PRINCE2 Methodology explained - what is the method all about?

PRINCE2 manual

An Introduction to the PRINCE2 Methodology


PRINCE2, an acronym for ‘PRojects IN Controlled Environments’. It is a de facto standard used by the UK Government, widely recognised, and practised in both the public and private sectors in the UK and internationally.

The PRINCE2 methodology is an adaptable method that will guide you through the essentials for managing successful projects, regardless of the scale or type of project. If you do not have a project management qualification, then the PRINCE2 methodology is a great one to start with. It is based on seven principles, themes, and processes. PRINCE2 can then be tailored to meet your specific project needs.

The PRINCE2 methodology was first established in 1989 by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), PRINCE2 was originally based on PROMPT, an acronym that stands for Project Resource Organization Management Planning Technique, created in 1975 and used by the United Kingdom for its information system projects. PRINCE2 was finally published in 1996.

Before starting a project there are some basic questions that need to be asked:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • When will we start?
  • What do we need?
  • Can we do it alone, or do we need help?
  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost?

The answers to these questions form the building blocks of the project, they define what we want to do and the best way to go about it. By organising the project into logical steps and using the PRINCE2 methodology to form an organised and controlled plan this will see the project through from start to finish, tying up any loose ends.

The PRINCE2 methodology is a best practice framework, it guides managers with their delivery of projects so they can be on time and within budget. It divides projects into a start, middle and end. The focus is on the delivery of products instead of carrying out activities. A PRINCE2 project must have a business case and plan which should be assessed to make sure the project is still viable.


Characteristics of a Project using the PRINCE2 methodology:

  • A defined life cycle.
  • Defined and measurable business products.
  • List of activities needed to achieve the business products
  • A specified number of resources.
  • Defined responsibilities are shown within an organisational structure to help manage the project.

The project management roles within the PRINCE2 methodology include the following:

  • Project Manager - The Project Manager takes on the responsibility of organising and controlling the project.
  • Customer, user, and supplier - The customer or executive pays for the project.
  • Project board - Each PRINCE2 project has a project board. It is made up of the customer (or executive), someone representing the user side and someone representing the supplier or specialist input. Within the PRINCE2 methodology the project board provides the Project Manager with a set of necessary decisions. 


PRINCE2 Methodology – Principles


There are 7 principles within the PRINCE2 methodology:

1. Continued business justification - Justify every project, even compulsory projects require justification.

2. Learn from experience - Enables organisations to improve their project management capabilities. Avoid repeating bad things from previous projects.

3. Define roles and responsibilities - Every decision-maker must understand their responsibilities.

4. Manage by stages - Break down the project into 'management' stages. These form decision points. If the project is still worthwhile then they should proceed to the next stage. Otherwise close the project.

5. Manage by exception - In PRINCE2 senior management delegates day-to-day responsibility to a project manager. It delegates authority by setting permitted 'tolerances' – e.g., 10 days +/- 2 days. If a plan will exceed tolerances, it is an 'exception' to be escalated for a decision.

6. Focus on products - The project must deliver the right outputs to achieve the desired outcomes. When planning, focus on whether the products will meet the users' requirements.

7. Tailor to the project environment - All projects are different. Adapt the PRINCE2 methodology to suit the project's needs.



PRINCE2 Methodology - Themes

Themes within the PRINCE2 methodology are project management areas which must be managed throughout the project.

There are 7 themes within the PRINCE2 methodology:

1. Business case - Document the project's justification. It should contain a cost-benefit analysis to weigh up the benefits versus cost, time and risk.

2. Organization - The highest level of decision-making is the project board. It delegates to a project manager who delegates to team managers. It 'manages by exception' and does not need regular progress meetings with the project manager.

Project assurance monitors the project’s performance and products. It advises the project board and project manager.

A change authority decides about changes. Project support assists project and team managers.

3. Quality - Products must be delivered to user specifications.

4. Plans - Different plans (project, stage, team) are needed by the project board, project, and team manager.

Plans define what, when, who and how much? After approval manage baseline plans under change control.

5. Risk - Risk is any uncertain event which could have a negative or positive impact on the project. Manage risks regularly. Escalate risks to senior management if necessary.

6. Change - Change always happens - either from outside (e.g. new legislation) or inside (e.g. users’ requirements change). Within the PRINCE2 methodology a change authority uses a change budget to pay for changes.

7. Progress- Track progress using regular time-driven reports. Take decisions using ad-hoc reports. Send reports to the next highest management level.

Compare what has happened against what should have happened. Change the plan to get things 'back on track'.


PRINCE2 Methodology - Processes:

The PRINCE2 processes contain the steps that lead to the project objective. There are 7 processes within a PRINCE2 project, each with a set of related activities to help direct, manage and deliver the project.

1. Start Up the Project - This is where it is decided whether the project is viable or not.

2. Initiate the Project - The activities associated with this process include constructing risk, configuration, quality, and communications management strategies. Also, set up project controls, along with the project plan and project initiation document.

3. Direct the Project - This process helps the project board be accountable to the project through their decision-making. They have authority on initiating the project, delivering its product, and closing the project. They also offer direction and control over the project.

4. Control Stages - This is where the project manager assigns tasks, monitors the work, deals with whatever issues arise and reports on its progress to the project board.

5. Manage Product Delivery - This process manages the delivery of the project product(s), controlling the work between the project manager and the team members.

6. Manage Stage Boundary - There are two parts to the 'Manage Stage Boundary' process: number one, the project manager provides the project board with an overview of performance, updates the project plan and business case, and creates a plan for the next stage. And secondly, the information provided by the project manager will help the project board review the current stage, approve the next and review the updated plan.

Activity includes planning the next stage and reporting on the stage end.

7. Close the Project - The 'Close the Project' process is about making sure the project achieved its goals and objectives by the deadline. Sometimes project managers prepare the planned closure and the premature closure, but that is not required.

Mandatory activities include handing over the product(s), evaluating the project and recommending its closure to the project board.


PRINCE2 Methodology - Tailoring

The PRINCE2 methodology must be adapted to meet the unique requirements of each project by applying the ‘tailor to the environment’ principle.

When tailoring, consider the project’s scale, geography, complexity and level of risk, and the organisation maturity and corporate culture.


PRINCE2 Certification

The PRINCE2 methodology has a course of study which leads to certification. The course requires the user to take the training with an accredited training organisation such as Knowledge Tree Training and then pass an exam. The PRINCE2 methodology contains two levels of certification:

  •  The Foundation level PRINCE2 qualification teaches you the basics of PRINCE2 and gives you details on the body of knowledge.
  • The Practitioner level PRINCE2 qualification teaches you how to apply the knowledge learnt at foundation using project scenarios. This level of PRINCE2 certification is aimed at aspiring project managers and anyone who is already a project manager.

The most up to date accredited PRINCE2 methodology is PRINCE2 Foundation & Practitioner 2017 6th edition.