PRINCE2: Friend or Foe?

Since PRINCE2 was introduced it has come to be acknowledged as the leading qualification for those wishing to confirm their project management credentials and be seen as ‘professionals’ in the industry.

The Office of Government Commerce describes it thus:

PRINCE2 is a process-based approach for project management, providing an easily tailored and scalable project management methodology for the management of all types of projects. The method is the de-facto standard for project management in the UK and is practiced worldwide.

There can be no doubt that PRINCE2 has done much to regularise the processes and create a common language for clients and project professionals alike.  One only has to go back to the early 80’s and recall the many project disasters in both Government and the private sector to understand just what factors drove its introduction in 1989 and what a success it has been.  But is that really true, or is PRINCE2 really more of a hindrance than a help?

There is no doubt that in the last 20 years the number of accomplished project managers has increased many fold, and this must in part be due to increased demand, but is also due to the availability of a recognised qualification.  This is good news as the more people there are able to organise and implement change properly, the better.  However, the PRINCE2 qualification isn’t the whole story when it comes to delivering successful projects – far from it.  Many very large and complex programmes of work have been successfully delivered by teams who have no PRINCE2 qualification or any of the other similar qualifications.  Why?

Too many project managers slavishly follow the processes taught in the PRINCE2 syllabus, believing that adherence to the processes will ensure success.  They spend too much time hunched over a PC bashing out ever more complex spread sheets, and not enough time focussing on delivery of the product/solution/event etc. to time/quality/budget against an agreed business case.  These people are task managers, not project managers. 

Greenlight Blog | PRINCE2 Excel | Jersey, Guernsey, Channel Islands

All projects should be designed using the teaching of PRINCE2 as a backdrop, but the amount of administrative, process and governance overhead should be commensurate with the complexity of the project and the appetite of the organisation to cope.  Too often projects become weighed down with ever more onerous and complex reporting structures so that eventually the project becomes more important than the business benefits to be derived from the deliverables.

Another reason projects often fail is due to communication, or rather a lack of it.  A successful communication strategy requires the project manager to have exemplary people skills; the ability to motivate, cajole, persuade, criticise, praise, reward, discipline, disagree, agree and share lots of information …….. continuously.  All this often has to be achieved in a situation where the project sponsor cannot be truly engaged due to their ‘day job’ and many of the project team report into the project on a matrix basis.  Communication and people management are the toughest part of project management by a long way, and unfortunately many project managers are ill equipped to deal with the complexity of managing them effectively.

The definition of PRINCE2 mentions, rightly, that it is process based training and the course does touch on the importance of communication and people management, however these are factors that are not given enough weight when it comes to developing accomplished, highly effective and rounded project managers.

PRINCE2?  Friend and Foe.


Eliot Lincoln | Greenlight Blog | PRINCE2 | Jersey, Guernsey, Channel Islands

About the Author

Founder of Greenlight, Eliot has played a part in every aspect of the business. Over the years he has built up unparalleled consultancy, programme and project skills that have facilitated countless successful change initiatives.

View Eliot's profile