The Project Management Institute's Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) is a globally recognized compilation of the fundamental principles of effective project management. Its third version, released in 2004, is widely accessible and has led to nearly 250,000 individuals earning the Project Management Professional (PMP) accreditation. The PMBoK is a valuable tool in any professional Project Manager's arsenal.
In the UK and parts of Europe, the Office of Government Commerce's PRINCE2 method is the standard project management method. Its fourth edition, released in 2005, has seen exponential growth in individuals acquiring PRINCE2 qualifications, and its popularity is increasing in Australia, India, and China. PRINCE2 is designed to support effective governance of projects.
The differences between the PMBoK and PRINCE2 may stem from their origins. The PMBoK was compiled during a time of high project failure rates, which may have led to a focus on addressing "project manager" problems. PRINCE2, developed in a public sector environment, aimed to address "governance" problems.
While there is a divide within the project management profession regarding which method is superior, PMBoK or PRINCE2, most organizational project management methods are based on either one. Some companies require senior project managers to hold PMP qualifications, while others mandate PRINCE2 Practitioner status. With the recent release of updated versions of both methods, it is an opportune time to compare and evaluate their usefulness in the broader context of project management.
Method of Comparison
This article aims to compare two methods in three ways. Firstly, it directly compares the major features of each method, such as enterprise environmental factors, organizational process assets, knowledge areas, process groups, roles and responsibilities, and key project management products. Secondly, it compares the impact of each method on various stakeholders, including those governing projects, managing projects, working in project teams, and monitoring projects in PMOs. Lastly, it compares the approaches each method takes to authority of the project manager, planning, breaking the project into smaller, more manageable phases, review and update of key project management documents over the life of a project, and scaling to method to suit the needs of different projects. A detailed side by side comparison worksheet of the two methods is available below,
|Scope||Covers a wider range of topics||More focused on project management|
|Flexibility||More flexible||Less flexible|
|Complexity||More complex||Easier to learn and use|
|Structure||Less structured||More structured|
|Roles and responsibilities||Less defined||More defined|
The best framework for you will depend on the specific needs of your project. If you are looking for a comprehensive framework that can be adapted to different types of projects, then PMBOK is a good choice. If you are looking for a more structured approach to project management with defined roles and responsibilities, then PRINCE2 is a good choice.
Enterprise environmental factors
When it comes to enterprise environmental factors, both methods identify organizational culture and the portfolio context as critical factors to be examined and understood. PMBoK emphasizes the importance of knowledge of the available human resources pool and individual availabilities. On the other hand, PRINCE2 considers these factors within its process model when designing the project management team and assigning resources to specific tasks during detailed planning.
Organisational process assets
By leveraging the organizational process assets available to project managers, both PMBoK and PRINCE2 methods enable successful project outcomes. While PMBoK emphasizes procurement and contract administration as essential components of project management, PRINCE2 recognizes these as specialized areas and does not offer guidance in these domains. Nonetheless, in practice, many large organizations, especially in the public sector, follow well-established procurement processes that supersede any guidance offered by PMBoK. Thus, PRINCE2's approach, rooted in the public sector, reflects the reality of project management in these organizations.
The PMBoK and PRINCE2 methodologies provide valuable knowledge areas and components to guide project management processes. Although there are some overlaps and differences, both methods recognize the importance of risk and quality management. PMBoK offers extensive support in risk management, while PRINCE2 emphasizes quality management through a Project Quality Plan. Scope, time, cost, and quality are integral aspects of planning and change control in PRINCE2, whereas PMBoK considers them as separate knowledge areas. Integration management is critical in PMBoK, while PRINCE2 addresses this through workflow and change control techniques. Both methods recognize the significance of human resources and project communications, but PRINCE2 combines these aspects into a single component called 'Organisation and Leadership.' Procurement is only a knowledge area in PMBoK, while PRINCE2 recognizes the Business Case and Configuration Management as components. Finally, PRINCE2 has several control features, such as the Project Board, tolerance around budgets, and an exception process to deal with breaches of tolerance. These features ensure that project governance is effective and efficient, and that plans are refined step-by-step towards success.
As project managers, we have the tools to make our projects successful. There are different methods to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. PMBoK and PRINCE2 are two such methods. They both acknowledge that projects have distinct phases, and that we have the discretion to transition between them. And, at different levels of detail, both methods can be applied.
When it comes to project management products, PMBoK recognizes three major ones: the Charter, the Project Scope Statement, and the Project Management Plan. PRINCE2 has four major products, including the Project Mandate, the Project Brief, the Project Initiation Document (PID), and the Business Case. The Business Case is unique to PRINCE2 and supports project governance. It is updated at the end of each management stage to provide the Project Board with the necessary information to approve the project and allow it to continue to the next phase. By contrast, PMBoK only mentions the Business Case as part of the Project Charter.
A well-functioning Project Board should terminate a project that is not salvageable as early as possible to conserve organizational resources. As project managers, we must choose the method that best suits our specific project needs. With the right tools and knowledge, we can bring our projects to success.
Impact on stakeholders
Assistance with Project Governance
According to PMBoK, the individual who provides funding for a project is referred to as the "sponsor". This person is responsible for defining the acceptance criteria and formally accepting the project's deliverables. The sponsor may also decide how often project review meetings should be held. However, PMBoK does not provide much guidance on governance due to its historical background. On the other hand, PRINCE2 is more prescriptive when it comes to project governance.
Since the "C" in PRINCE2 stands for "Controlled", the method offers a wide range of controls for those involved in governing projects. In PRINCE2, a Project Board is made up of a Project Executive who represents the interests of the business funding the project, one or more Senior Suppliers representing the interests of those who will create the project's specialist products, and one or more Senior Users representing the interests of those who must deliver the products to the organization and achieve benefits. Each role and responsibility is well-defined. The Project Board's authority comes from corporate or program management and ends when the Project Board agrees that the project has been completed or is no longer feasible. PRINCE2 mandates only one Project Board meeting, which is to approve the Project Initiation Document and the first Stage Plan. All other Project Board decisions can be made informally at the discretion of the Project Board.
PRINCE2 also includes an optional Project Assurance function to support the Project Board and provide independent advice to the project manager. In practice, if the Project Board is asked to make a particularly complex decision, they may engage one or more people through the Project Assurance function to handle the details and provide a brief to the Project Board. This is common practice in most organizations, but it is formalized in the PRINCE2 method.
The Project Board has several controls available, such as providing the project manager with ad hoc advice and direction, setting stage boundaries to reevaluate the project's ongoing viability and terminate out-of-control projects, conducting End Stage reviews to ensure the project's continued viability, and End Project reviews to determine whether the project should be closed. The project manager cannot unilaterally close a project. At the end of the project, any unresolved issues and risks, outstanding activities, product defects, and any other follow-on actions are transferred from the project manager to the relevant operational managers. Tolerances can be set, giving the project manager some flexibility in terms of schedule or budget, while ensuring that the Project Board remains in control by requiring notification if a tolerance is breached. The Project Assurance function can also investigate, review, or audit the project at the Project Board's request. The content and frequency of status reports, as well as whether a formal Project Board meeting is necessary to review each status report, are determined by the Project Board.
Most PRINCE2 training organizations offer training in the method to project managers, who may find the governance aspects burdensome. These organizations also provide briefings on the governance aspects of the method to senior executives. Organizations cannot fully benefit from PRINCE2 unless their Project Board members act like board members.
Support to Project Manager/s
As a project manager, you may find support in the PMBoK. This guide provides detailed knowledge areas that may be more informative than PRINCE2. However, PRINCE2 offers unique mechanisms to assist project managers, such as step-wise refinement of plans. This approach allows project managers to avoid creating overly-detailed plans too far in advance, which may need to be rewritten closer to the time they are needed. A Project Plan gives a high-level overview, while a Stage Plan provides the level of detail that the project manager or project board is comfortable with.
Another useful PRINCE2 mechanism is product-based planning. This technique provides a structured approach to WBS-based planning, especially in new domains. It can be easily integrated into an earned-value management regime. The 'golden thread' supports quality with the Project Quality Plan, Product Descriptions, Work Packages, Quality Review Technique, and quality-related aspects of the issue management procedure.
Additionally, the Work Package concept is essential as it is a formal contract or tasking mechanism between the project manager and those who will develop the specialist products identified in the Work Package. It puts the responsibility on project team leaders to obtain client acceptance of the products delivered. Project status reports provide a way to formally escalate risks and issues to the Project Board. Finally, team checkpoint reports, product checklists, and quality logs help project managers keep project teams under control.
Project Team Support
As project team members, it's important to recognize that the PMBoK is primarily focused on guiding project managers in effectively managing a project team. However, PRINCE2 takes a different approach by requiring project managers to work closely with team leaders or individuals responsible for the work before it begins. This process ensures that teams aren't forced to deliver products within unrealistic time frames or budgets. When Work Packages are extensive, developing a Team Plan can increase the accuracy of estimates and provide clarity on roles. The Checkpoint reports also offer a formal means for project teams to escalate unresolved issues to the project manager, providing a clear path for resolution. Additionally, the PRINCE2 Quality Review Technique provides helpful guidance for project team members on carrying out quality control activities and documenting the results of such reviews.
In project management, having external support is crucial for success. PMBoK and PRINCE2 both recognize this and emphasize the importance of a Project Office or Project Support Office. These functions play a vital role in ensuring a project's success and should not be overlooked.
Project Manager’s authority
As a project manager, you hold a significant amount of power and responsibility. The Project Charter in PMBoK provides you with the ability to utilize organizational resources, while in PRINCE2, the Project Executive grants you with authority. It's important to note that both frameworks have specific guidelines for the expiration of your authority to execute a project. Ensuring that you continue to persuade the project board that the project is progressing as expected or can be brought back on track is crucial in maintaining your authority. Remember, as a representative of the project board, the success or failure of the project ultimately lies on their shoulders. Keep up the good work and continue to lead your team towards success.
When it comes to planning, PRINCE2 takes an output-based or product-based approach. This means that the planning process begins by identifying the major deliverables that are needed, followed by figuring out what other products will need to be developed along the way. Once this is done, the activities required to create those products are identified and formalized as a Work Breakdown Structure. From there, the approach is similar to what's prescribed in the PMBoK, but with more detail available in the latter.
PRINCE2 also recognizes a hierarchy of plans, with increasing levels of detail. The Project Plan is at the highest level, while a Stage Plan (possibly supported by one or more Team Plans) is at the level of granularity needed for effective control of that stage.
In the PMBoK, a WBS is created to cover the entire project. As the project progresses, the WBS is reviewed and revised as necessary. In PRINCE2, there is a concept of a planning horizon. This is typically set at around three months, after which the uncertainty of the future means that the value of detailed planning decreases below the cost of developing the plan.
Understanding the differences between the concepts of 'phase' in PMBoK and 'management stage' in PRINCE2 is essential for effective project management. By dividing a project into phases in PMBoK, the project manager can ensure better management control while still applying all process groups. Meanwhile, in PRINCE2, the Project Board uses the stage concept as a governance control to evaluate the project's progress and determine its continuation. It is important to update key project management documents, such as the Project Management Plan and Business Case, at the end of each phase or management stage to ensure accountability and deliver the commitments outlined in the Business Case. With this knowledge, project managers can successfully navigate the complexities of project management and achieve their goals.
Scaling up and down
Project management is a crucial aspect of any successful enterprise. It is essential to match the nature and demands of a project to the competency and experience of the project manager. This is where the PRINCE2 and PMBoK methods come into play. Both methods provide detailed guidance on scaling to meet a project's specific needs. The use of organisational project management methods, such as PRINCE2, can significantly benefit project managers, especially when it comes to controls such as Project Board structure, staging, planning, and more.
Professional project managers can benefit from formal accreditations, such as Certificates, Diplomas, and Advanced Diplomas, based on the PMBoK. It is crucial to understand the PMBoK knowledge areas and apply them well in a PRINCE2 management framework. Many public sector organisations and multi-nationals utilise organisational project management methods based on PRINCE2, and the value of both methods continues to extend.
The Defence Materiel Organisation's Project Management Certification Framework is a great example of identifying the knowledge areas beyond the PMBoK and requiring project managers to gain formal accreditations to apply their knowledge. The development of the Competency Standard for Complex Project Managers further emphasises the need for highly qualified, competent project managers for complex, extremely risky projects.
Overall, the use of PRINCE2 and PMBoK methods can significantly benefit project managers, ensuring successful project execution and completion. With the right tools and knowledge, project managers can match a project's nature and demands to their competency and experience, leading to successful outcomes.
PMBOK is a more comprehensive framework than PRINCE2. It covers a wider range of topics, including project planning, execution, monitoring, and control. PMBOK is also more flexible than PRINCE2, as it can be adapted to different types of projects. However, this flexibility can also make PMBOK more complex to use.
PRINCE2 is a more prescriptive framework than PMBOK. It provides a more structured approach to project management, with a set of defined roles and responsibilities. PRINCE2 is also easier to learn and use than PMBOK. However, this prescriptiveness can make PRINCE2 less flexible than PMBOK.
Which framework is right for you?
The PMBoK and PRINCE2 methods may have some similarities, but their distinct differences reflect the unique origins of each approach. While PMBoK prioritizes the needs of individual project managers, PRINCE2 offers a range of features that promote better organizational control of projects. By combining these two methods, utilizing the formal controls of PRINCE2 as the foundation and leveraging the knowledge areas of PMBoK, project managers can effectively address common challenges related to governance and project management. This approach serves as a reminder of the importance of aligning projects with organizational strategy, an area that is becoming increasingly vital in the emerging field of strategic program management.
Ultimately, the best way to decide which framework is right for you is to consider the specific needs of your project and to learn more about both frameworks.
Project Management Institute, The Project Management Body of Knowledge version 3, 2004
Office of Government Commerce, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 release 4, 2005
A spreadsheet containing the detailed comparison of PMBoK and PRINCE2, which is available for download at www.goalgroup.com.au.
Defence Materiel Organisation, Department of Defence, Competency Standard for Complex Project Management version 2, 2006