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PMP or PRINCE2? Unraveling the Knot

PMP or PRINCE2? Unraveling the Knot

‘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 tow 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.

  1. What are PMP and PRINCE2?
  2. Purpose: When do you use PMP or PRINCE2?
  3. Overview: What’s the Content of PMP and PRINCE2?
  4. Other Differences: What else Informs the choice of PMP or PRINCE2?
  5. Qualifications: How do PMP and PRINCE2 Work?
  6. Agile: What do PMP or PRINCE2 Offer?
  7. Which One: PMP or PRINCE2? Who should consider them?

Other Qualifications

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

We have a range of other articles you may find helpful…

First, is a qualification right for you?
Project Management Qualification: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

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 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]

Finally, the pre-requisites 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

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.

Origins of PMP and PRINCE2

Project Management Professional

PMP is owned by the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI is the largest project management membership organization in the world. It’s website (13 Jan 2020) claims over 500,000 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 PMBOK Guide acting solely as 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 as its syllabus and sole source of knowledge. To compare the two qualifications, take a look at ‘PMP versus CAPM: All You need to Know‘.

Changes to the PMP Examination

The PMP examination will change substantially from 1 July, 2020. So, this article will focus on the qualification and what we know will remain true through the syllabus change that the new June 2019 ECO brings about. We have a full article on these changes: ‘PMP Exam Changes in July 2020: What will be Different?‘.

We are also mid-cycle in the average four-year life span of an edition of the PMBOK Guide. The sixth edition appeared in September 2017. We can expect the seventh edition at the end of 2021 or early in 2022.

The 7th Edition is likely to see a huge change in the format, approach, and content, from all other editions and I have gathered all of the information available in our article: ‘PMBOK 7 is on its way. What we Know…‘.


PRINCE2 is currently owned by Axelos – a joint venture between the UK Government and Capita. 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 first edition, in 1996, marked the 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. It is increasingly oriented 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:

Projet 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 the 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 is based largely on the PMBOK Guide

The sixth edition has:

  • 5 Process Groups
  • with 49 Processes
  • in 10 Knowledge Areas
  • a shed load of ITTOs – Inputs-Tools & Techniques, Outputs
The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups
The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups. There is a full-size version in our PMP Exam Prep Guide

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:

  • Principles
  • Processes
  • Themes
  • plus… the Project Environment
PRINCE2 Methodology

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.

PMP Offers:

  • 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,
  • 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

PRINCE2 Offers:

  • 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

Qualifications: How do PMP and PRINCE2 Work?

PMP Pre-requisites

The CAPM is the PM’s entry-level qualification. S, 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)
  • 4,500 hours leading and directing projects. We estimate this as approximately 600 days – or 2-3 years continuous project leadership.
    • For the non-degree route, you need 7,500 hours leading and directing projects. We estimate this as approximately 1,000 days – or 4-5 years continuous project leadership
  • 35 hours of Project Management education before the exam

PMP Preparation

Your preparation for the PMP exam needs to be extensive. The principle PLI 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 as well – 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.

If you plan to do this, please do take a look at our PMP Exam Preparation Guide. There are free and premium versions.

We offer PMP Programs through PTCoE and PrepCast

PMP Registration and Exam

PMI sets out a five-step registration process on its website. In summary, you need to:

  1. Meet the eligibility criteria – this is important, as PMI audits a proportion of applications, so lying is dangerous!
  2. Complete your application
  3. …which PMI will then review
  4. Pay your fees
  5. Schedule your test

The Exam

You’ll do a 4-hour certification exam with 200 multiple-choice questions. The first 25 of the questions are pre-test questions, which are not scored. If you don’t pass, you’ll have two opportunities for a re-test, within 1 year.

The exam’s focus is on knowledge of Project Management and your ability to apply it. It’s currently built around the 5 PMBoK Process Groups. But that will change. Many of the questions set situational challenges and we expect that to remain the case.

To pass, we think you need an in-depth understanding of the PMBOK 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 can take you beyond its content.

Maintaining your PMP Qualification

PMI requires you to earn and record 60 PDUs (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.

PRINCE2 Pre-requisites

There are currently two levels of PRINCE2 certification:

  1. 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.
  2. 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‘.

PRINCE2 Preparation

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 PTCoE


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:

  1. Join My PRINCE2 within three months of passing your exam and stay subscribed for the three-year period by renewing the subscription each year.
  2. 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 criteria 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:

  • Qualifications
  • Integration
  • Future

Agile Qualifications

Both PMI and Axelos offer complementary agile qualifications:

And we offer courses to help you prepare for each…

If you do decide to pursue PMI or Axelos Agile Qualifications

Integration Between the Traditional and Agile Approaches

Whether you take PMP or PRINCE2 exams, you can expect them to be pretty much Predictive PM focused at the moment.

The Future of Agile within PMP or PRINCE2

However, for the PMP exam, all that changes from 1 July 2020, when the new exam will be around 50 percent agile and hybrid. That said, the current body of knowledge materials: the PMBOK Guide and the Agile Practice Guide are two separate documents with no real integration. I expect that will change completely with the release of the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide in late 2021/early 2022.

What are Axelos’s plans for PRINCE2? I simply can’t tell you.

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:

  • Sector
    Some sectors really value PRINCE2 – particularly public sectors in many countries and some not-for-profits
  • Geography
    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 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.

If you do decide to pursue PMP or PRINCE2…

To help you take the next step, we have two illustrated roadmaps:

  1. I Want to Study for Project Management Professional (6-step guide)
  2. I Want to Study for PRINCE2 (5-step guide)

And Finally…

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.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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