Delta Partners Management Consultants
Your trusted advisors.

PRINCE2 vs PMBOK: Comparing Apples and Oranges

Debra Sunohara

Most people have a passing understanding of the PMP credential.  This acronym is shorthand for “Project Management Professional”, and indicates that the individual has passed a certifying exam that indicates expertise in the principles of project management as identified in the PMBOK.  However, many people are beginning to hear about PRINCE2 as “yet another” project management certification, and are wondering if it’s worth their energy to find out more about it.

If you haven’t already heard of PRINCE2, then it’s definitely about time you had. PRINCE2 is rapidly spreading across the world - with the number of PRINCE2 Practitioners likely to overtake the number of PMBOK trained people in the near future.

PRINCE2 is even penetrating the Canadian workforce as both private and public sector organizations alike are filling PRINCE2 training courses with their employees.

GoC managers should also note that PRINCE2 is aligned with Treasury Board of Canada’s project management standards and the new Policy on Project Management that is targeted for full government-wide implementation by April 2012.

So what is PRINCE2 exactly and how does it compare to PMBOK?

PMBOK originated in the US and PRINCE2 was created by the UK government. Many Project Managers (PMs) in the UK have heard of PMBOK and some PMs in North America have heard of PRINCE2, yet most of these PMs do not know exactly what either PRINCE2 or PMBOK are. Many people have assumed that PRINCE2 and PMBOK are alternative approaches to project management - competitors fighting for numbers of trained and accredited PMs. But are they really? Absolutely not.

In fact, they are complementary and can be paired to improve how you manage your projects.

PMBOK = The Project Management Body of Knowledge

PRINCE2 =  PRojects  IN a Controlled Environment (PRINCE2)

  • a process-based project management methodology  based on 7 Principles, 7 Themes, and 7 Processes
  • a non-proprietary standard used by the UK Government and supported by the APM Group
  • offers three guides
    • Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2  (if you are working on projects daily)
    • Directing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 (if you are directing or sponsoring a project)
    • Executive Guide to Directing Projects within a PRINCE2 and MSP Environment (if you found the Directing guide too long – it’s ½ the size)
  • what every PM should do

In short, PRINCE2 and PMBOK are not conflicting or competitive or mutually exclusive.  PMBOK’s strength is in teaching the knowledge base of the project management profession while PRINCE2’s is in setting out a standard approach to running a project.  Both PRINCE2 and PMBOK fall short of doing both of these to the same degree. In this sense they are complementary and should and can be used as such; PRINCE2 as a supplement to the body of knowledge and the PMBOK as a knowledge base upon which to implement PRINCE2 - all the while tailoring your approach to the size, type and complexity of the project, and any existing organizational project management methodology.

How can PRINCE2 complement your PM knowledge?

If you have taken a project management course(s), studied the PMBOK Guide, and maybe have even obtained your PMP designation, yet still ask yourself, “how do I now apply this PM knowledge I’ve obtained to run a project,” then PRINCE2 may be for you. Although PMBOK provides you with a depth and breadth of knowledge, PRINCE2 can provide you with clear processes.

Applesvoranges-300x231PM’s have you ever wished that:

  • You were allowed to manage?
  • You knew exactly what Executives and key stakeholders were responsible for?
  • You had fewer status/steering committee meetings?
  • There was more wiggle room in the project plan?
  • The viability of the project was periodically reviewed and challenged?
  • QUALITY was defined in detail, documented and built into the project plan?
  • You had a complete set of document and report templates which include definitions of what should be in them & where the information comes from?

PRINCE2 is:

  • Methodology and a standard approach
  • Generic – can be used for any type of project
  • Process-based, product-focused, and business case justified
  • Prescriptive yet flexible - adaptable and should be tailored
  • International – used in more than 59 countries
  • Breaks down planning into Project Plan, Stage Plans, and Team Plans (easier planning and better control)
  • Defines project management team roles (10 in total): Project Executive, Senior User, Senior Supplier, PM, etc.
  • Not as comprehensive as the PMBOK, but based on the principles of the PMBOK and tells you how to apply PMBOK concepts in projects
  • Assumes that you have the PM Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and experience to fill in what PRINCE2 does not cover

PRINCE2 is not:

  • Detailed Techniques (except for Product-Based Planning and the Quality Review technique)
  • Specialist aspects (ie. it addresses the general project, not a financial or construction project)
  • Procurement
  • Project Human Resources Management, staff acquisition, team development
  • Soft Skills – Leadership capability

You won’t find any discussion of Earned Value or Critical Path Analysis in PRINCE2. Instead, PRINCE2 suggests that you must choose the techniques that are suitable for your project.

The Benefits of using PRINCE2:

  • You are using best practices – PRINCE2 has been in use for over 20 years in the management of thousands of projects
  • You can use it for any and all of your projects – from the smallest to the largest
  • You will have a clear structure and understanding of roles and accountability
  • You (PM) know which project issues you can handle and which need to be brought to higher management’s attention because you will be MANAGING BY EXCEPTION
  • You know when a project is no longer viable and should be killed – Continuous Business Case Justification
  • You know which reports and documents you need to produce, and what they should contain – 33 Management Product templates in Appendix A, Managing Succesful Projects with PRINCE2 (Project Brief, Business Case, Project Plan, Highlight Reports, End Stage Report, Product Description...)
  • You actively engage in continuous improvement and learning through the on-going use of the Lessons Log

So how do you implement PRINCE2?

  • Obtain senior management buy-in
  • Train project staff – from sponsors down through team members
  • Review existing business processes and PM methodology to see how they can be married to PRINCE2
  • And if needed, use external consulting support to draw on their experience and in-depth knowledge of PRINCE2 and how to best implement

You can’t compare apples and oranges...

In my opinion, you can’t pit process-based PRINCE2 against knowledge-based PMBOK as you need both knowledge and processes to successfully manage projects.

So why not think of PRINCE2 as another tool to add to your toolkit; read the PRINCE2 manual, or take a course and become accredited.  But all the while be thinking about how you can blend the two to create the best possible outcomes for your projects.

For more information on PRINCE2:

Which elements of PRINCE2 do you always apply to your projects – the concept of the Project Board and management by exception, business-case based decision making, product-based planning, quality reviews?

Debra Sunohara holds a Master’s Certificate in Project Management (though she still hasn’t taken the time to sit for the PMP exam!) and is a Certified PRINCE2 Practitioner.

Comments

Debra,

Many of my clients operate in project management environments so this will be useful information for helping them refine their PM approaches. One of the aspects of PRINCE2 that intrigues me is its scalability up and down for large and small projects. This ability enables greater efficiencies.

By Bert Zethof on 2011/04/04

The real difference between PRINCE2 and PMBoK is, as so often, not mentioned. PRINCE2 is a customer?s approach to a project, while PMBoK assumes that a supplier undertakes a project for someone else and gets paid for it.

A PMBoK approach can easily lead to: “Operation successful, but the patient died”, as the approach is delivery-only.
A real PRINCE2 approach has a focus on the long term effects: the business case, even when the project does not deliver a perfect “operation”. The best result for the ?patient? is the most important aspect of the project. This is also why in the PRINCE2 view the project manager should not be a technical person and should come from the customer’s side of the project.

Three of the key principles of PRINCE2 are of little interest for a supplier and are not (or hardly) mentioned in PMBoK:
-  Continuous justification (Business Case)
-  Defined roles and responsibilities (based on the Customer/Supplier environment)
-  Focus on products (Quality); supplier are by nature focussed on their activities, not on the result in terms of quality.

My conclusion is that the PMBoK ideas and knowledge are more relevant for the technical TM role in PRINCE2, for the process Managing Product Delivery (MP). In the end the writer is right: PMBoK can not be compared to PRINCE2.

By Nico Viergever on 2011/04/05

I really don’t see the Apple and Pears thing. I don’t agree with this article. I see PMBOK and PRINCE2 are entirely complementary. The APMG have numerous studies proving this is so. The thing is are you a head banging intellectual or are you someone who wants to get the job done with a reasonable probability of success. PMBOK is a huge manual compared to the PRINCE2 guidance notes. It?s the equivalent of a garage of tools whilst PRINCE2 is a painting by numbers approach to Project Management and is an essential tool kit which is easy to use, learn and get results. These are the essential differences in my view and when you bear in mind PRINCE2 takes a week to learn and qualify and further no cost of ownership unlike PMP it?s a no brainer for the manager wanting to get cracking on a project next week. In my view PMBOK is of value but in the long run it will be a minority sport for Project Management specialists /intellectuals like myself. PRINCE2 is slowly becoming a global Project Management standard and everyone should stop looking for alternatives. This is explained in the following blog post:-
http://eprince2.com/articles/prince2-works-stop-looking-for-alternatives/2011/03/14/

By Kevin Brady on 2011/04/05

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Nico. I do agree with your insightful patient/operation analogy. Too often project success is measured solely based on the triple constraints of time, scope and cost with little emphasis placed on product quality and value. I completely agree that continuous business justification and its focus on products and quality are two of PRINCE2’s greatest strengths.

By Debra on 2011/04/05

Thank you for your feedback, Kevin. It is very much appreciated. The ?Apples and Oranges? analogy is frequently used when discussing procurement and proposal evaluations and I used it to emphasize that PMBOK is a body of knowledge compared to PRINCE2 being a methodology. They are most definitely complementary and I apologize if that did not come across in my post as it had been my intention. Certainly it does take less time to become a certified PRINCE2 Practitioner than it does to obtain your PMP (I have the first and still have not written my PMP exam) and many people see PMI as a real money making organization. That said, I still do see the value of learning/studying the PMBOK. In North America the PMBOK is still the de facto PM standard and many organizations develop their own methodologies based on it. It will be interesting to see how deep of an inroad PRINCE2 will make here as an alternative to PMBOK.

By Debra on 2011/04/05

In my LinkedIn profile (in the BoxNet facility) some documents can be found on PRINCE2 and other (related) approaches. I already promoted the principles long before they were described in the 2009 version of PRINCE2 and that should show in my documents, even when based on previous version of PRINCE2. Hope you find them useful.

By Nico Viergever on 2011/04/06

Thank you for sharing your documents, Nico. I find them very useful and commend you on the great summary you provide in “PRINCE2 in a nutshell”. This is a great piece that would resonate with senior management.

By Debra on 2011/04/06

I agree with all your comments. PMBOK is worthy in lots of ways. I am involved in the delivery of many diverse projects and to be honest the PMBOK tools and processes emporiem is essential. I also agree about PMBOK be defacto in North America. But I feel from recent articles written comments from Federal Burecrats that PMP is feeling a little under threat from PRINCE2. APMG certainly aim to make a push in the states. Lets wait and see. Look forward to reading more posts.

By Kevin Brady on 2011/04/07

Thank you for the positive feedback, Kevin. I certainly appreciate why government bureaucrats are exploring and implementing aspects of PRINCE2 into their project management methodologies here in Canada. That said, I don’t think it has come anywhere near the point at which PMI should feel threatened by the growing rate of PRINCE2 adoption here. I believe that most public or private sector organizations in Canada which are exploring PRINCE2 are doing so in addition to and not as a replacement for PMBOK.

By Debra on 2011/04/07

Debra

Your link to PRINCE2 is misleading because it is not a link to the official PRINCE2 site. The official PRINCE2 webiste link should be: http://www.prince-officialsite.com/

By simon on 2011/04/08

I’ve been running projects since 1981 when the term ‘project’ wasn’t in use in Australia. Success required knowledge of the coal face progress and a degree of subject knowledge. You were where it was happening while Prince2 was in its infancy and PMBoK was not heard of. I’m qualified in Prince2 and PMBoK (to appease employers) but apart from the plethora of paperwork, formal meetings and terminology, I run projects hands on and don’t take on a projects if I don’t have a reasonable understanding of the end product. From experience, a PM with no knowledge of the product is rarely the best solution irrespective of the framework/methodology they employ. I see both Prince2 and PMBoK as the embodiment of an ever increasing bureaucratic society and so from that viewpoint there is no difference.

By John Marston on 2011/05/22

Thank you for your thought provoking comment, John. You are most definitely not alone in feeling that both PMBOK and PRINCE2 and for that matter most formalized PM methodologies are too “heavy”. I also have to agree with your view focus on the end product which is essential for successfully managing a project.Many Canadian Federal Government departments are in the process of adopting slightly modified versions of PRINCE2 for the very purpose of applying standard if not bureaucratic processes to their management of projects. Although their PM practices have been based on the PMBOK in the past, there were always broad differences in how different organizations managed their projects. PRINCE2 is a natural fit for the web of government rules.

By Debra on 2011/05/22

Whoever comments that PRINCE2 is bureaucratic or too heavy or whoever implements a “slightly modified version of PRINCE2” simply does not know or understand PRINCE2.
One of the guiding principles of PRINCE2 is that you ALWAYS will have to tailor the approach to the needs of your project. On an individual basis, not on an organisational basis.
The reason is that every single project is unique and will have different management needs and requirements.

Please realize that about 80% (!) of organizations using PRINCE2, really use PINO (PRINCE In Name Only). The best known signs of PINO are rigid procedure, lost of templates, lots of paperwork and a “slightly modified version of PRINCE2”

By Nico Viergever on 2011/05/23

Over the last few years, many organizations have adopted adaptive project management methods like agile project management to increase the efficiency of their project management function. Among the different Agile frameworks, Scrum in particular has become extremely popular in most of the organizations.

By kylie wilson on 2014/04/29

Hi , I am pondering over attending any PMP prep course / PMP classes to get PMP credentials. What are your thoughts? Would that be worth the money spent professionally?

By Ella Mapple on 2014/04/29

Thank you all for the information.

By A. F. on 2014/05/04

Your most welcome, A.F. I’m glad that you found it useful.

By Debra Sunohara on 2014/05/05

This has been an interesting read. I wonder if any of the commentators here will come back to refresh their thoughts especially on the possibility of Prince2 being a threat to PMP.

By Ojonimi Adegbe on 2017/03/17

This information is impressive; I am inspired by your post writing style & how continuously you describe this topic. After reading your post, thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel happy about it and I love learning more about this topic.
Regards, 
Divya, 
PMP   Developer

By Divya on 2017/04/05

A pesar del tiempo que lleva la publicación, me parece excelente su contenido y la manera como la colega Debra a estructura los puntos para dar un buen entendimiento del tema.
Saludos.

By Victor Alarcón on 2017/05/31

Add a Comment


Notify me of follow-up comments?


About this Article

Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on April 1, 2011
21 Comments

Share |

Categories: hr & talent management, knowledge transfer, lessons learned, project management