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PRINCE sounds quite a good name for a project management method. Did the name come from the author’s imagination of a knight in shining armour riding to the rescue of a damsel (project) in distress? And why the “2”?

PRINCE stands for Projects in Controlled Environments. This may seem reasonable, but that is only the current meaning of the acronym. The whole story reveals a much more convoluted derivation. Originally the acronym stood for “PROMPT in the CCTA Environment”. “Ah,” you say, “all is now clear” – or is that glazed look coming into your eyes? Let’s go back into the mists of time.

Way back in 1975 some IBM managers left that company in order to create a project management method that would help people handle IT projects. They had many years of frustration with projects being handled in an unstructured way. One of the favourite expressions of one of the American project managers at that time was “IBM loves a wild goose” – meaning a maverick who would ‘fire fight’ his way through problems, using unconventional means, cutting through red tape to bring the project home. This carefully ignored the fact that the project was typically very late and well over budget by the time it finished, not to mention the indifferent quality of its products. The acronym of the name of the method created by these ex-IBM managers was PROMPT. This in itself was a real mouthful, standing for Project Resource Organisation, Management and Planning Techniques. In 1979 the CCTA (Ah, another set of initials!) adopted the method for all government IT projects. CCTA stands for Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency, and was part of the Treasury department of the U.K. government. CCTA was later absorbed by OGC, but that’s another story and another set of initials!

PROMPT had a set of fixed stages reflecting the typical life cycle of an IT project; specification, design, development etc. This rigidity made it difficult to apply the method to small projects, but there were compensations in its approach to the organisation, control and planning of projects.

After using the method for some time CCTA wanted to improve the flexibility of the method. These enhancements led to the version of the method we earlier called “PROMPT in the CCTA Environment”, giving birth to the acronym PRINCE. By 1989 further improvements were on the way. The method was now much more flexible and had major additions in the areas of quality and risk. A decision was also made to encourage better project management throughout the country by making the method freely available to anyone who wanted to use it. At this time it became clear that the name behind the acronym would be a total mystery to any new users. So a competition was organised in the Civil Service College to find a new name. CCTA liked the name PRINCE, so we had an acronym in search of a name, which resulted in the current meaning.

In 1996 a further set of improvements came along. One of the questions people had been asking was, “If we use PRINCE to manage our IT projects, why do we need a different method to manage other types of project?” There was also a drive to bring it closer to the international standard, ISO 9000. Thus was born PRINCE2®. All the IT-specific jargon has been removed, the method is now process-driven, the fixed IT-style stages have gone and the whole thing is much more flexible. It is a method that can be applied to any type and any size of project.

The British government came to an arrangement with Capita to create a joint company to market and manage the PRINCE2 method. The name of this company is AXELOS®.

Buy the PRINCE2 manual.

An Overview of PRINCE2

There are two key principles of PRINCE2 that you should grasp as the basis for your understanding of the method.

  • You shouldn’t start a project unless there is a sound business case for it. At regular intervals in the project you check to see that the project is still viable and stop the project if the justification has disappeared.
  • PRINCE2 focuses on the products to be produced by the project, not the processes to produce them. This affects its method of planning, many of its controls and its approach to ensuring quality.

Structure of the PRINCE2 Method

There are two parts to the structure of the method itself:

  • Processes
  • Components

PRINCE2 offers a set of processes that provide a controlled start, controlled progress and a controlled close to any project. The processes explain what should happen and when it should be done.

PRINCE2 has a number of themes to explain its philosophy about various project aspects, why they are needed and how they can be used. This philosophy is implemented through the processes.


The themes of PRINCE2 are:

Business Case PRINCE2 emphasises that a viable business case should drive a project. Its existence should be proved before the project is given the go-ahead and it should be confirmed at all major decision points during the project.
Organization A definition of the roles, responsibilities and relationships of all staff involved in the project. According to the size and complexity of a project, these roles can be combined or shared.


Plans PRINCE2 projects are based on a series of approved plans. PRINCE2 offers a series of plan levels that can be tailored to the size and needs of a project. These plans form the focus for communication and control throughout the project.


Progress This theme is concerned with the ongoing viability of the project. It covers progress monitoring and reporting, including how to deal with how to escalate problems to the correct level of decision-making.


Risk PRINCE2 defines the key moments when risks should be reviewed, outlines an approach to the analysis and management of risk, and tracks these through all the processes.


Quality PRINCE2 begins by establishing the Customer’s Quality Expectations and follows these up by laying down standards and quality inspection methods to be used, and checking that these are being used.


Change This theme describes how to deal with change requests, problems or general issues that may occur. PRINCE2 emphasises the need for change control and provides a change control technique plus identification of the processes that apply the change control.

The Processes

The steps of project management are described in seven processes, which are summarised below.

Directing a Project (DP)

Any project run under PRINCE2 will need to address each of these processes in some form. However, the key to successful use of the process model is in tailoring it to the needs of the individual project.

The DP process covers the steps to be taken by this senior management team (the project board) throughout the project from start-up to project closure and has five major steps:

  • authorising the preparation of a project plan and business case for the project;
  • approving the project go-ahead;
  • checking that the project remains justifiable at key points in the project life cycle;
  • monitoring progress and giving advice as required;
  • ensuring that the project comes to a controlled close.

Starting Up a Project (SU)

This is intended to be a very short pre-project process with five objectives:

  • ensure that the aims of the project are known;
  • design and appoint the project management team;
  • decide on the approach which will be taken within the project to do the work;
  • agree the customer’s quality expectations
  • plan the work needed to draw up the PRINCE2 “contract” between customer and supplier.

Initiating a Project (IP)

This process prepares the information on whether there is sufficient justification to proceed with the project, establishes a sound management basis for the project and creates a detailed plan for as much of the project as management are in a position to authorise. The management product created is the project initiation documentation, the baseline against which progress and success will be measured.

Controlling a Stage (CS)

The process forms the core of the project manager’s effort on the project, handling day-to-day management of the project development activity.

The process covers the following activities, together with the on-going work of risk management and change control:

  • authorising work to be done;
  • gathering progress information about that work;
  • watching for changes;
  • reviewing the situation;
  • reporting;
  • taking any necessary action.

Buy the PRINCE2 Handbook.

Managing Product Delivery (MP)

This process covers the work of optional team managers. This is particularly important where one or more teams are from third party suppliers not using PRINCE2. The work agreed between the project manager and the team manager is called a work package.

The process covers:

  • making sure that work allocated to the team is authorised and agreed;
  • planning the team work;
  • ensuring that the work is done;
  • ensuring that products meet the agreed quality criteria;
  • reporting on progress and quality to the project manager;
  • obtaining acceptance of the finished products.

Managing Stage Boundaries (SB)

The objectives of this process are to:

  • plan the next stage;
  • update the project plan;
  • update the business case;
  • update the risk assessment;
  • report on the outcome and performance of the stage which has just ended;
  • obtain project board approval to move into the next stage.

Closing a Project (CP)

The process covers the project manager’s work to request project board permission to close the project either at its natural end or at a premature close decided by the project board. The objectives are to:

  • note the extent to which the objectives set out at the start of the project have been met;
  • confirm the customer’s satisfaction with the products;
  • confirm that maintenance and support arrangements are in place (where appropriate);
  • make any recommendations for follow-on actions;
  • ensure that all lessons learned during the project are annotated for the benefit of future projects;
  • report on whether the project management activity itself has been a success or not;
  • prepare a plan to check on achievement of the product’s claimed benefits.

About the Author:

Colin Bentley started in data processing in 1965 with English Electric-Leo-Marconi, rising to chief programmer. He moved to IBM in 1969 as a development manager. He moved to be a Director of Simpact Systems in 1975, working on the development of the PROMPT II project management method, the predecessor to PRINCE.

He has written over twenty books on project management and authored the original PRINCE2 manual. He was Chief Examiner for PRINCE2 for eleven years until 2009 when he retired. Before his retirement his clients included The Stock Exchange, Tesco, NHS in Northern Ireland, the BBC, Microsoft and Ordnance Survey.