworks, standards, and best practices. This can make it challenging for organizations to select the way of working that best suits their needs. This White Paper outlines similarities and differences in two of the most widespread and adopted certifications, the PMBOK® Guide (and other project management practices that support the PMI Project Management Professional (PMP), and the PRINCE2® method. PMP is principally focused on the knowledge required by a project manager to carry out project management tasks, whereas PRINCE2 is more concerned with how to manage the whole project. The question is not which to choose but how to use these complementary approaches to derive the maximum benefit from each. Both certifications have undergone major updates in recent years to reflect the integration of Agile practices.

Overview and history of PRINCE2, the PMBOK guide, PMP and Agile

The PMBOK® Guide was originally published by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) in 1987. It is updated periodically and is currently on the sixth edition. PRINCE was first published in 1990 with a focus on IT projects. It was revised for general project management and released as PRINCE2 in 1996, significantly updated in the 2009 and 2017 editions. Each of these have been augmented with guidance for the use of Agile practices; PMI has co-published the Agile Practice Guide, while PRINCE2 Agile® was specifically developed to effectively integrate Agile practices as tailoring for a PRINCE2 project.

Relationships between PRINCE2, PMP and their underlying guidance


PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments 2) is a process-oriented project management method owned by AXELOS. It is a widely used project management method with well over a million certifications taken globally to date.

PRINCE2 is a clearly defined method with roles, responsibilities, principles, themes and processes that are easy to learn and apply. It is open, flexible and its usage is growing quickly. In some countries, it is almost mandatory for project managers to be certified in PRINCE2, often due to the requirements from the public sector.


PRINCE2 is built on seven principles. All seven principles must be followed to use PRINCE2, even though the approach in other aspects can be modified heavily. A benefit of having principles is that they can always be referenced when in doubt of how to use PRINCE2.

The principles are:
  • Continued business justification
  • Learn from experience
  • Defined roles and responsibilities
  • Manage by stages
  • Manage by exception
  • Focus on products
  • Tailor to suit the project.


PRINCE2 themes are used to describe aspects of project management that must be addressed continually as the project progresses through its lifecycle. The PRINCE2 themes are:

ThemeDescriptionAnswers the question
Business caseThe project starts with an idea which is considered to have potential value for the organization concerned. This theme addresses how the idea is developed into a viable investment proposition for the organization and how project management maintains the focus on the organization’s objectives throughout the projectWhy?
OrganizationThe organization commissioning the project needs to allocate the work to
managers who will be responsible for it and steer it through to completion. Projects are cross-functional so the normal line function structures are not suitable. This theme describes the roles and responsibilities in the temporary PRINCE2 project management team required to manage the project effectively.
QualityThe initial idea will only be understood as a broad outline. This theme
explains how the outline is developed so that all participants understand thequality attributes of the products to be delivered and then how project
management will ensure that these requirements are subsequently delivered.
PlansPRINCE2 projects proceed on the basis of a series of approved plans. This theme complements the quality theme by describing the steps required to develop plans and the PRINCE2 techniques that should be applied. In PRINCE2, the plans are matched to the needs of the people at the various levels of the organization. They are the focus for communication and control throughout the project.How?
How much?
RiskProjects typically entail more risk than stable operational activity. This
theme addresses how project management manages uncertainty
What if?
ChangeThis theme describes how project management assesses and acts upon
issues which have a potential impact on any of the baseline aspects of the project (its plans and completed products). Issues may be unanticipated general problems, requests for change or instances of a product not meeting its specification.
What is the impact?
ProgressThis theme addresses the ongoing viability of the plans. The theme explains the decision-making process for approving plans, the monitoring of actual performance and the escalation process if events do not go according to plan. Ultimately, the progress theme determines whether and how the project should proceed.Where are we now?
Where are we going?
Should we carry on?

Table 3.1 PRINCE2 themes


The PRINCE2 processes are:

  • Starting up a project
  • Directing a project
  • Initiating a project
  • Controlling a project
  • Managing project delivery
  • Managing a stage boundary
  • Closing a project.
PRINCE2 and the PMP complement each other because they have different areas of focus

PRINCE2 and the PMP complement each other because they have different areas of focus. The strength of PRINCE2 is that it provides a coherent end-to-end method that is easy to learn and apply, while the strength of the PMP is that it validates understanding of a library of techniques that can be applied regardless of the approach or method chosen. Which techniques are appropriate will depend on the organization and the nature of the project.

Intro to PMBOK Guide (knowledge areas, enablers, deliverables, tools)

The PMBOK® Guide is a guide to the PMI’s project management body of knowledge (PMBOK). The content is applicable to most projects, and is organized as a series of process activities, including integration, scope, schedule, cost, quality, resource, communications, risk, procurement, and stakeholder management practice areas. Each process includes a set of inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs. The PMP credential is augmented with a broad bibliography of other resources, including the ANSI Project Management standard and the Agile Practice Guide.


Organizations leverage bodies of knowledge that capture and utilize proven best practices to improve efficiency and effectiveness. PMOs specifically seek an adaptable set of practices to enable their enterprises, creating quality products and services at optimum cost while delivering value and managing risk.

While consistent bodies of knowledge are important in helping professionals attain the knowledge and skills that are required for project leadership, the ability to leverage an aligned set of flexible methodologies that provide better outcomes is highly desirable. Expectations are that any set of industry best practices could be adopted and adapted; that the organization makes a strategic choice to leverage a set of best practices, and that it is then tailored to meet the unique needs of that organization. Project management methods, like PRINCE2, provide specific processes, themes, and principles that are adaptable to the needs of any organization and any type of project, whether it be run in a predictive or agile way.


Process-oriented methods have a reputation for creating inflexibility in how an organization carries out its work. Successful project management requires tailoring: adapting a method or process to suit the situation in which it will be used. While every organization should establish a coherent and consistent approach for managing project delivery, each individual project should be tailored to meet its unique needs. PRINCE2 specifically expects that all projects require tailoring, based on the size, scale, and needs of the project.


The following list highlights a few of the strengths of each approach:

  • The knowledge contained in the PMBOK® Guide and validated in the PMP is independent to, and can be adopted regardless of, the methodology of choice.
  • The PMBOK® Guide is a well-established guide to the PMI knowledge framework with millions of copies sold worldwide.
  • The PMBOK® Guide provides a clear focus on what the project manager should do and techniques that a project manager can leverage.
  • PRINCE2 is the most widespread project management method in the world.
  • PRINCE2 has defined project management principles, themes, and processes.
  • PRINCE2 provides a clear governance structure including the relationship of the project board to corporate/programme management.
  • PRINCE2 protects the business justification for the project by focusing decisions on the business case throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Both best practices encourage the use of appropriate adaptation as needed to meet project objectives.

The emergence of Agile and its impact on best practice


The emergence of Agile began with the need to create more adaptive approaches to managing projects with uncertain outcomes. Agile or growth mindsets are based in discovery: as we learn more about business problems and proposed solutions, we will want to adapt to take advantage of better knowledge to produce better outcomes and greater value. An emphasis is placed on planning in shorter time horizons, with frequent reviews of products and processes and experimentation in approaches to solve problems effectively. The Agile mindset is not limited to traditional projects but is being adopted even at the strategic level of enterprises to respond to the increasing level of uncertainty in business environments.


The original Agile Manifesto is framed as a series of value statements, identifying a set of core values and prioritizing some over others. These include:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

These are not intended to discount the value of the items on the right but does argue that we should value the items on the left more. For project managers, this dramatically changes the level of customer and stakeholder interaction. It focuses on empirical process controls over traditional reporting, expecting adaptation to occur through a project lifecycle as the stakeholders gain more insight into dynamically changing needs. Successful organizations will need to be able to tailor their project management approaches to acknowledge this uncertainty and ensure that the project delivers products that will support the organization’s desired outcomes.


The Agile Manifesto incorporates a set of 12 guiding principles to support agile ways of working. These key principles are particularly useful to assist organizations with defining why Agile approaches are useful in their business context. They provide a basis for helping organizations to examine the effectiveness of their practices and how they might be improved over time. These principles focus on key aspects of value consistent with PRINCE2 themes and processes:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  • Businesspeople and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals, give them the environment, and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information with and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done - is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

The principles reinforce the Agile values by explicitly focusing on:

  • early and continuous delivery
  • adapting to change
  • effective collaboration and engagement with stakeholders
  • trust and empowerment of teams
  • a focus on value and working solutions
  • using good practice in a sustainable manner
  • feedback loops to identify improvement to the products and the team’s processes.

Successful project managers need effective, empowered, and motivated teams to successfully deliver the desired project products, and ultimately to help facilitate the intended business value.


Core Agile principles manifest in a number of specific common practices. Different Agile practices use these types of activities with different nomenclature and with local adaptations to suit the needs of their teams and organization. Some of these practices include:

  • Use of prioritized backlogs of work, often written as epics or user stories with a focus on users, activity, and value.
  • Planning, estimation techniques, and commitment ceremonies that reflect a collaborative understanding of the business stakeholders and delivery team.
  • Daily meetings or standups for the team to reinforce commitment and identify potential risks and issues to be addressed.
  • Frequent reviews of the product of the team for feedback and early learning.
  • Frequent reviews of team practices for experimentation in improving efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Use of "information radiators" like Kanban boards and burndown charts to promote visibility among stakeholders.

While there are dozens of different types of Agile practices, the team should effectively tailor the ones they utilize based on the team’s and organization’s needs. PRINCE2 tailoring aligns effectively with Agile practice to assist organizations in leveraging these practices to improve their performance.


PRINCE2 underwent an update in 2017 in which, amongst other things, it was adapted to more explicitly enable organizations to tailor PRINCE2 to effectively run agile projects, while continuing to support more predictive approaches. This was supported by the previous launch of the PRINCE2 Agile certification in 2015, which describes specific Agile practices, aligns them in a PRINCE2 context, and provides tools (such as the Agilometer) to help organizations assess the propriety of using Agile methods in a given project environment. Together, this guidance integrates Agile tools and techniques into a proven method, enabling the use of Scrum, Kanban, or other Agile frameworks in an overarching, scalable project management methodology.


The PMP has undergone a substantial change to reflect the need to balance traditional predictive project management approaches with more agile approaches. The newest version of the PMP exam will continue to test key principles laid out in the PMBOK but has expanded its coverage to incorporate content from the Agile Practice Guide and a substantial bibliography of additional sources. The PMP continues to focus on the development and support of core knowledge areas for a project manager.

Major differences between the approaches


Both certifications have evolved in time to better incorporate Agile principles and practices. PRINCE2 considers Agile a specific set of approaches to tailoring, with an explicit impact on the process of managing product delivery. The PMP credential has expanded its coverage of Agile techniques, including the use of backlogs, estimating techniques like planning poker and story points, and Agile ceremonies like sprint planning, demos, and retrospectives. Each approach suggests that there are different types of projects, some of which would benefit from a predictive approach and others from an Agile approach. The PRINCE2 Agilometer is an effective tool for assessing the relative value of Agile in each project context and how and where Agile techniques and tools might be best applied.


Traditionally, PMBOK has emphasized phases of a project, roughly organized into sets of activities for planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing a project. They have transformed this approach for the newest version of PMP, organizing into three main areas: people, process, and business environment. The newest version reinforces the critical skills of team development, and core skills in managing customer relationships and the broader organizational context of the solution. PRINCE2 is organized in management stages, and uses these to plan, execute, and review work, while ensuring proper alignment with larger program and/or organizational objectives. PMPs who have studied effective team development and business alignment will be able to leverage these skills effectively in using a PRINCE2 management approach.


One of the most important differences between each approach is in how they manage the business case. In the PMBOK® Guide, the business case is provided as input to the development of the project charter together with an optional contract, whereas in PRINCE2, the business case is continuously updated, and is considered a draft until the project has been planned and is then used through the project to check that it will deliver the benefits.


The PMP does not anticipate the organizational setup of a project. It describes the roles of the project manager and sponsor in detail but is less explicit about other stakeholders. PRINCE2 ensures that project governance and the three stakeholder interests of user, business and supplier are all specifically and appropriately represented as part of the project board. PRINCE2 also defines how to delegate as well as when and how to report and escalate issues, from team manager through project manager, the project board and to the corporate management. PRINCE2 also defines supporting roles, such as project support and project assurance.

One of the most important differences between each approach is in how they manage the business case.


In the PMP, scope is managed through a set of process activities. First, requirements are identified, captured, validated, and agreed. Once these are determined, project scope and exclusions are confirmed, then broken down into a work breakdown structure (WBS). The lowest level of the WBS, the work packages, are decomposed further into activities that are sequenced in a network diagram, which is used to identify critical path.

PRINCE2 focuses on the actual products of the project. The resulting product is described in a project product description, which defines customer expectations, quality, and acceptance criteria. This forms the basis for a product breakdown structure (PBS). The logical relationship of the items in the PBS is examined and a product flow diagram is developed with arrows indicating where activities are needed to go from one deliverable to the next.

Based on these definitions, a PBS can be considered a special kind of WBS. While at first glance these two approaches look very different, they can be used together, providing multiple views on the project scope intended for different stakeholders. This can help ensure all products and all works have been covered.


Definitions of quality are somewhat different in the two approaches. Traditionally, reviewing the results, such as deliverables, internally within the project is always part of quality control, and reviewing processes from someone external to the project is always quality assurance. The PMP has expanded its focus on the QA practices to include the creation and execution of the quality management plan. External audits of the correct and effective use of organizational processes and practices is called a quality audit.

6.6.1 Terminology and definitions

The following table shows some key terms in PMP next to their PRINCE2 equivalent.

Project sponsorExecutive
Business caseBusiness case
Project charterProject brief
Project management planProject initiation documentation
Project Scope StatementProject Product Description
WBS dictionaryProduct Description
Change LogIssue Register
Issue LogIssue Register
No clear analogueTeam manager
Project Closure DocumentsEnd Project Report
Performance ReportHighlight Report, Checkpoint Report, End Stage Reports

Table 6.1 Key terms in PMP and PRINCE2

It is important to emphasize that PMP focuses on process activities, whereas PRINCE2 focuses more on the project artifacts (documents) and how to create and manage the project. These sets of practices are compatible.

Building a set of organizational capabilities


Organizations require project managers with both an in-depth understand of project management tools and techniques, and an effective methodology for creating, managing, and delivering the project and its intended benefits. Organizations that have made significant investments in PMP will have project managers with an in-depth understanding of tools and techniques. They will substantially benefit from exposure to PRINCE2 principles, themes, and processes to help them establish a coherent and consistent set of practices to support project execution.


Project management skills have expanded in recent years to include a variety of commercial skills, such as supplier management, negotiation, servant leadership, with an emphasis on effective collaboration and communications. More tools are available to help facilitate these communications: an effective project manager must work with their teams to coordinate these activities and to help produce more productive teams and higher quality results. Project managers must commit to continuous professional development to learn about new challenges, techniques, and innovations as the field continues to evolve to support changing business conditions. Skills in using an adaptive method will enable their teams to meet these challenges.


Successful project managers will require far more than a set of core knowledge. They must be able to learn to operate in different business environments, leverage effective methodologies, and demonstrate a deep understanding of their customer’s value streams and how their projects produce outcomes for their stakeholders. Rather than merely focusing on the project’s products, a project manager must be able to see beyond to the project's contributions to desired business outcomes, and how value is created for all of the relevant stakeholders. In short, a project manager’s level of expertise will need to expand, and successful project managers will commit to integrating knowledge, skills, methodologies, and business awareness to improve business performance.


According to a recent report The Power of Professional Certification (2019), 97% of decision-makers and 84% of individuals say certification has a positive impact, bringing higher efficiency and employee satisfaction. Decision-makers sponsor certification to meet organization/industry requirements (58%), keep pace with changing technology (54%), and improve productivity (54%). The majority of individuals pursue certification to build new skills (66%) and gain confidence in professional skills (52%).

In volatile and uncertain times, organizations looking to identify project management talent will increasingly consider project management certifications as a highly desirable attribute in candidates. PMP is a compelling knowledge-centered credential that ensures that project managers have been exposed to key tools and techniques in team formation, project scoping, planning, execution, and project controls.

PRINCE2 offers a rigorous yet flexible method that enables quality and consistency in organizational execution of projects. Candidates possessing both certifications (and potentially specific credentialing in Agile practice) will offer the best combination of knowledge, skills, and effective project management methods to ensure a greater likelihood of project success and alignment with business objectives.


PRINCE2 enjoys a wide global adoption because it provides a standardized, tailorable, and consistent approach to organizing, governing, and managing projects of all sizes and scopes. The PMP has enjoyed broad acceptance because of its deep focus on project management knowledge areas, including cost management, procurement, and effective prescriptive approaches to planning, executing, and controlling projects. Both have continued to grow and adapt to the proliferation of Agile practices, the development of more specialized commercial management capabilities, and the continued need for project managers who can successfully leverage best practices in a variety of different business environments. For audiences who have traditionally leveraged the PMP credential, PRINCE2 adds meaningful value to PMOs seeking a flexible, proven method that can support all the different projects in their portfolio.


AXELOS (2017) Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2®, Fifth Edition, The Stationery Office (TSO), London.

AXELOS (2015) PRINCE2 Agile®, First Edition, The Stationery Office (TSO), London.

AXELOS (2020) Effective Project Management: The PRINCE2 Method. The Stationery Office (TSO), London.

PMI (2017) The PMBOK® Guide, Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, London.

PMI (2017) Software Extension to the PMBOK® Guide, Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, London.

PMI and Agile Alliance (2017) Agile Practice Guide, Project Management Institute, London.

Further information about PRINCE2 Agile

 AXELOS (2019) The Power of Professional Certification. AXELOS, London.

About the author

Patrick von Schlag is President of Deep Creek Center, a consultancy based in Highland, MD USA. Patrick has more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes adopt and adapt best practices for project management, IT service management, Agile practices, governance, and information security. Patrick’s professional credentials include PRINCE2 Practitioner, ITIL Expert and Managing Professional, Scrum Master, Product Owner and Agile Expert, COBIT, RESILIA, and NIST Cybersecurity Professional.

Head and shoulder photo of Author Patrick Von Schlag

Maturing your organization's project management capabilities using PRINCE2, PMP, and AGILE