PRINCE2 vs PMBOK: Comparing Apples and Oranges
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
- an encyclopaedia of information on all things project management
- the sum of ‘generally accepted’ project management knowledge and principles
- a common lexicon of project management terms
- a reference guide : A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) Fourth Edition, The Project Management Institute Inc. and a subset of the PMBOK that is generally accepted as best practices and applicable to most projects most of the time
- the knowledge base every PM should possess
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.
PM’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?
- 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)
- 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:
- UK Office of Government Commerce (OGC)
- the APM Group
- Max Wideman’s paper - for a thorough look at the differences between PRINCE2 and PMBOK
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.