The Prince2 Certification in a Nutshell

When I tell people that I am a Prince2 Practitioner I get replies like: "What's that?" or "Does that mean you are a master at some video games?". I bet you are asking yourself why take up a certification most people haven't heard of in the first place.

In this article I will try to give you a brief overview of Prince2, what it is about, how is it different than PMP, why and how to get your certification.

I first found out about Prince2 approximately 4 years ago when I was surfing the web to see what companies outside Romania were practicing in the area of Project Management. After I learned about it and got my certification, there is no obvious reason to me (outside advertising) why it is not as popular or more popular than the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification.

A little bit about Prince2 history

PRINCE was established in 1989 by CCTA (the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency - UK government agency providing computer and telecoms support), since renamed the OGC (the Office of Government Commerce) and it stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. It is the standard for Project management in UK and it is used world-wide.

The official definition of Prince2 is: a process-based method for effective project management. Personally, I found it to be a very practical guidebook on how to manage your projects as effectively as possible. It's hands on and it focuses on the management of the project so that you have a controlled start, middle and end.

What is the difference between Prince2 and PMP?

The two are very compatible and complement each other in many ways. However, Prince2 is a general framework while PMI (Project Management Institute) focuses a lot more on techniques. In my opinion, the big pluses of Prince2 are the following:

  • More practical and structured approach of processes plus a more logical flow of the project;
  • The product-based planning proposed by Prince2 ensures high quality product delivery through regular quality reviews;
  • The organization is better defined and much more supportive of project success;
  • More structure on what needs to be done rather than how to do it (tools/techniques);
  • PMP focuses a lot on techniques and "how" while Prince2 focuses more on the framework of project management, or the "what".

The biggest plus of Prince2 is the fact that it has a very logical project flow.

Why should you get a Prince2 certification?

More than just adding another line to your resume, there are many reasons why you should be thinking of getting Prince2 certified:

  • It focuses on business justification and always checks against it so you don't get in the situation of asking yourself far into the project why you started it in the first place;
  • It has a well defined organization structure for the project team, clear roles and responsibilities and it includes the supplier and the user in the board (thus enabling you to create win-win situations for the supplier, user and the business);
  • It has a product-based planning approach, focusing on delivering the product with quality. Keeps your eye on the end result, helping you to deliver with excellence;
  • It emphasizes dividing the project into manageable and controllable stages and separates between management stages (like initiation, execution, etc) and technical stages (or product stages);
  • It is flexible and can be applied at a level appropriate to your specific project.

To sum things up, Prince2 asks you all the things you never thought of asking yourself when delivering a project. And what is best is that it does it in a structured way.

Processes, Components and Techniques

Prince2 is structured into 8 processes which cover all the activities in the project, 8 components which take up various aspects of project management and 3 techniques. However, there are multitude of techniques which can be used. The focus is put only on three of them.

The Prince2 Processes

The processes used by Prince2 are the following:

  • Starting up a project - it's a pre-project process and it is actually not performed by the project manager. It is concerned with setting up the organization, identifying the job descriptions, putting the project manager in place and setting up the project board. Also in this process the project brief and approach are being formalized for the first time;
  • Directing the project - runs from the start of the project till the end. It is concerned with making sure that the project does not encounter major issues. This process is aimed at the project board. The project board manages and monitors via reports and controls through a number of decision points (controls);
  • Initiating the project - in this process the justification for the project is being evaluated, it's about making sure that a solid business case exists for the project, resources are committed for the first stage of the project and the board is encouraged to take ownership of the project. Planning is made for the first stage of the project in this process;
  • Managing stage boundaries - this process is about providing the project board with controls, ensuring that all deliverables for the previous stage have been completed as planned, ensure that the project board approves the tolerance levels of cost / time / quality for the next stage;
  • Controlling a stage - monitoring and control activities of the project manager involved in ensuring that a stage stays on course and reacts to unexpected events. The process forms the core of the project manager's effort on the project, being the process which handles day-to-day management of the project;
  • Managing product delivery - making sure that the work (handed out in work packages) is actually performed by the project teams and team leaders. In this stage progress will be assessed, the products should be checked for quality and should be approved in order to move to next stages;
  • Planning - is being done across processes and it plays an important part in all of them. Like in PMI detailed planning is done beforehand only for the next stage of the project. Prince2 uses the technique of product based planning - planning the project around the deliverables and the components of the products;
  • Closing a project - close down a project - discharge resources, establish follow-up actions and recommendations, evaluate the benefits;

All of the above can be easily summarized in the diagram below.

Prince2

The Prince2 Components

They support Prince2 for project management in a quality and consistent way. There are 8 components in total:

  • Business Case - the existence of a solid business case in all the stages of the project is the foundation of Prince2. It's validity is verified at every project board control point and the project should be stopped if we no longer have a viable business case.
  • Organization - Prince2 defines a specific organization structure and levels. The highest level is corporate or programme management, to which the project board is responsible for project success. They give directives related to PM methodologies in the companies and the general framework of the project.
    The project board is appointed by corporate or programme management and consists of 3 interests: user, business and supplier. They are the decision makers and responsible for providing the resources and budget. What is key is that the project board is not a democracy controlled by vote. Anyone can input but the Executive (Sponsor) is the key decision maker as he is accountable for the success of the project.
    The project manager handles the "day to day" management of the project, he performs all the Prince2 processes except for directing a project and appointing an executive and project manager.
    The use of a separate person for team manager is optional (in some cases the project manager performs this role). The team manager is responsible to ensure that the products are produced and to manage the teams.
    The use of Project Assurance is also optional. Project Assurance has delegated authority from the project board to check whether things are on track and the status of the project is really the one reported, that is why the Project Assurance needs to be independent from the project manager. The members of the board are also responsible to do project assurance activities.
    Project support helps the Project manager with administrative tasks like configuration management.
  • Prince2

  • Plans - This component links to the product-based-planning technique. Plans help to identify if the targets are achievable in the set timeline, if we have the necessary resources available and to define the needed activities. There are different levels of plans in Prince2: project plan(very high level), stage plans (usually planned in detail only for the next stage), exception plans (when a stage is forecasted to exceed tolerances) and team plans.
  • Controls - Are used to monitor progress against plan, to ensure that the Business Case is still valid, to identify issues and risks and to initiate corrective measures. There are many controls in Prince2 in different moments of the processes, but they split into 2 types: project board controls (7 controls from starting the project to project closure) and Project Manager controls (work package related).
  • Management of risk - Any project incurs risks and some amount of risk is normal. Prince2 splits risks into 2 types: negative (threats) and positive (opportunities). The management of risk consists of the following activities: Risk analysis- Identification, Evaluation of risk, Identify suitable responses, Select the response and Risk management: plan and resource the response to risk, monitor and report. The concept of risk tolerance (or appetite) exists in Prince2- this means that the Project Manager and board decide which is the amount of risk that they are willing to accept (balance of risk and cost).
  • Quality in a project environment - This component links to the Quality review technique. Quality management is the process of ensuring that the quality expected by the customer is achieved. There are many components of quality in Prince2 which cannot be listed here due to space constraints.
  • Configuration management - Consists of managing the assets of a particular project and ensuring that they are up to date, they are available and historical records exist. Also it limits the changes to products and ensures that any changes are made with the approval of the appropriate authority.
  • Change control - This component links to the Change control technique. Changes can potentially ruin a project if they are not kept under control. All changes in requirements need to be assessted in terms of scope, time and cost.

The Prince2 Techniques

This is where Prince2 and PMI really complement each-other. Prince2 only proposes 3 techniques but a lot of others can be used. The PMBOK presents a multitude of techniques to manage the team, calculate costs, evaluate risks, evaluate progress etc. Any of these techniques can be used in projects which use Prince2.

The 3 techniques which are available in Prince2 are tackling some of the most sensitive project management areas and the most frequent reasons for project failure: planning, change control, quality.

  • Product based planning - it's a very visual technique, it uses product diagrams to identify what are the products we need to deliver and which are the quality requirements for them before defining the activity list. It gets the users and suppliers together to define the products at all levels and to organize them into a logical sequence.
  • Change control - this technique ensures that changes are brought in a controlled way, with minimal disruption and minimal cost. All changes are treated as types of Project Issues and are handled through the same change control approach.
  • Quality review - reviewing the quality of the product by end users and interested parties. Quality for a product is defined as "fit for purpose". This technique can be invoked at any stage in the project. It consists of review meetings which are prepared up-front and which have action items.

How to get a Prince2 certification?

There are 2 levels of certification:

  • Foundation - The Foundation exam is the first of the two PRINCE2 Examinations you are required to pass to become a PRINCE2 Practitioner. This level is aiming to measure whether a candidate would be able to act as an informed member of a project management team using the PRINCE2 method within a project environment supporting PRINCE2. No training is required. The percentage of those who pass the Foundation exam is very high, but still I highly recommend you take the time to study.
  • Practitioner - The Practitioner exam is the second of the two PRINCE2 Examinations you are required to pass to become a PRINCE2 Registered Practitioner. This level is aiming to measure whether a candidate would be able to apply PRINCE2 to the running and managing of a project within an environment supporting PRINCE2. It's structured as a case study and 3 days training at a certified Prince2 organization is required. The questions in the test are not difficult but there is a high time constraint. There is no Project Management experience requirement.

One thing you should keep in mind is the fact that all PRINCE2 Practitioners should be re-registered within 3-5 years of their original certification and take a shorter Practitioner exam.

On the certification side, one very important difference vs PMP is that getting the PMP certification requires 3 years of project experience while Prince2 doesn't require any previous experience.

Conclusion

Prince2 is a simple, yet complete project management methodology. It does not contradict with PMI (Project Management Institute), moreover the two actually complement each other. It is logical and very close to the way we all think of our projects, at the same time it ensures that you have a control throughout the life of the project.

Getting the Prince2 certificate is not easy, but neither hard. It requires studying and 3 days training for the Practitioner certificate. Besides helping you to manage your projects more professionally, being Prince2 certified will be an important plus in front of other candidates when applying for jobs. The big multinationals (especially in IT and constructions) value it.

If you already have a Prince2 certification don't hesitate to share your thoughts and experience with our readers. I'm sure they will be happy to know more on this subject.

Where you can find out more?

APMG-UK
global PRINCE2 website

Related content:

Tips and tricks for getting PMP Certified
What You Will NOT Earn From a PMP Certification

Comments

There is a major difference to PMP regarding the certification requirements: for PMP you need quite a lot of formal training and practice in Project Management, years of experience with references that are checked to be real, when the PRINCE2 can get you "paper certified": a teenager that learns about it can be certified as Practitioner.

I doubt there are very many teenagers that could get the Prince Practitioner certification I know many Project Managers that failed the practitioner exams. Foundation is all about memory which is the principle but practitioner is about application , espically with the new 2009 exams you have to know your stuff and I don;t just mean learn the answers !

Hello Andreea,

Can you tell me more about the way you got the Prince 2 Practitioner certificate ? Where was the exam ? Tips for learning ? Books ?

Thanks,
Dan

Hi, first of all, great article.
I thought I should point out that the official prince2 website is actually prince2.org.uk, not the prince2.com. That link "global PRINCE2 website" could be quite misleading, and I think prince2.org.uk would prove to be more beneficial and appropriate to visitors.

Best,
Jay

Interesting article, as a Prince2 and MSP Practitioner I could agree more. To the actual point of my post, I need a brief presentation/overview on Project Assurance, anybody got one?
Thanks

Andrea,

A big Thank you for all the information above!

This is exactly what i wads looking for i needed to confirm that Like PMP if prince also had some pre-requisites like 4500 PM hours in 3 year etc.

I feel happy now, that I can get a PM certification without so many hours, I am an uncertified project management professional and getting 4500 of pure project management experience has become a challenge.

Great Article. Couldn't agree more.
@Dan: there are various options available to go for PRINCE2 certification. You can either do self study using the official PRINCE2 manual and take the exam at any of the APMG open center or you can under go a 5 days training programme provided by a training organization. Lot of training providers have online courses too. So you can take up their course, study their material and take exam. You can easily find information about different training providers on google. Hope this helps.

Recently a PRINCE2 Professional certification was added as a new high standard level of certification. I believe it's a certification for life. It's actually "acting out" a real project while being monitored by people who test you, observe you and score you.

I believe the only country having these is UK (for the time being)

Their advice is not to try the exam unless you have a significant amount of real life practical experience with leading project using PRINCE2.