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The History of PRINCE2

~ By Duncan Haughey

PRINCE2 logo

It's true to say the public sector has hardly covered itself in glory with its ability to deliver projects on time, within budget, scope and to the right quality. PROMPTII, PRINCE and PRINCE2, were all introduced to address the common causes of project failure.

1975 PROMPTII

Project Resource Organisation Management and Planning Techniques

A project management method developed by Simpact Systems Limited, PROMPTII, was in response to the outcry that many computer projects were overrunning on time estimated for completion and original budgets as set out in feasibility studies. It was not unusual to experience factors of double, treble or even ten times the original estimates. PROMPTII was an attempt to set down guidelines for the stage flow of a computer project as follows:

  • Feasibility Study: to decide whether to do the project and whether it will work if done.
  • Initial Stage: where the project organisation is set-up.
  • Specification Stage: development of the user specification.
  • Design Stage: where the logical, and from this, the physical design of the computer system is developed.
  • Development Stage: when the system is built and tested.
  • Installation Stage: where the user accepts a working system.
  • Operation Stage: when the system gets tuned for the work in hand.

In 1979, the UK Government's Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) adopted the method for all information systems projects. This decision led to PRINCE's development ten years later.

1989 PRINCE

Projects in Controlled Environments

Published by the UK Government agency CCTA, Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE) became the UK standard for all government information systems projects.

The main features are:

  • A defined management structure.
  • A system of plans for resourcing and technical issues.
  • A set of control procedures.
  • A focus on products, deliverables to the customer and project deliverables used for managing the project.

A feature of the original method, not seen in other methods, was the idea of "assuring progress" from three separate, but linked perspectives:

  • Business Assurance Coordinator (BAC): whose role is to oversee that the project is in line with the mission of the company and to report at progress meetings. This role assures the project stays in the best interests of the company.
  • Technical Assurance Coordinator (TAC): whose role is to oversee the technical aspects of the project and ensure it does not get into technical difficulties.
  • User Assurance Coordinator (UAC): whose role is to represents the end user.

However, the PRINCE method developed a reputation as being too unwieldy, too rigid and applicable only to large projects, leading to a revision in 1996.

1996 PRINCE2

Projects in Controlled Environments 2

An upgrade to PRINCE was considered to be in order and the development was contracted out but assured by a virtual committee spread among 150 European organisations. The BAC, TAC and UAC were removed in the official version. Most companies who adopt a PRINCE approach to project management adapt the method to their commercial environment and use those parts of PRINCE that work for them. This approach is acceptable, for the puritanical days of sticking rigidly to a method are seen now as undesirable and unnecessary.

Originally developed for information systems and information technology projects to cut cost and time overruns; the second revision was made more generic and applicable to any project type.

In 2002 and 2005 PRINCE2 was updated in consultation with the international user community.

2009 PRINCE2 Major Revision

A major revision has seen the method made simpler and more easily customisable, a frequent request from users. The updated version has seven basic principles (not in the earlier versions) that contribute to project success:

  1. Continued Business Justification
  2. Learn From Experience
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities
  4. Manage by Stages
  5. Manage by Exception
  6. Focus on Products
  7. Tailor to Suit Environment

The updated method aims to give project managers a better set of tools to deliver projects on time, within budget and with the right quality.

PRINCE2 has it roots back in the 1970s but is as popular as ever as a framework for managing projects of all types.


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