Is Prince2 the bearer of a magical one-size slipper, which can be fitted onto the foot of any princess to enable her to flawlessly reach her destination? Alas, turning out a perfect project manager is not so easy, as Helen Boddy explains.

Despite having expanded in fairytale proportions, Prince2 qualifications alone will not give a project manager the skills to execute a project successfully. This is because Prince2 is a methodology and, despite its flexibility, it will only provide project managers with a structure to follow. Project managers also need the underpinning project management, leadership and interpersonal skills.

That said, Prince2 skills can be useful and as a methodology it has gained a lot of ground in the 10 years since its launch by UK Office of Government Commerce (OGC).

A recent survey of 200 project managers by Parity found that 65 per cent use Prince2 methodologies while 35 per cent follow others, some of which may be a blend.

The OGC says that more than 200,000 people have taken the Prince2 foundation examination (the first of two levels) of which around 80 per cent are in the UK. Prince2 is now being used in 58 countries. Although it was originally developed for IT projects, it is now applied to many others, from construction to finance.

Prince2's success is generally attributed to it being a non-proprietary methodology. Not only is there no licence attached but it's free to use. This has also encouraged competition, keeping the price of consultancy and training relatively low. First launched in 1996, its been kept up to date with changes in 2002 and 2005 and the core guidance is once again under review in the latest refresh.

Many of the alternative methodologies are proprietary and therefore fee charging. Another option, which is widely used in the US, is PMBoK, owned by the US Project Management Institute (PMI), but it's not exactly the same as Prince2.

The differences between PMBoK and Prince2 are comprehensively explained in a document written in 2003 by Max Widerman of AEW Services, Canada. He wrote: 'Prince2 and the [PMBoK] Guide serve different purposes and are therefore not directly comparable. We believe that the Guide takes the best approach for purposes of teaching the subject content of each knowledge area, but is not so effective when it comes to providing guidance for running a particular project. Of course the corollary is also true. In a lifecycle based presentation like Prince2, it is difficult to do justice to each knowledge area.'

He continues: 'The Guide covers more ground than does Prince2. Nevertheless, within its self-prescribed limitations, Prince2 provides a robust easy-to-follow methodology for running most projects, that is, where the objectives are clear and the deliverables are either well described, or capable of being so.'

In the UK, for now at least, Prince2 is enjoying pre-eminence. 'It's become a de facto standard in the UK,' said Martyn Hodges, director of Scoll Methods. 'In practice, almost every UK organisation uses Prince2, even if they don’t acknowledge it. In a local authority, they may have a Prince2 light version, for instance.'

His view is echoed by Tim Meehan of PPI Learning. 'For putting something on your CV, Prince 2 is the most recognised in the UK, and is particularly recommended for individuals going back into work,' he said. 'Most employers are looking for it because it is widely recognised and recognised by government.'

Prince2 also has the advantage that it can be applied to different sized projects.

'Prince2 is flexible enough to use for small projects but you need some knowledge of it all before you know how to adapt it,' said Hodges of Scoll Methods. 'You need to look at what the project is first and have a pragmatic discussion about how to get the best out of these.'

Paul Mahoney of Remarc agreed: 'Lots of people think you need to use all of Prince2 for everything. But it's like playing Kerplunk - once you know what you’re doing you can take some straws out without needing to practice any more.'

Although Prince2 is a useful qualification to learn about methodology, structure and governance, it does not go into detail of how to run a project. For example, it tells project managers that they need a project plan, but not how to go about drawing it up.

Lewis Curley, a programmes manager with itrain, expanded: 'PRINCE2 provides a very useful and effective methodology for project managers to work with. However although it mentions a few of the skills a successful project manager needs, it does not purport to provide totally comprehensive project management training.

'A project manager relies on many skills from leadership and people management through to technical and resource planning skills, often using project management software. To a new project manager training in all these areas are invaluable.’

To plug the gap in the practicalities of running a project, there are other qualifications on offer from, for example, the Association of Project Management (APM) and ISEB in the UK, and PMI in the US.

'Prince2 and APM are not really in competition,' said Julian Cox, Parity's product portfolio manager. 'They are often complementary. Prince2 is not applied to lower level subjects. APM has more detail. We often get approached for mixes of the two.'

APM says its qualifications are to make someone capable of assessing their project environment, selecting the right tools for the project they are working on and managing the complexities of communication, interpersonal and management skills, as well as the process aspects of managing projects.

APM has a progressive structure of qualifications from the APM Introductory Certificate in Project Management for those with no experience through to Certificated Project Manager for senior professionals with extensive experience.

However, even the combination of a Prince2 and APM qualification is still not enough to ensure successful projects, according to David Reynolds, chair of the BCS Project Management Specialist Group.

'Formal qualifications such as Prince2 will be very useful and in some environments, such as the government sector, may be mandatory,' he said 'But even with these you can’t expect to just dive straight into project management and assume that all your projects will be delivered successfully.'

‘You also need certain attributes, such as attention to detail, and wanting to be a completer, as well as the interpersonal skills for relating to stakeholders. You can learn some of these, such as communication and presentation skills, on courses, but mentoring and coaching from experienced project managers can also be very beneficial.

'You also need to gain confidence and awareness through previous experience of working in a project team environment and gathering expertise in as many project disciplines as possible, including project planning, risk management, product development and delivery, and change control - and observing how the project manager operates - learn from the mistakes of others.'

The road to becoming a successful project manager is a long one with much to learn en route.

Prince2 Refresh

The OGC is currently overseeing a refresh to the Prince2 core guidance, which will lead to changes to the publications and qualifications.

It is billed as a much more comprehensive review than the 2002 and 2005 updates, which were mainly corrections to the manual, clarifications and a few incremental changes.

The current refresh is going beyond reviewing the current issues log, according to Andy Murray, lead author of Prince2 Refresh.

‘The emergence of agile and iterative approaches to project management and ESPRC funded research... indicates that some aspects of traditional project management concepts do not serve the challenges facing today's projects (eg projects can have multiple purposes which are permeable, contestable and open to negotiation),’ he writes in the public consultation report.

Richard Pharro of APMG, the Prince2 official accreditation body said: 'I expect that after the refresh the core principles of Prince2 will remain the same but Prince2 will be expanded to include all the ways in which it is being used.'

During November 2006 to April 2007 a public consultation was carried out to find out what key stakeholders and the Prince2 community thought about Prince2 and the direction it should take in the future. The issue log was closed for inclusion in the project at the end of March and a change control panel was appointed to look at all the issues and put forward recommended issues with priority rating.

The first stage of the consultancy project has thrown up several areas to look at: method; publication; qualifications, use of; and communication.

On 31 August the public will be able to get an overview of the forthcoming changes to Prince2 in the public scoping document. A further update will be given in September once the scope has been established.

The new edition of Prince2, both core publications and qualifications, are expected to be available at the end of 2008. Public reviews will be carried out before then

‘Both core publications and qualifications should be ready together in around 18 months’ time,’ said Francis Scarf, Prince2 portfolio manager. ‘Parallel work will be conducted for both.’

Further information

Association of Project Management
BCS Project Management Specialist Group