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The principles of the PRINCE2 project management method are:

  • Continued business justification
  • Learn from experience
  • Defined roles and responsibilities
  • Manage by stages
  • Manage by exception
  • Focus on products
  • Tailor to suit the project environment.

Not all project management methods contain these principles. There are some other concepts included in virtually every project management method, including PRINCE2, which are management of quality, risk and changes.

Continued business justification – this states the concept that no project should be undertaken or allowed to continue if it has no business justification. This justification usually means financial justification. Too many projects start without anyone checking that it will bring benefits that outweigh the cost. During the life of the project very few projects review the original justification to see if the business environment, company strategy, cost of producing the end products and expected outcome have changed to such an extent that there is no longer a viable business case. PRINCE2 ensures that there is a viable Business Case before the project is allowed to start and requires a review of this at the end of every stage, thus avoiding money being thrown away.

Learn from experience – A huge amount of project money can be wasted by project managers making the same mistakes that others made before. There is little benefit to senior management to find that different projects are being run under different methods (or no method at all). There should be a formal method of recording good and bad experiences and practices and making these lessons available to every new project. This is a first step in moving towards project management maturity.

Defined roles and responsibilities – Project managers do not provide the budget for their projects. They do not establish the tolerances or limits beyond which they must acknowledge that the project is out of control and they need help. They do not decide what the customer wants. Project managers should not be responsible for deciding if major changes to the specifications should be allowed. Senior management should appoint a project board, a group of managers whose authority matches the commitment needed, with representation from the customer whose staff will specify what is required, the supplier whose resources will build the product and in charge of these a manager who is responsible to company management for the outlay and ensuring that the project matches company strategies. PRINCE2 provides role descriptions for a project management team and every member of the team signs up to a role description to understand what responsibilities are theirs and to whom they report. Such roles can be shared or combined according to the needs of a project.

Manage by stages – PRINCE2 believes that projects should be split up into stages. There is always an initiation stage, where a project plan is created, a business case is built and strategies are created for quality, risk, configuration management, change control and communication. After that stage the rest of the project is broken down into a number of stages, minimally one for small projects. The two main reasons for stages are to provide a project board decision time to check that the project should continue and to allow the project manager to create a detailed stage plan for the next stage.

Manage by exception – PRINCE2 does not believe in ‘progress meetings’. Once a Stage Plan has been agreed by the Project Board, the Project Manager gets on with the job of managing that stage. For each stage the Project Board sets tolerances within which the Project Manager must work. As long as the stage stays within these tolerances, work continues. If there is a danger of a tolerance being broken (an exception situation), the Project Manager must then make the Project Board aware of the danger and propose action.

Focus on products – PRINCE2 believes that in planning you should focus on the required products rather than the activities to create them. This helps the definition of the purpose and required quality of each product, how that quality should be verified, who should check that quality. This is much easier than defining the quality of an activity. Focus on products also forms the base of PRINCE2 planning. You think of the required products and then the sequence in which they need to be constructed. The method allows the major products to be broken down into project, stage and finally team plans.

Tailor to suit the project environment – if you are to have a project management method, it needs to work for all sizes of project, but what is needed for large projects may be too much for small projects. PRINCE2 builds in flexibility throughout the method to allow it to be tailored not only to the size of the project, but also local management requirements; role names, specific local forms and other company requirements. The company may have a change control method that it wishes to keep. It may require all projects to use a specific configuration tool. PRINCE2 can be seamlessly merged into all such local practices.
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By Colin Bentley, former PRINCE2 Chief Examiner

Colin Bentley has been a project manager since 1966 and has managed many projects, large and small, in several countries. He has been working with PRINCE2, PRINCE and its predecessor, PROMPT II, since 1975. He was one of the team that brought PROMPT II to the marketplace, wrote the major part of the PRINCE2 manual and is the author of all revisions to the manual until the 2009 version.

He was the Chief Examiner for PRINCE2 from its beginning until 2008 and wrote all Foundation and Practitioner exam papers and marked them until they reached the massive volumes that are sat today. Now retired, he has had over twenty books published, lectured widely on PRINCE2 and acted as project management consultant to such firms as The London Stock Exchange, Microsoft Europe, Tesco Stores, Commercial Union and the BBC. He still writes books on the PRINCE2 method and has updated them all to reflect the 2009