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PMBOK or Prince 2

Jul, 2017

Since the mid 1980’s, organizations began to require project managers to be certified or trained as project managers (PM) realising that project management requires a definite set of skills and techniques. This need of certification also resulted in a need for “guidelines and bodies of knowledge (e.g., PMBOK, APMBOK), which addressed some methodology but did not address every industry and type of methodology” (Charvat, J. 2003). Organizations embarking on projects therefore had to create their own methodology from these bodies of knowledge’s guidelines. In 1989, the UK government developed PRINCE2 as a “standard approach for IT project management for central government” (OGC, 2009).


The POST report on UK Government IT projects found that proper Project Management methodologies address common causes of failures, for example:

  • Insufficient attention to checking that a valid Business Case exists for the project
  • Lack of a clear link between the project and the organisation’s key strategic priorities, including agreed measures of success.
  • Insufficient senior management ownership and leadership
  • Insufficient engagement with Stakeholders
  • Lack of skills and proven approach to project management and risk management
  • Insufficient understanding of and contact with the supply industry at senior levels within the organisation.
  • Evaluation of proposals driven by initial price rather than long-term value for money (especially securing the delivery of business benefits).
  • Too little attention to breaking development and implementation into manageable steps.
  • Inadequate planning and co-ordination of resources and skills to deliver the total delivery portfolio. (Long, C 2006)
  • Poor estimation of duration and costs, leading to projects taking more time and costing more money than expected.

Therefore, without a project management methodology, confusion reigns as the roles and responsibilities are unclear, the end result(s) are unclear and the project is set to failure. Conversely, a methodology will assist a Project Manager (PM) in managing a project and all of the activities to obtain the desired results, by following set standards and practices (Prince2 2005). In order to manage and complete a project successfully, a PM not only need to adhere to international standards and best practices, but also have to ensure that key processes and tasks are completed in time and in budget. A methodology is therefore a set of tasks or even a checklist a PM needs to manage during the life cycle of a project. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project management methodology as a set of Project Management process groups, their related processes and the related control functions that are consolidated and combined into a functioning unified whole (Project Management Institute, 2004). Whether a PM adopts a well-known methodology like PMBOK or Prince2, or whether a company create its own methodology, all methodologies should at least have the following in common:

  • A initial concept (initiation)
  • Concept or user requirements
  • A feasibility study
  • Project strategy
  • Design and/or Development
  • Deployment, rollout

Different methodologies will address these issues differently, but a generic project methodology contains at least nine basic elements: roles, skills, activities, techniques, tools, teams, deliverables, standards, and quality measures (Charvat, J. 2003).


Prince2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) is a standard that was developed in the United Kingdom and has become the standard in government for the implementation of IT projects. One of its main benefits is that it is non-proprietary and therefore in the public domain, making it possible for wide use in the public and private sector. Its wide applicability makes PRINCE2 a popular methodology by project managers.

PRINCE2 is a process-based, structured methodology (Siegelaub, J 2004) based on the same best practices and principles of PMBOK, but concentrating on those practices that are essential for successful project implementations. Prince2 is beneficial in project planning because it:

  • Provides a ‘checklist’ approach to help make sure that nothing was missed with regard to Project Planning
  • Takes a powerful and logical approach to planning to ensure that the plan is complete
  • Sets down clear roles and responsibilities, which prevents misunderstanding and communication problems
  • Brings in managers at key points to make clear decisions about the project, such as if it should continue
  • Builds in conscious decisions to carry on with the project at control points, so you don’t just carry on by default even if things are going wrong
  • Provides one of the most effective progress-monitoring controls seen in projects and one based on fact, not on estimates of percentage completion of activities
  • Integrates risk management into the routine of project management
  • Makes sure that an approved business case with measurable benefits drives the project
  • Includes regular reviews of the business case, so if circumstances change, you re-evaluate and perhaps even stop the project
  • Makes sure that all parties with an interest in the project are involved with the management of it, so it includes the users but also the suppliers – those doing the project work
  • Makes sure that one person is ultimately in charge of the project so that things happen and decisions are not ignored
  • Builds in auditing of the project to make quite sure that everything is running well and that management information about the project is accurate
  • Links quality management to deliverables to keep it specific and measurable
  • Is flexible and adaptable to fit different sizes of project, different types of project and different project environments – it’s not a ‘standard approach’ because projects themselves are not standard

PRINCE2 takes the same principles of PMBOK and organizes them in such a way that it offers a methodology to project managers to manage projects. PRINCE2 provides an effective way to organize the knowledge areas (Siegelaub, J. 2004) and focuses on the critical knowledge areas that “make or break” a project’s success.

PRINCE2 breaks the project in manageable components with frequent control points. These components or themes (OGC, 2009) are:

  • Business Case – the main component and an effective control measurement throughout each project phase
  • Organization - the overseeing body or management structure, to whom the PM is accountable
  • Quality - ensuring he project still meets the expectations of the user (measured against the user requirements)
  • Plans – planning of the initiation phase, the project, phases etc.
  • Risk Management
  • Change Control – assessing impact
  • Progress

The frequent control points, points where the business case and viability of the project is constantly measured, are implemented throughout the project by stages or tiers. The top tier is the project oversight by the management committee, which occurs throughout the project’s life cycle. The bottom tier is the planning processes which are also done throughout the life cycle of the project. The middle tier is where the project is implemented through Project Management processes.

pm processes

Each process has its key inputs and outputs and activities to be completed. This enables the top tier (often the Board Management) opportunity in the closing of each process to evaluate and assess any deviation from the original project plan and the lessons learned.

The key principles of PRINCE2 are (OGC, 2009):

  • Business justification
  • Learning lessons
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Managing by stages
  • Managing by exception
  • Product focused
  • Tailored



PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) “describe the key competencies that project managers must develop” (Schwalbe, K. 2007, p12). It originated from the Project Management Institute (PMI) who recommends this guide as essential in Project Management.  The main focus of PMBOK is to provide “a common language for project managers and common standards of project management quality, excellence, and professionalism” (Buckle & Thomas, 2003).

PMBOK is built around key knowledge areas a Project Manager should be competent in, being:

  • Scope management
  • Time management
  • Cost management
  • Quality management
  • Human resource management
  • Communications management
  • Risk management
  • Procurement management
  • Integration management.

Project knowledge areas do not exists in isolation to a number of processes that takes place while managing a project. PMBOK’s knowledge areas are organized in the following process groups:

  • Initiating Processes
  • Planning Processes
  • Executing Processes
  • Monitoring & Controlling Processes
  • Closing Processes

In conclusion, PMBOK “shows you what you need to do” (Method123) while a methodology shows you how you should do it.

Comparison - PRINCE2 & PMBOK

PMBOK is structured along general competencies a Project Manager must know to successfully complete a project. As Method123 puts it, PMBOK tells the project manager the what of project management but not necessarily the how. This is where PRINCE2’s value comes in. PRINCE2 takes the same principles of PMBOK and organizes them in such a way that it offers a methodology to project managers to manage projects. PRINCE2 “suggests an effective way to organize them” (the knowledge areas) (Siegelaub, J. 2004, p1) and focuses on the critical knowledge areas that “make or break” a project’s success.

Therefore, PRINCE2’s components map to PMBOK knowledge areas as follows (Siegelaub, 2004, p2):

Combined Processes and components,
Change Control
Integration Management
Plans, Business Case Scope, Time, Cost Management
Quality, Configuration Management Quality Management
Risk Risk Management
Controls Communications Management
Organization Human Resources Management>
  Procurement Management

... and PRINCE2’s processes (stages) map to PMBOK’s process groups as follows:

Starting up a project Initiating
Directing a project Executing, monitoring, controlling
Initiating a project Initiating
Planning Planning
Controlling a stage Monitoring, controlling
Managing product delivery Executing, monitoring, controlling
Managing stage boundaries Executing, monitoring, controlling
Closing a project Closing

It is clear that there are many similarities between PRINCE2 and PMBOK. The two critical differences between PRINCE2 and PMBOK is PRINCE2’s focus on the importance of the business case and  executive involvement.

  • The business case in PRINCE2 not only legitimises the project at start-up or initiation, but also provides the basis of the continuance of the project. Based on the business case, every Stage Boundary is a major decision point whether the project is still on track. “PRINCE2 drives home the notion of explicit go/no-go decisions – based on the business case – in the start-up and initiation of the project, and at the end of each stage” (Siegelaub, 2004, p5). This important document also provide an opportunity to implement PRINCE2’s quality control, configuration management and change control as the stage deliverables - called product descriptions – gets measured against the business case. Where there are deviations (change control), issues are raised through an issue log (configuarion management). This emphasis ensures that “the right product will be created the first time” (Siegelaub, 2004, p5).
  • PRINCE2 makes use of a Project Board as an overlooking body who owns the project. PMBOK only calls for executive involvement but a project could, with PMBOK, complete successfully under the management of a competent project manager. The Project Board in PRINCE2 usually consists of a representative from the organisation, the Client/User and the Supplier (the project team). The Project Board therefore ensures executive involvement, which is indicated as a major reason for project failure (Schwalbe, K. 2007, p5), of a project. In PMBOK, the project manager is the executive, managing the project and taking major decisions. With PRINCE2, the project manager gets his/her authorisation from the Project Board as well as resources to effectively manage the project.

Prince2 have proven itself to fit any size of project in any environment.

Super User

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