The 7 PRINCE2® Principles: A Closer Look


In my opinion, PRINCE2  (Projects in a Controlled Environments) is the best project management “road map” around for getting a project through a successful and controlled start, middle and end.  It is a structured, non-proprietary project management method focusing on controlling project costs, timescales, quality, scope, risk and benefits.   PRINCE2 uses an integrated framework of elements for successful project management: principles, themes, processes and tailoring the method to the project environment.

Let’s take a more detailed look at one part of this integrated framework: the set of seven common-sense principles that guide the project manager and the project team during the PRINCE2 project life cycle.  I think of these principles as a short-list of strategic things that good project managers use to target project success.  Remember, if you say that you are working on a PRINCE2 project, all seven principles must be applied in that project.

Continued Business Justification

A PRINCE2 project has continued business justification.  This means that there is a justifiable reason to start a project, this reason remains valid throughout the life of the project and the justification is documented and approved.   In PRINCE2, this justification is documented in the Business Case, driving decision-making and ensuring the project stays aligned to business objectives and benefits.

Learn from Experience

PRINCE2 project teams are expected to learn from previous experience.  Lessons learned are sought, recorded and acted upon throughout the project life cycle.  Lessons are also applied from previous projects in order to learn from others and improve the way projects are done.  In PRINCE2, these lessons are documented in the Lessons Log and become the contents of the Lessons Report created by the Project Manager at the end of each stage and at the end of the overall project.

Defined Roles and Responsibilities

PRINCE2 projects have defined and agreed-upon roles and responsibilities that engage all aspects of the involved internal or external organizations: business, user and supplier.  All three stakeholder interests must be represented on the project management team in order to be successful.  The project management team structure and roles must be defined to answer the question for everyone: “What is expected of me?”

Manage by Stages

PRINCE2 projects are planned in management stages that create control points throughout the project.   This approach allows projects to be monitored and controlled on a stage-by-stage basis.  At the end of each management stage, the project is reviewed to see if it will still deliver its Business Case.  This is done using two levels of plans and a ‘rolling wave’ approach to planning using an overall Project Plan and a detailed Stage Plan for the current stage where work is being performed.

Manage by Exception

PRINCE2 projects define tolerances for time, cost, quality, scope, risk and benefits to establish limits of delegated authority across the levels of management.  This allows clearly defined accountability and decision-making and implements the concept of “management by exception”.   If these tolerances are exceeded or forecast to be exceeded, they must be escalated to the next level of management for a decision on how to proceed.

Focus on Products

PRINCE2 focuses on defining and delivering products that meet their stated quality criteria.  This includes the final product of the project as well as other significant management and specialist products produced across the project life cycle. This “output oriented” approach to projects results in defining a set of agreed-upon products and then planning the work to accomplish them.   This is achieved by using product-based planning techniques and Product Descriptions.

Tailored to Suit the Project Environment

PRINCE2 should be tailored to work for the project’s environment, size, complexity, importance, capabilities and risks.  When tailoring the PRINCE2 method, it is important not to omit any elements since they are designed as a web of interlinked parts.  The goal is to adapt the method for your organization and environment and avoid creating a ‘template-driven’ project management method where everything is done fully without question.  Remember that PRINCE2 focuses on the information and decisions rather than on documents and meetings.

Tailoring PRINCE2 ensures that planning, control, governance and use of themes and processes are done correctly on a project.  This contrasts with the term ‘embedding’, which refers to an organization adopting PRINCE2 for their projects.  Tailoring is done by the project management team to adapt the method to their specific projects, focusing on adapting the themes through the strategies and controls, incorporating specific terms and language, revising the management products and project role descriptions and adjusting the processes to match the tailoring that was done.

A copy of the PRINCE2 method is required reference material in any project manager’s bookshelf!  The method is documented in the OGC publication “Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2” which is officially published by TSO.  Serious project managers seeking to enhance their knowledge, skills and professional credibility target should consider PRINCE2 certification.  Learning Tree offers certification courses for folks interested in becoming a Certified Practitioner of PRINCE2. Learning Tree UK offers additional PRINCE2 courses for those of you who are in the UK.

Susan Weese

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