What is PRINCE2?

If you’ve recently entered the world of project management, you may be a little overwhelmed trying to decipher the countless abbreviations that span the profession. Whether it’s the PMP or the AMP, methodologies or governing bodies, dipping into the colloquial lexicon of project management can, oftentimes, seem like experiencing a foreign language.

The perpetuation of these acronyms are largely centered around project management methodologies, one of the most universal of these being PRINCE2.

But what is PRINCE2?

In brief, PRINCE2 stands for Projects IN Controlled Environments.

Both an applicable project management method, and a certification programme to accredit and qualify methodologic practitioners through training, PRINCE2 both structures, and sets the standard, across the project management industry.


A Brief History of PRINCE2

To track the entrypoint of PRINCE2 into the wider field of project management, it’s worth a brief look over the history of project management as a whole.

Whilst in 2017, project management processes and practices have bled out into a multitude of industries, with specific methodologies adopted by anyone from graphic designers to IT technicians. Project management first emerged as a distinct discipline on the back of structural work in the fields of engineering, civil construction and a burgeoning defense industry.

Undertaking large and complex projects within those industries lead to an increasing drive towards the necessary formation of structural processes, methods and experiences that could coagulate planned objectives, into organised systems resulting in end outputs and products.

The roots of project management as we know it today, lie with three individuals, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henry Gantt and Henri Fayol. Whilst some names may be more familiar than others, Gantt in particular, all three contributed the early planning and control techniques that were used informally up to and throughout the 50’s, when the modern discipline finally emerged through two mathematical project scheduling models, CPM and PERT.

Project failure was as much of an issue then, as it is now, which kicked off the chain of events that established the dominance of PRINCE2 over the project management sphere.

In 1975 PROMPTII was developed in a response to computer projects that ran consistently over on time and budget, as it wasn’t unusual to experience factors of double, treble or even ten times the original estimates. Attempting to mitigate these issues. PROMPTII set out clear guidelines for the stage flow of a computer project, including, but not limited to, the specification, design, development and installation stages. In 1979, the UK Government's Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) adopted the method for all information systems projects, the decision which would later lead to the development of PRINCE2 a decade later.

PRINCE was published by the UK Government in 1989, expounding upon the earlier but much more simplistic PROMPTII model by adding:

Alongside the unique feature of assuring progress from three distinct, but complementary, perspectives, ensuring a fair and successful project product.

The initial PRINCE however, was criticised for being too rigid and only suited for large projects, not addressing the wider need for integrated project structures across different projects, leading to a revision in 1996.

Whereas the original PRINCE was engineered puritanically towards information systems and information technology projects to combat the same issues that it’s prototype, PROMPTII, did, the upgrade sought to make it much more malleable and applicable to a larger array of projects.

With development contracted out to a virtual committee spanning 150 European organisations, the 1996 revision saw the doing away with of the assurance project roles, incorporating in a more adoptable structure of communication within the project processes.

The end result was the beginning adaptive PRINCE2 we know and still utilise today, able to be bent to the specific commercial environment and specifications of individual projects.

The rights to PRINCE2 were held in the British Cabinet Office until July 2013 after which they were transferred to the newly founded joint venture AXELOS.

Evolving to keep up with the rapidly evolving project management discipline, now bleeding into an increasing number of other industries PRINCE2 has gone through a number of revisions in consultation with its user community, including in 2002 and 2005, but more importantly in 2009 and 2017.

The major revision in 2009 saw the establishment of the rule of sevens in PRINCE2, including the implementation of the seven basic principles that contribute towards business success. Aiming to make the method more adaptive, whilst providing a better set of tools to deliver projects with shorter durations, better quality and within budgetary restrictions.

Similarly the 2017 update continued to improve upon PRINCE2’s flexibility, shaping it to be more intuitive and scalable. Whilst the core principles remain the same, the 2017 PRINCE2 update expands the qualification of what can be a PRINCE2 project, opening up the inclusivity of the method by clarifying the bare minimum of what is expected to be a PRINCE2 project alongside helpful hints and examples on how to adjust the core principles to your project.

Despite originating in the 70’s, PRINCE2 is still one of the most widely used and respected project management methodologies today.


The Features of PRINCE2

The expansiveness of PRINCE2 often leads to some confusion over what exactly it is. Particularly whether PRINCE2 is a governing body or a methodology, and its key features.

PRINCE2 is unique in the fact that it both acts as a method of project management, and as a certifiable standard for project management through a system of accreditation.


How Does PRINCE2 Work as a Method?

Established to help combat rampant project failure, largely caused by overrunning on duration, budget and a lack of quality, PRINCE2 divides projects, project processes and roles into clearly defined stages and hierarchical structures. Each stage with an established start, middle and end.

However, PRINCE2 is not a “waterfall” structure, in that is necessitates one stage to be completed after the next in sequential order, nor does it dictate what should be done, instead focusing on what should be produced by whom and when.

By stipulating the delivery of the end result within its framework, rather than the processes by which that should be achieved, PRINCE2 can be applied across projects of any form, kind, duration or scope.

As a methodology predicated on a focus on the end result, PRINCE2 is structured so that a hierarchy of client focused managers, the project board, make the overarching governing decisions on the project. A project manager must regularly feed status reports back to the project board, compiled of the customer, user representative and a supplier, so they can act on any issues in the project in the best interests of the clients and company.

Every project must be tied implicitly to the success of the business, so each project has a business case and plan that is continually reviewed to assess that the project is still viable.


Key Features of the PRINCE2 Methodology

There are some key characteristics of PRINCE2 that enable it to work as one of the most effective project management frameworks around. Taking into consideration the parametres of the latest update, the following are the definable characteristics of a PRINCE2 project.


Primarily, however, what defines the use of PRINCE2, even when scaled or adapted to specific projects are, as mentioned earlier, it’s rule of sevens.

By the rule of sevens, I mean the respective set of seven principles, seven themes and seven processes that help dictate the structure of a PRINCE2 project and guide a project team towards the requisite end product.

That PRINCE2 is a principle, rather than activity, driven is the primary reason it is so scalable.

PRINCE2 is one of the only frameworks to understand and attempt to address the complex needs of project management as a discipline, emphasising a malleability in its core structure that allows it to be tailored to certain projects.

Not all aspects of PRINCE2 will be applicable to all projects, and to use PRINCE2 rigidly in every adventure will surely result in some failure. Because of this, PRINCE2 offers guidance on scalability, notes on how much of the processes to apply to your project and methods to do so. Whilst this did mean that some of the essential elements of PRINCE2 may have been omitted, resulting in a ‘Prince in Name Only’ Project, revisions such as the introduction of the PRINCE2 Maturity Model and the 2017 update have mitigated that.

For an in depth look at the processes, principles and themes of PRINCE2, read our guide here:


PRINCE2 Qualifications

The PRINCE2 accreditation is recognised across the industry as an essential benchmark of capability,  and as such, is often a prerequisite for many project manager role specifications, especially within large corporations where there is a need to run all projects to a standardised framework.

With an estimated 300,000 practitioners of PRINCE2 worldwide, in over 57 different countries, a PRINCE2 qualification is a vital qualifier for a successful career in project management, displaying your competence and experience in managing across a multitude of project types and disciplines.

There are two primary courses to become PRINCE2 accredited, with access dependent on your level of experience.


PRINCE2 Foundation

The PRINCE2 Foundation course is for aspiring project managers, or those with a little real world experience in a project management role.

The Foundation qualification teaches you the principles, processes and terminology of the PRINCE2 project framework that will enable you to act as an informed member of a project management team, within a PRINCE2 supported environment. Whilst the Foundation course does not in itself qualify you to lead a PRINCE2 project team, it is a viable route to gaining the necessary expertise to be a valued and active member within a PRINCE2 project.

For those looking to upgrade their career, or an entryway into Project Management, studying the PRINCE2 Foundation course alone, can be enough to get your foot in the door. However, if you are looking for a higher level of understanding that will grant you access to more developed leadership roles, then you can study the Foundation along the higher qualifying, Practitioner course with PRINCE2 Foundation & Practitioner.


PRINCE2 Practitioner

The PRINCE2 Practitioner course will qualify you the principles of running and managing a project within a PRINCE2 environment, alongside equipping you with actionable strategies to apply to real time project situations.

The aim of the course is to teach you to tune to, and address problematic project scenarios, with comprehensive PRINCE2 knowledge. Specifically understanding and applying the relationships between the principles, themes and processes of PRINCE2 to a project structure, whilst balancing the needs of the clients, to formulate a successful end product.

To access the PRINCE2 Practitioner course, you will need to be qualified, and provide proof of your qualification in one, or more, of the following:


Re-Register in PRINCE2

Aiming to refresh the knowledge of current practitioners, as well as providing updates on any new alterations to the project methodology, the re-registration in PRINCE2 course enables you to continue directing projects within a controlled PRINCE2 environment and working as a project manager to the highest level of competencies.

Since the alterations to PRINCE2 have been made, there have been several changes affecting the re-registration process. Whilst PRINCE2 2009 certification holders have validity for 5 years, after which they are mandated to take a PRINCE2 Practitioner Re-registration exam in order to remain certified, the PRINCE2 2017 certification validity is only for 3 years.

Instead of a re-registration examination, practitioners of the PRINCE 2017 certification will have to re-sit the complete Practitioner examination at the end of the 3 year period.

For more information on the specifications of the exam, and what studying PRINCE2 entails, read our guide here:

All the PRINCE2 qualifications can be taken by both training online, a classroom environment in locations across the UK, or onsite, with expert trainers coming directly to your work site. With both options offering state of the art course solutions, expert instruction, mock exam simulations and in-depth guidance, either training method can help you qualify to the highest standards.

As one of the world’s leading, and most respected PRINCE2 training centres, at PRINCE2 Training we’re perfectly equipped to handle any questions you may have on PRINCE2, or the PRINCE2 qualifications.


For more information on PRINCE2, contact us on 0800 0355 832 or send an email to info@prince2training.co.uk.