18 April 2012

My new Prince2 hypothesis

If you have been watching my tweets you'll notice I have been searching for any reliable evidence that Prince2 as a method has delivered any sort of possible results to users.  While there are anecdotes of project managers describing success with Prince2, there is no evidence that it is anything more than a coincidence.

Apart from asking practitioners on PM forums and social media, I have also searched industry and academic papers on the topic. Nothing.

So, I am now confident to say that there is zero evidence that Prince2 can help you achieve any sort of success.

You would expect what people have invested in it, there would have been some work invested into proving the model. Given it isn't there, even in a tenuous, challenge-able state, I have modified my hypothesis.

My new hypothesis
"Prince2 actually contributes to cost over-runs, budget crises and disillusioned clients."
I don't know that this is a truth, but I suspect it is possible.  For example, we find Prince2 concentrated in UK and Australian Government circles. Coincidentally these domains have a reputation for poor delivery, bad project choices and tremendous amounts of waste within their projects.

(And yes, there are plenty of exceptions, but there is a clear trend, you have to agree.)

So, the call to action:  Can you help me prove or disprove this hypothesis? Do you have any studies or reports that cold help?

Things that could be useful;

  • Reports on industry project performance correlated to industry Prince2 concentration
  • Surveys of project outcomes compared to project delivery methods
  • etc
Looking forward to your help :)


  1. Craig, we need to restructure your hypothesis in a way that it can be tested. First, Prince2 folk would make a favourable claim about the Prince 2 world (a hypothesis) that could be tested, e.g. Prince2 DOES NOT contribute to cost over-runs, budget crises and disillusioned clients. Then we go out and look at the data. What I suspect we’d find is loads of instances where this statement doesn’t hold up. We have therefore broken the hypothesis and found it not to be true.

    Oh and yes Prince 2 can help you achieve success. If you’re applying for a PM job in particular circles, and there’s two of you down to the wire, and only one has a Prince2 certificate – guess who’ll be successful at landing the job? This is just one of the reasons why Prince2 is still surviving as a concept.

    1. Jon, I'm not sure we can measure a project framework's success in terms of how many of its devotees get hired. :)

      Craig, I'm super keen to see this thread run to ground. I think you're on to something. :)

  2. Jon

    Good advice there re structuring the hypothesis.

    I am not hearing anything yet, and I have had a good look via Google.scholar.

  3. Hi Craig,

    I am a project and programme professional in central government. I found this a very interesting post which really crystallised some feelings I've had for a number of years.

    It seems opportune to cite the following points.

    Prince2 (2009) does make reference to the fact that as a framework is specifies the 'who' and the 'what' not the 'how' and that one or other bodies of knowledge (PMI / APM) are complementary in supplementing the framework. In fact without reference to alternative texts, my view is that you will be deficient in several key areas of project management and this is noteworthy in view of my next point.

    A lot of public sector projects are spawned via business cases aligned with HM Treasury's Green Book. A central tenet of the Green Book is the requirement to articulate evidence based decision making (very pertinent to your post) and invariably Prince2 is cited as the approach through which change is to be enacted. To my knowledge no one to date as undertaken any diligence of the sort you propose.

    Compare and contrast. PMI requires 5000 hours (10,000 for non-graduates) of recorded and referenced project management experience and success in a demanding exam. The Prince2 exam requires candidates to pass an exam and the route most practitioners take is a one week course. I've sat one of these courses and it's not so much a Prince2 course as a Prince2 exam course. To cover the material in the allotted time, wider discussion about real life project management is actually discouraged.

    The Prince2 framework is very inconsistently applied in my experience. Prince2 has a number of mandatory products and in my experience production of these mandatory products is at best sketchy. This precludes any discussion on the quality of these products.

    Generally, I would offer that Prince2 offers a common nomenclature for those engaged in project management. This should (obviously) never be confused for project management itself. The Public Sector too has become very assurance / governance focused. Prince2 can offer a level of comfort to those seeking to apply what is generally perceived as the de facto standard.

    I have submitted the following via http://www.prince-officialsite.com/home/contactus.aspx


    Are you able to provide any of the following please?

    Reports on industry project performance correlated to industry Prince2 concentration

    Surveys of project outcomes using Prince2 compared to other project delivery methods

    Any supplementary information to inform evidence based decision making when selecting a project management approach.


    I have a number of other avenues which I can pursue too if I am not successful.

  4. It would be an interesting piece of research to do. The hypothesis should consider what you are building and the domains where Prince 2 is successful or not.

    Here is some input from my experience of IT organisations moving from a technical orientation to a service orientation with the aim of creating value for their customers – better, faster cheaper.

    I believe that using both PRINCE2 (or other project management method) and ITIL help organizations to deliver new and changed services. I think some projects fail with Prince2 because there is a lack of understanding about what is to be built. With CIOs I often ask “Would you put a project team on building a fleet of different types of aircraft when they had never seen a plane before?” – or an oil rig? Many organizations do just this – get a new project to deliver a business and technology transformation project with little understanding of the underlying technology service(s). I think a really good project manager can overcome this but if the service management and operations teams are not engaged a project manager is on a back foot.

    ITIL is educating the service management and operations teams to understand their role in each stage of the service lifecycle and especially their involvement in service design and service transition lifecycle stages – typical projects. ITIL helps people to understand how value is created and how to add value through services> This is helping organizations to deliver business and technology transformation globally. People in 130 countries are taking ITIL exams and ISO/IEC 20000 is one of the most popular standards so I would start here and work backwards. With ISO/IEC 20000 the service provider has a documented a service management system so any project that delivers new or changed services knows what they are delivering into. Applying Prince 2 sensibly will then work. I know this is only one perspective but it may help you to ask the right hypothesis.

    I did a presentation with Andy Murray last year regarding the integration between PRINCE2 and ITIL which can be viewed on the Best Management Practice website – www.best-management-practice.com. The Prince2 2009 update took on board the ITIL release and deployment process that helps the integration.
    Andy and I discussed how a project delivering into an IT service provide that has adopted ITIL reduces the uncertainty and project risk – so this would be worth looking at too.

    The Cabinet Office and TSO use MSP and Prince2 to deliver ITIL V3 and the ITIL 2011 update. ITIL has been very successful.

    1. Shirley thanks for the comments and the reading homework :)

      Let me start with saying that I think both Prince2 and ITIL are both full of good content. Unfortunately they are both task centric models and I think they fail to address to sociological and cultural issues in organisations.

      I also think they suffer from some underlying principle problems; positioning IT as a service organisation which can only lead to problems.

      Your comment "Applying Prince 2 sensibly will then work" is true. Lots of people have made both Prince2 and ITIL work, but what I have observed is that more commonly Prince2 (and to a lesser degree ITIL) are problematic, and there appears to be a strong correlation with project (and operational) waste and service quality issues.

      It may be that there is only a correlation and that the sector is inherently troubled. I am also interested to see what some structured research would bear out.

  5. Craig

    Intuitively, what you say makes sense. I would agree (from what I have been researching for a non totally unrelated subject) that in terms of 'academic' content, there is not much out there which addresses PRINCE2 specifically.

    As Jon alludes to, we need to consider the basis upon which 'methodologies' survive and spread; particularly how they seem to be adapted for purposes other than that which the were developed. In the case of PRINCE2, its roots are clearly in IT systems implementation, but has become a 'de-facto' methodology for many organisations regards of the nature of the project.

    Stuart - my interpretation of Jon's comments are that there is a distinction between the success of the projects run using PRINCE2 (though we need to be sure we are taking about "project" success, not just "project management" success) and the success of the framework for its own sake. The latter can, arguably be measured by how well it propagates itself across project management activities, regardless of the results of the actual projects. In that regard, the attainment of certification helps the project manager succeed (in getting roles) but also further propagates the methodology itself. Methodologies, through their advocates, are battling for survival, if not supremacy. We have seen in recent times both PRINCE2 (in relation to DSDM) and PMI venture into the "agile" world - despite their origins in domains far removed the from "agile manifesto", these find new, fertile fields to survive in the face of what would otherwise be a hostile environment.

    1. Hi Terry

      Thanks for the comment. In relation to Jon's meme ideas - well, we get that and know it goes on despite whether it is healthy or not.

      In my case I'd like to see some evidence one way or another on Prince2. My experience points me in the way of the original post and while I have some experience, it could do with some grounding on both proper methods and statistical reliability.

      Again, the model is designed as a task centric one with little consideration given to the socio-cultural aspects and all the management theory tells us that this is where the money is.

      Let's bring project management into alignment with modern (ie post 1950) management theory.

  6. Craig here is a link you might find useful: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/20341. It's about a National Audit Office study and while I haven't read the study itself this article from the BCS says that one of the study findings was that 78 per cent of projects which adhered to Prince 2 were a success compared to 38 per cent where Prince 2 was not used.

    I imagine you have already checked out the Cabinet Office's Knowledge Centre and their selection of white papers. There are some case studies of individual companies who have had success with PRINCE2, but you have to remember who they were written for...

    In academic terms, nothing springs to mind, but I don't believe that there is as much investment in research in the UK as there is in the USA and elsewhere. Also, and this is just my view, there might have been an interest in your hypothesis in academic circles ten years ago, but now the focus is more on soft skills and leadership, so I don't know if anyone at universities is looking into this kind of thing any more. From what you have said, they should be.

  7. Thanks Elizabeth for the links.