‘PMP or PRINCE2?’ is a common question from project professionals who want a qualification to strengthen their resumé.
Both PMP and PRINCE2 are globally-recognized Project Management qualifications that set a high standard for certification holders.
So, maybe the question ‘PMP or PRINCE2?’ is wrong. For a start, if you meet the requirements, there’s nothing to stop you from holding both qualifications: many do.
Comparing PMP with PRINCE2
But many people still want to know which is right for them, or maybe which to take first. And others just want to understand how these two premiere qualifications compare. So, that’s what we’ll tackle in this article.
And we will do it in a logical way. We’ll answer six big questions – and many small ones along the way.
- What are PMP and PRINCE2?
- Purpose: When do you use PMP or PRINCE2?
- Overview: What’s the Content of PMP and PRINCE2?
- Other Differences: What else Informs the choice of PMP or PRINCE2?
- Qualifications: How do PMP and PRINCE2 Work?
- Agile: What do PMP or PRINCE2 Offer?
- Which One: PMP or PRINCE2? Who should consider them?
By way of introduction, a good place to start is this video:
PMP and PRINCE2 are not the only Project Management qualifications available. There’s a far wider field that encompasses:
- Other predictive (traditional) Project Management accreditations
- General Adaptive (agile) Project Management accreditations
- Specific agile methodologies
- Specific Project Management skills, like risk management or stakeholder enagement
We have a range of other articles you may find helpful, relating to the PMP and PRINCE2 certifiactions…
First, is a qualification right for you?
Project Management Qualification: Should I or Shouldn’t I? and The Project Management Certification question: Discussion with Dawn Mahan | Video
Then, what is the range of methodologies?
Project Management Methodologies: How Many Do You Know About?
If you want an Agile qualification, there are lots to choose from:
Agile Certification: Your Guide to the Large Array of Agile Qualifications
But you’re here to decide on PMP or PRINCE2, so here are the full details on PRINCE2: PRINCE2 Certification: Everything You Need to Know
And here’s the companion article on PMP:
PMP Certification: What You Need to Know [Complete Review]
along with Introduction to the PMP Certification (Project Management Professional) with Cornelius Fichtner
Finally, the prerequisites for PMP are strict. Near the start of your career, CAPM is more appropriate. So, how do the two compare?
PMP versus CAPM: All You need to Know and maybe PMI Certification Options: Is One Right for You?
What are PMP and PRINCE2?
PMP stands for Project Management Professional. It is the principal qualification of the Project Management Institute. Organizations around the world recognize it as a benchmark for solid professional project management skills.
PRINCE2 is a predictive project management methodology that arose in the UK public sector. Its primary focus is on strong governance. PRINCE2 certifications carry an assurance that holders understand the basics of a rigorous PM approach.
PMP: Project Management Professional
PMP is owned by the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI is the largest project management membership organization in the world. Its website (5 June 2023) claims nearly 700,000 global members.
The PMI founded the PMP qualification in 1984. It came alongside the first, embryonic, version of its Project Management Body of Knowledge, ‘Ethics, Standards, and Accreditation Committee Final Report’.
The Current PMP is based on The PMBOK Guide
The 1987 Project Management Body of Knowledge became the basis of the qualification exam. And, in 1996, PMI published the first bound edition of its ‘Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge’ – the PMBOK Guide.
It is important to understand, however, that the PMBOK Guide is not the syllabus for the PMP examination. That is the Examination Content Outline (ECO). The syllabus is far wider, with the PMBOK Guide only one of many sources of the core of the knowledge that the PMI expects a PMP to have.
The CAPM – Certified Associate in Project Management – qualification is different. This lower-level qualification does have the PMBOK Guide at the heart of its syllabus and sole source of knowledge. To compare the two qualifications, take a look at ‘PMP versus CAPM: All You need to Know‘.
PRINCE2 is currently owned by Axelos – which started as a joint venture between the UK Government and Capita, but is now owned by PeopleCert. It has gone through many owners and many iterations since its origin as PROMPT. This was a project management methodology developed by the now-defunct UK Government agency, the CCTA (the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency).
You can find a fuller history in our article, ‘PRINCE2 Certification: Everything You Need to Know‘.
Now, PRINCE2 is widely-viewed as the single most robust methodology for predictive project management. Its focus is on creating strong governance structures and rigorous discipline. In the UK, all publicly-funded projects must adhere to the principles of PRINCE2.
The PRINCE2 Methodology is Documented in Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2.
2017 also saw the publication of the sixth edition of Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. The current 2022 edition is a reprint of the 6th Edition with revised branding. It has evolved from the first edition (1996), whish marked a significant revision from the PRINCE methodology I first learned. Currently, Axelos is responsible for:
- Developing the PRINCE2 methodology
- Publishing guidance (through The Stationery Office)
- Administering the examination and certification process
Axelos also does this for a range of other methodologies, including:
- MSP – Managing Successful Programs
- P3O – Portfolio, Program, and Project Offices
- MoP – Management of Portfolios
- ITIL – IT Service Management Methodology
- MoR – Management of Risk
- … and others
I can find no public information about plans Axelos may have for developments to PRINCE2.
Purpose: When do you use PMP or PRINCE2?
The PMP certification is related to the knowledge and skills necessary to be a successful project management professional. In its latest form, in now has an orientation towards both adaptive (agile) and predictive (traditional) environments. The PMI intends that employers will see it as an endorsement of your competence to perform in the role of a project manager, leading and directing projects and teams.
The PRINCE2 qualification focuses on the principles, processes, and practices to deliver planned projects in controlled environments. Its principal purpose is to bring a strong governance framework, and therefore assurance, to the project environment. We can understand this better when we consider the UK Government’s motivation in creating the original predecessor of PRINCE2. It wanted to avoid repeats of past catastrophic failures in Government projects.
So, in a nutshell:
Project Management Professional validates the breadth and depth of your project management knowledge, against a carefully-designed syllabus; the Examination Content Outline.My own definition
PRINCE2 provides experienced project managers with a specific methodology framework, with principles, processes, and themes that drive rigor and good project governance.My own definition
The Same, but Different
When considering PMP or PRINCE2, bear one thing in mind. They arose in two very different types of organizations, with two very different objectives in mind. The results are very different looking documents and knowledge sets, with different techniques and terminology.
But… they are both rooted in effective predictive project management. Therefore, to any experienced practitioner, the big differences on the surface hide deep similarities in the underlying approach. It is entirely possible to bring the best of both to one project – and to gain a lot from that practice.
Overview: What’s the Content of PMP and PRINCE2?
We have detailed articles on both approaches, so this will be a wide overview. One thing I do want to mention before we get into this, though, is that they are both highly pragmatic.
The creators of the methodologies do not intend that we take them as prescriptive. Both guides use the same word, ‘tailoring’, to emphasize the need to adapt the approach to the realities of your project and the organization within which it sits.
PMP covers a Broad Rangle of Project-related Skills
The PMP syllabus is set out in an Exam Content Outline, or ECO, which PMI updates every 4 years or so. The current one (mid 2023) was published in June 2019 and covers three domains of:
The human aspects of project management: communication, team leadership, stakeholder engagement. This accounts for 42% of the exam.
The core project management disciplines like scope, risk, budget, schedule, procurement, quality, and delivery management. This accounts for 50% of the exam.
- Business Environment
A small part of the syllabus (8%) covers the external business environment, along with project compliance and benefits delivery.
PRINCE2 has a Different Structure
In PRINCE2, the project manager delivers the project on behalf of the SRO – the Senior Responsible Owner of the project. It is the SRO who is ultimately responsible for the delivery of the project. This contrasts with the PMBOK Guide, which identifies the Project Manager as the single point of responsibility.
However, I interpret this responsibility as ‘accountability’- the SRO is accountable to the organization for the project. Speak to any PRINCE2 project manager and they will tell you – just as any PMP will – that they feel the weight of responsibility for delivering their project!
It is based on seven each of:
- plus… the Project Environment
If you want to know more about the Principles, Processes, Themes, and Project Environment of PRINCE2, do check-out our article, ‘PRINCE2 Certification: Everything You Need to Know‘.
Other Differences: What else Informs the choice of PMP or PRINCE2?
Each offers huge benefits to any project manager who needs to deliver plan-driven projects.
- Internationally-recognized qualification and the status of a ‘Project Management Professional’ – the top-tier of PMI’s PM career hierarchy
- A vast body of knowledge – and the need to master it
- Post-nominals – you get to put the letters PMP after your name
- A community to belong to with Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and local chapters, allowing you to network and develop your career
- ..and a community website, ProjectManagement.com
- Opportunities to participate in the development of the profession and its thinking
- A range of related and more-or-less integrated methodology guides and qualifications
- Internationally-recognized qualification in a specific Project Management methodology
- Standard process for delivering projects to high standards of governance
- Fast route to certification – Foundation level can take as little as 3 days to prepare for, and Practitioner level can take as little as 5 days
- A range of related and more-or-less integrated methodology guides and qualifications
- A certification that is highly valued in specific sectors and regions
Qualifications: How do PMP and PRINCE2 Work?
The CAPM is the PM’s entry-level qualification. So, to apply to become a PMP, you must already have all the basics of project management consolidated through formal learning, and a delivery track record of at least 3 years. The formal requirements are for:
- Four-year degree. In many countries, this is a Bachelor’s degree, which takes 3 or 4 years. Check with your local center.
- Or there is a ‘non-degree’ route, for which you need a Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent)
- 36 months leading and directing projects. We estimate this as approximately 600 days.
- For the non-degree route, you need 60 months of leading and directing projects. We estimate this as approximately 1,000 days.
- 35 hours of Project Management education before the exam or CAPM certification.
Your preparation for the PMP exam needs to be extensive. The principle PMI sets is that your career experience to date should give you most of the knowledge you need. But they will expect you to have a thorough knowledge of the PMBOK Guide, Agile Practice Guide and more PM knowledge besides.
Depending on your experience, ease of learning new material, and time available outside of your work, you’ll find preparation can take anything from 1 to 6 months, with two months of hard part-time study typical.
PMP Registration and Exam
PMI sets out a five-step registration process on its website. In summary, you need to:
- Meet the eligibility criteria – this is important, as PMI audits a proportion of applications, so lying is dangerous!
- Complete your application
- …which PMI will then review
- Pay your fees
- Schedule your test
The PMP exam consists of 180 questions, over 230 minutes and two 10-minute breaks. Questions are a combination of multiple-choice, multiple responses, matching, hot area, and limited fill-in-the-blank.
To pass, we think you need an in-depth understanding of the PMBOK and Agile Practice Guide content, and how to apply it to real project situations. But you’ll also need to have gained learning and experience beyond the PMBOK Guide. The exam will take you well beyond the PMBOK Guide content alone.
Maintaining your PMP Qualification
PMI requires you to earn and record 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) – that is, 60 hours of professional development, every three years, to maintain your PMP status. This can be self-certified and PMI lists many sources for you.
These 60 PDUs must include a minimum of 35 education PDUs (with a minimum of 8 in each of the three sides of the Talent Triangle – Ways of Working, Power Skills, and Business Acumen) and a maximum of 25 Giving Back PDUs
There are currently two levels of PRINCE2 certification:
- The PRINCE2 Foundation Level introduces you to the PRINCE2 method.
You will learn enough to work as part of a project team delivering within a PRINCE2 environment. It is an entry-level qualification that doesn’t require any previous knowledge or experience.
- The PRINCE2 Practitioner Level is for project managers who need to lead projects in a PRINCE2 environment.
To be eligible to sit the PRINCE2 Practitioner examination, you will need a PRINCE2 Foundation certification.
However, AXELOS will also recognize* prior learning and achievements that the following qualifications represent:
- Project Management Professional® (PMP)
- Certified Associate in Project Management® (CAPM).
- IPMA levels A, B, C, or D
* As long as you can provide documentary proof to the Examination Institute (EI) that their qualification remains current.
For full details of these pre-requisites, read the AXELOS Guide: ‘PRINCE® pre-recognition of qualifications‘.
Preparation is based on :
- Training following a standard syllabus, and
- Familiarity with the Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 manual
Typically, PRINCE2 Foundation programs run for 3 days, and Practitioner programs for 5 days. Online courses have similar coverage.
We offer PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner Programs through GreyCampus and mPlaza
- GreyCampus – PRINCE2® Foundation Certification Training Course
- mPlaza – PRINCE2® Foundation Certification Training Course
- GreyCampus – PRINCE2® Foundation and Practitioner Combo Training & Certification
- mPlaza – PRINCE2® Practitioner Certification Training Course
The PRINCE2 Foundation Exam Format
- 60 multiple-choice questions (choose one from A, B, C, or D)
- Pass score is 55% (33 correct answers out of the maximum 60 possible)
- 60 minutes duration (see note below)
- Closed book (you cannot use the PRINCE2 manual)
- Computer-based (most people take these), or paper-based
- Download the Syllabus here
PRINCE2 Practitioner Exam Format
- 68 multiple-choice (choose one from A, B, C, or D) and multiple answer (choose one or more from A, B, C, and D) questions based on a scenario. This is called Objective Testing. There are multiple parts to each question, and each answer can have several parts. The exam aims to test your knowledge of how to apply your PRINCE2 knowledge in a real project.
- You need 38 correct answers to pass. (approx 55%)
- 150 minutes duration (see note below)
- Open book – only ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’ (US|UK)
- You can sit the Practitioner exam on the same day (after) you sit your Foundation exam
- Online, computer-based, or paper-based.
Note for non-fluent speakers
30 minutes of extra time is available if you are not taking the exam in your mother tongue or the language you use in your workplace every day.
Maintaining your PRINCE2 Qualification
Your PRINCE2 Foundation certificate will not expire. But, your PRINCE2 Practitioner certificate is only valid for three years. After that, you will need to resit the Practitioner exam unless you have maintained your certificate through an Axelos My PRINCE2 subscription.
So, to stay current through My PRINCE2 you must meet the following criteria within the three-year period:
- Join My PRINCE2 within three months of passing your exam and stay subscribed for the three-year period by renewing the subscription each year.
- Maintain the PRINCE2 digital badge which will be awarded as part of My PRINCE2 for the three-year period. You will need to record 20 CPD points each year, in the prescribed categories, for the badge to be extended on renewal.
By satisfying the above critoeria you can get a new certificate that is valid for another three years.
Agile: What do PMP or PRINCE2 Offer?
Let’s look at what PMP or PRINCE2 offer, in terms of:
Both PMI and Axelos offer complementary agile qualifications:
- PMI offers PMI-ACP – Agile Certified Practitioner
- Axelos offers PRINCE2 Agile – at Foundation and Practitioner levels
And we offer courses to help you prepare for each…
If you do decide to pursue PMI or Axelos Agile Qualifications
- Agile Project Management Academy – How to Prepare for PMI-ACP
- GreyCampus – Online Instructor-led PMI-ACP Training
- PM PrepCast – Online Video-based PMI-ACP Training
Integration Between the Traditional and Agile Approaches
The picture here is quite different, but a little bit the same, for PMP and PRINCE2. Let’s start with the simpler of the two…
Agile Project Management in the PMP Exam
The most recent version of the PMP exam came into force in January 2020 and made a huge shift from its predecessor – in many ways. Arguably the biggest was the introduction of adaptive and hybrid approaches into the syllabus. The current (January 2021) version of the Examination Content Outline (ECO) states:
‘About half of the examination will represent predictive project management approaches and the other half will represent agile or hybrid approaches.’
The current (7th edition) Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge is priciples-based and has no explicit leaning towards one end or the other of the adaptive-predictive spectrum.
Agile Project Management in the PRINCE2 Exam
PRINCE2 was never intended to be about predictive project management. But, it has evolved from a version of PRINCE that existed well before adaptive methods were developed and the term ‘agile’ came into use. While nothing in PRINCE2 excludes adaptive ideas, it is implicitly based in a predictive paradigm. So, I would assess that it is not explicitly a predictive approach, but this is the underlying philosophy.
This is endorsed by the existence of a parallel PRINCE2 Agile methodology, which also has Foundation and Practioner tier certifications.
Which One: PMP or PRINCE2? Who should consider them?
As always, there is no simple answer. It depends… It depends on a number of factors, but principally, what you need, to get and do the job you want. And that in itself depends largely on:
Some sectors really value PRINCE2 – particularly public sectors in many countries and some not-for-profits
Each qualification is better known and more valued in some countries and regions:
- PRINCE2 is most popular in the UK, Europe, and Commonwealth countries (particularly Australia).
- PMP is most popular in the USA, South and Central America (also in Canada).
- Both are widely used and growing in popularity in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
- Also, consider where your possible employers are headquartered
For example, few UK companies have particular regard for PMP, but the UK has large offices for many US-headquartered corporations, who do value it highly.
PMP is a longer, deeper qualification, that represents a level of professional status. PRINCE2, on the other hand, is quicker, narrower, and represents a specific approach and toolset.
PMP or PRINCE2 or Both?
If you have one qualification or the other, should you double-up. As before, the answer is dictated by what you want?
- Do you need extra knowledge to do your job well?
- Can you use a boost to your resumé?
- Are employers in the sector you want to move to requiring (or advantaging) the other qualification?
- Will the new learning stimulate your thinking, assuage your curiosity, or contribute to your professional pride?
If the answer to any of those is ‘Yes’… Just do it.
The Plain Fact
The simple fact is that comparing PMP and PRINCE2 is like comparing apples with oranges. They are different things. This means that either or both may be suitable for you. But so too may neither fit your needs.
If you do decide to pursue PMP or PRINCE2…
To help you take the next step, we have two illustrated roadmaps:
- I Want to Study for Project Management Professional (6-step guide)
- I Want to Study for PRINCE2 (5-step guide)
What is your experience of PMP or PRINCE2 qualifications?
I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below. And I’ll respond to every contribution.