Top Five Reasons Why Prince2 Sucks

Last week it happened again: one of our employees asked me to pay for Prince2 certification courses for our project managers. (I might have to explain this for my non-European readers. Prince2 is a general-purpose project management methodology. It is promoted by the UK’s Office of Government Commerce and over the last 10 years it has spread like a plague among IT companies on the European continent.) It was the third time an employee asked me this question, and my answer was the same as always.


Our company will not pay for Prince2 certification of our employees. Since this is the third time I was asked the same question, I’ve decided to make a list of my motivations. Next time I can simply point to this article.

  1. The name Prince2 stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. The name itself already defies its applicability for almost any project, because there is no such thing as a controlled environment. We cannot control the business environments our customers and users exist in, and we cannot control the social environments the project stakeholders operate under. Only state prisons are (more or less) controlled. And it’s no coincidence that, when Prince2 is applied faithfully and rigorously, employees are reported to feel imprisoned in their processes (many of them having a tendency to lose the will to live).
  2. The Prince2 method –consisting of 8 components, 10 roles, 8 processes, 45 subprocesses and 33 types of artifacts — is so heavy that it generates its own gravitational field. It is like a black hole that sucks up all your energy, and nothing ever comes out of it.
  3. Prince2 does not address Requirements Management or Requirements Development. It does not address the way the Technical Solution should be built nor does it have processes for Verification or Validation of a product. It doesn’t deal with progress measurements, the post-deployment phase, project portfolios, or the scaling of project size. The only thing it does well is to turn a project manager’s job into the equivalent of a controller of a nuclear powerplant. He has to monitor everything continuously, or something might blow up.
  4. Prince2 manages change as something that must be "controlled", not "embraced", as is the preferred approach in agile software projects. All work is managed through Gantt-charts and other top-down management techniques. Self-organization of software developers and other types of knowledge workers, who are (usually) able to think for themselves and to figure out stuff together, is not actively encouraged, and definately not central to its core principles.
  5. There is so much overhead involved in running a Prince2 project, with so many documents to be produced, that aborting all Prince2 projects worldwide might have a significant impact on the projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Figure: Prince2 in a nutshell

Over the centuries many great stuff has crossed The English Channel from the British isles to the European mainland. Stuff like The Beatles, Earl Grey tea, Absolutely Fabulous and Discworld. But the Prince2 method might be the first good reason for IT companies in Europe to cut away the sea floor cables and flood the Channel Tunnel.

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  • Bernie

    There’s so much wrong with this I hardly know where to start. A lot of the criticism is just a matter of semantics – embrace change rather than control it!!! Why not do both, as per PRINCE2 guidance? It sounds like the writer has had a bad experience. PRINCE2 is not meant to be applied ‘faithfully and rigorously’. It should be used sensibly, and the extent to which it is applied will differ between projects. Unfortunately, in many companies, ‘box tickers’ rule. This is not the fault of PRINCE2.
    Point 3 is mostly about things PRINCE2 doesn’t deal with. Well, of coourse, PRINCE2 is a project management method, not a development method, which is what makes it so portable. And yes, it does deal with scaling of projects! If the writer would care to come on one of my courses, he might be pleasantly surprised.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Hi Bernie. It appears we disagree on this subject.
    I believe that Prince2 is just as useful to a cook in a restaurant as it is to an agile development team. In both situations high-quality results need to be delivered fast and without useless documentation.
    I do believe there is some useful stuff in Prince2, for some projects. But Prince2 is definately *not* presented by the OGC as a pick-and-choose menu of best practices.
    Why present people with hundreds of pages full of processes, artifacts, inputs and outputs, and let them figure out for themselves what to delete?
    There are many critics of Prince2, and I think the way that Prince2 presents itself is the main reason for that.

  • Jan Kalisek

    Hi Jurgen,
    Better title for your article is „5 common and false prejudices on PRINCE2“.
    1. Controlled… Any PM must understand his environment, right? Who does not understand it, cannot succeed.
    2. So heavy…You can pick what you need. The entire scheme describes all activities, any good project manager does (more or less formally) on any project. Formalize what is needed. BTW this was the way my lecturer explained it, from where comes your “not presented by the OGC as a pick-and-choose menu of best practices“? Quite opposite is true.
    3+4. Does not address…requirements.. change…Gantt…???? Sorry again, opposite is true. Gantt is not a part, independent groups delivering results (quality checked!!!) are encouraged and core, changes are inevitable parts of any project etc.etc.
    5. Overhead? So many documents? Why? Again, formalize or use, what you need.
    Jurgen, it seems to me, that your people know very well, why they ask for PRINCE2. You like ongoing permanent changes and on-the-fly operative management, aren’t you? What about going to the PRINCE2 training yourself? Three days, not more. Find them.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks Jan, but I guess we just don’t agree. I’ve read two Prince2 books, and the big OGC guide, and I’ve been to a seminar full of Prince2 addicts. I know enough. It’s not my cup of tea. And it appears I’m not the only one in that. I’ve yet to meet *anyone* talking favorably about a software project delivered with Prince2.
    Prince2 is presented as a Boeing 777, while I only need a bicycle. Now, if you tell me that I can remove most parts of the Boeing to end up with a bicyle, then I tell you I’d rather just have a real bicycle.
    Prince2 is a method for a traditional (old) way of managing projects. I’d rather use the modern (agile) way of doing things. The agile principles treat software development as a complex system, with an unpredictable and *uncontrollable* environment.
    Prince2 only talks about *managing* change, while agile methods talk about actively *inviting* change…

  • al

    >1. Controlled… Any PM must understand his environment, right? Who does not understand it, cannot succeed.
    Understanding and controlling are very very different. You cleary misunderstood the point
    >2. So heavy…You can pick what you need. The entire scheme describes all activities, any good project manager does (more or less formally) on any project. Formalize what is needed. BTW this was the way my lecturer explained it, from where comes your “not presented by the OGC as a pick-and-choose menu of best practices“? Quite opposite is true.
    You cannot choose everything in prince2, for example :
    – Prince2 is Big up-front design
    – Prince2 is Top-down design
    – Prince2 is product oriented
    – Can we suppress the PID ? Is a methodology without PID yet Prince2 ?
    – …
    >3+4. Does not address…requirements..
    In PM, requirements are essential and prince2 does not define how to collect these.
    >change…Gantt…???? Sorry again, opposite is true. Gantt is not a part,
    I aggree but gantt is suggested in PL5.
    >independent groups delivering results (quality checked!!!) are encouraged and core, changes are inevitable parts of any project etc.etc.
    No, it’s not delivering “results” but products, freezing products. “Freeze” is not really change management.
    >5. Overhead? So many documents? Why? Again, formalize or use, what you need.
    Yeah. Overhead, big up-front design, to much documents. And no again, you cannot choose what you need (because creating a bicycle from a boeing is a lot of work far more than creating the bicycle from scratch).

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Hi Al, thanks for joining in! 🙂

  • Dave

    Hi Guys, I am looking at PRINCE for the first time. Is there anything better than PRINCE available?

  • Jurgen Appelo

    @Dave, lots of things are better than Prince2. Have a look here…

  • Mona Mishra

    Hi, i fully agree that Prince 2 is not a useful tool for project managemnet. The certification test, of course, is the ultimate process of dumbing down.
    I work for a multilateral social sector development organisation (nothing to do with IT or commerce or industry), and it has the certification test as a mandatory req for all employees.
    To me, the people who made prince 2 are just earning their quick buck on this, to no real advantage to its users. regards, mona

  • Josh Nankivel

    Weird…I thought PRINCE2 was a framework like the PMBoK, not a methodology.
    Personally, I think if I used something like the PMBoK as a methodology to manage a project, I’d tear my hair out. I use it, but more as an outline of the things to consider, even on a scrum or agile project.
    I’m not a fundamentalist with any framework or methodology…I think there are good things that can be pulled out of nearly all of them. I use war room meetings on non-agile projects, and PMBoK-style “mini planning” at the beginning of each sprint. Everyone who is a purist of any flavor would probably call me a heretic.
    For instance:
    SCRUM Concepts in Traditional PM
    Critical Chain Benefits From Traditional PM
    Josh Nankivel

  • giulio

    I know this is all old news but this type of post seems atypical of someone who is prejudiced to what they haven’t seen. It’s obvious that you are an agile biggot so I won’t use that against you in this response but you will probably be surprised that an experienced Prince2 project manager actually applies alot of Agile concepts you already use. I am not a big fan of Agile as I have found that for larger complex projects Agile is usually mis-used resulting in systems with poor quality and robustness. In fact Agile allows managers to be weak and cause a system development cost blowouts during the testing and maintenance phases. But for short projects with minimal complexity, it works well.
    As a Prince2 proponent Im gonna have to pick your argument apart now..
    @1 Just Nit-picking now. Although we can’t control “the world” and events, Prince2 provides a project manager with the tools to manage factors within his control and deal with exceptions.
    @2 Yep it’s big. If you had done the intro course. You would have been told that Prince2 actually applies what you are already doing instinctively and that you don’t need to have a form for everything. An exception report for instance can simply be a phone call to the project executive (ie the guy paying the bills) to get advice/direction. It’s intended to educate you about roles and responsibilities within a process.
    @3. Somewhat wrong. There are start up processes that explicitly require the establishment of a business case and requirements before project commencement. Prince2 is generic so dictating specific requirement standards would be a waste of time. You can however fit your own requirements activity within this process. Prince2 cares about getting agreement from the right people and that risks have been assessed.
    @4 Totally wrong. Prince2 does not dictate how individuals think, which seems to be what you’re doing to your employees. “No, you don’t need to think that way, think this way!”. So, it’s a matter of management style. Prince2 makes the distinction by the concept of “work packages” and a “product breakdown structures” which is a simple tree like diagram that a group of developers can collaborate with to work out the parts of a system. The hassle with Gantt charts is relative to the number of resources and tasks at hand to.
    @5 Totally wrong. You can actually run a project with the Prince2 approach without much documentation, relative to the size, complexity and risks of your project. If you have sufficient experience as a project manager you perform alot of these tasks implicitly and without documentation. The only thing he/she will keep track of are risks, requirements and deliverables.
    Summing up, Prince2 is quite good at helping project managers understand process and responsibility as well as the relationship with stakeholders. Good in consulting environments. It’s generic and so allows you to custom fit unique activities within it, the question Prince2 answers is where it should sit, who should be responsible for it and when and how do i report on it.
    I recommend that you actually attend the fundamentals course before casting wide dispersions on a project methodology you seem to know little about. After that, you can go nuts…

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for your reply.
    “Agile allows managers to be weak and cause a system development cost blowouts during the testing and maintenance phases.”
    From this quote I deduct that you are just as much a Prince2 biggot as I am an agile biggot.
    What you describe here in your comment is how to do Prince2 as it is *not described in the books*.
    Yes, I *did* read the books. Several of them in fact. Nowhere does the Prince2 documentation (that I read) suggest that you can make do with a phone call instead of a document.
    So, as far as I’m concerned you’re describing how to break free of the Prince2 harness and manage things in a more people-centered way.
    I can only agree with that.
    As I said in an earlier comment, I *do* believe there is some useful stuff in Prince2, for some projects. But Prince2 is definately *not* presented by the OGC as a pick-and-choose menu of best practices. It is clearly presented by the OGC as a rigid framework with lots of *fixed* processes and documents.

  • David Whelbourn

    Like many others I think you misunderstand the use of PRINCE2. I have been a PM since 1989 and used a pragmatic version of PRINCE2 since 1997.
    I dispute that there is no requirements management. I suggest you check out the use of product descriptions, work packages for defining, tracking the status of including accepting the deliverables / outcomes as completed.
    I have used pragmatic PRINCE2 to manage RUP software development projects and SCRUM teams since 2005 without choking anyone in paper.
    I can only reiterate that you look at tuning and choosing the processes you need to initiate, monitor and control then close the project. PMI PMBOK is just a book of Knowledge and not a methodology (try finding anything in it about how to trigger work and receive completed products).
    We expect our PM’s to be certified by the PMI for their knowledge and our internal Pragmatic PRINCE2 based PM Framework to be a competent PM.
    Research points to 3 things you need to focus on to significantly improve your chances of project success.
    1. Competent PM
    2. Proven Planning Methods
    3. Clarity about technical performance
    A pragmatic adoption of PRINCE2 will provide support for 2 and 3. Number 1 comes from education and experience(about 10,000 hours should do the trick).

  • Craig

    I don’t think Agile and Prince2 are mutually exclusive. It’s a matter of HOW you apply it.
    Seasoned and experienced Prince2 PMs know how to scale it to the project they are working on. And requirements can be worked up iteratively, just within a big picture context (which makes a lt of sense in the complex modern enterprise.)
    The issue is for junior and middleweight pm’s who rely on frameworks to help them through processes once they are in unfamiliar territory.
    For them it usually feels better to include more artifacts and deliverables than less.
    I think Cockburn says in his Crystal work that it’s better to start with a minimal framework and build it up – rather than start with the encyclopedia and try to edit it back to just what you need.
    …We are in an infexion point in pm methods…
    People will continue to use what they know and so Prince2 will remain popular and important. In the future people will be lambasted for sticking with XP or Scrum when new and possibly better methods are developed.
    Telling people they are wrong is not a good way of changing them, 🙂
    Anyway, I liked the original post and it’s a good provocative point of view.

  • giulio

    Back from vacation.. Now.. where were we upto ? Am I a Prince2 Biggot ? Probably, I hope you won’t hold that against me 🙂 … I’m more of a “anything that is a significant effort or has complexity needs to be managed with some formality” biggot, so not exclusively prince2.
    But I am not a supporter of agile in this context because it would simply implode once the size of the job, and it’s complexity, scales up beyond 3 or 4 resources and more than a month or 2 for a timeline of delivery. But it’s all relative to complexity.
    You’ve taken me out of context to suggest that I am inadvertently freeing you from the “bondage” of prince2, so that’s not entirely fair 😉 In fact Prince2 can work with Agile as I will explain shortly.
    You are correct that Prince2 does not present a pick-and-choose menu for best practices. I never said it does if that’s what you’re implying. It presents a context to apply and manage the most appropriate practice you choose for the job. So it doesn’t have to get in the way of the work unless the PM dictates it.
    So you may be surprised to hear that you could actually use agile methods to deliver a work-package. The only requirement Prince2 imposes with regards to a work package is that you know how to report on it’s progress, and do you know how to deal with exceptions that require changes. Your control methods here are relative to what you feel necessary. If you’re dealing in a politically charged environment, then some formality is needed. If you swap bodily fluids with your client, then verbal discussion may be acceptable. Prince2 only advises what you need to include in the post-coital conversation with the stakeholders to make sure you have mitigated your risks.
    So, no, it doesn’t require a form, simply an agreed means of managing that activity.
    I suggest you re-read points 3 and 4 of my original response in regards to your references to best practice application.

  • Ryan

    IMHO Prince 2 is bloated and unworkable =) Get Real –

  • Paul McKeever

    Just to add my 2p worth – I use Prince2 alongside agile methods day and day out, and I don’t see any reason why they can’t work together.
    Prince doesn’t specify HOW you deliver the products in your project, but does give some common sense ways of planning and controlling what happens.

  • Ryan

    But for it to be workable you strip out so much stuff, is it still Prince?

  • Rick Bates

    Hi Jurgen,
    Page 152 of Agile Project Management with Scrum by Ken Schwaber goes through an exercise in comparing CMMI versus Scrum. Whereby Ken and Mark discuss and compare the two frameworks.
    The real point is that without your employees understanding other frameworks that can’t really appreciate what is special about Scrum, they lack a comparison baseline. I prefer an environment where people just take a position yet allow others to constantly challenge their position. I believe it’s always important to understand why, and not just accept something through faith. Much of what you have to say on your blog seems to support this as your viewpoint, yet you break the mold when it comes to other frameworks that challenge Scrum.
    I think there is a lot to learn from all frameworks, techniques, methodologies, even if you don’t agree with them. Even if you think they are plain wrong, you have heard what they have to say, and your rejection is based in logic and reason. If you let your employees attend Prince2, perhaps you might facilitate their learning and understanding also as they make up their own mind?
    I’d also like to say, I prefer it when employees pay for their own courses, so that they have a stake in attending them, rather than it being a few days off work. This may take the form whereby the company subsidises say half the cost of the course and provides a budget of $X and Y days per employee per year for training on whatever they see as adding value to their career.
    Sort of Scrum self organising training?
    I’d be interested in your opinions.
    Thx & Reg Rick

  • Nico Viergever

    PRINCE2 describes mature, customer driven project management. Focussed on benefits, not (just) on delivery.
    This is why so many people, especially from IT do not understand the approach at all.
    1. they are suppliers (sometimes internal suppliers)
    2, Because IT is hardly mature.
    Rigid? RTFM! One of the key things was always and is still that you have to tailor PRINCE2 to match the rquirements of your project.
    Compare PRINCE2 with SCRUM? SCRUM has nothing to do with real project management. The management bit in SCRUM is what PRINCE2 calls “(technical) team management”. Only a supplier (especially IT) will think that management and development is the same thing.
    If some people’s reactions show one thing, it is that “a fool with a tool is still a fool”.

  • John

    Hi I dont have an opinion on other methodologies but have been a practicing Prince2 manager for longer than I care to imagine and having run large commercial IT networks and application development and currently in information modelling and refset development supported by tooling teams Prince2 is very good if you understand its workings. Just as you all probably can use your experience is software to make life easy. The one thing you should never fail to adopt as an approach is what is the product how will the customer measure it and do we have those expectations, secondly workshop it with domian experts (your team) plan it out and use Stages (gates) whatever so you can measure the progress obsorb changes in a planned manner. Also the world does not end if a stage is defered or stopped a unbroken project will. Prince is a way of checking these are done and that the customer or your bosses must provide a level of useful information before you proceed – a nice way of pushing back without looking trouble some – no one got in trouble for wanting a quality product based on measurable benifits. For you guys a clear manadate and a clear product discription would be the most important however the business case is the driver. You should also see if it is not a workpackage and others should be doing the hard yards you point out.

  • Peter

    Is that how this abundance of badly developed software comes to be in the UK, David?

  • Peter

    A tad too illiterate to take seriously…

  • Parallel Project Management Training

    Prince2 is a methodology for project management. It’s nothing like the PMBoK and APM BOK, which act as guide to the broad topic of project management. It can be useful if the whole organisation adopts PRINCE2 as a method, ideal with some tailoring to fit the specific needs of the organisation. However for the vast majority of organisations which are not using a PRINCE2 method it is not really that helpful. In fact is could increase the complexity of the project as the drawing above so neatly shows.
    You are right these things need to be used as a guide and then adapted to fit the project you are managing.


    I am a student and doing a thesis on project management tools and came across this. Actually looking for the people who are practicing PRINCE2. The reason is to get a questionnaire filled by a person who is practicing PRINCE2.
    please contact me on my email if any one can do this for me will send you the questionnaire.

  • David Whelbourn

    I have used PRINCE2 on software projects, RAD, agile etc… I tailor it to suit so the the PM is low cost overhead. It isn’t hard really you just have to think LEAN. One or two page project product description to get agreement on the purpose and objectives of the project. Status reporting by a single email from the team lead on the position of the deliverables in terms of state (draft, in review, approved, accepted). I have used this with Scrum in software development. I used to collect status information by visiting the project room and recording the status of the features. Each iteration was a stage. The Product owner is the senior user on the project board.
    The Requirements definition method tend to be delivery / technology specific for the project so it isn’t within the Project Management Methodology.

    • Noel McGwynne

      I can’t believe what you are saying. “Requirement definition” has nothing nothing to do with technology specifics. They are “want” statements” in user language. I NEVER start without them

  • Steph

    I am taking the course at the moment and think Prince 2 is fantastic at the project executive/ project manager level. It focusses on business objectives and managing by exception which I think is the way to go when managing a portfolio.
    Prince 2 is not about deciding how developers go about managing their day to day activities. Scrum software development could easily be applied alongside Prince 2. Prince2 stops where specialization begins. I like that about it. Let the specialists figure out how they will deliver their piece of the product.
    My 2 cents.

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