21 January, 2019

PRINCE2 Certification: Everything You Need to Know

Today, over a million project managers use PRINCE2 in countries all over the world in public and private sector projects. Its attention to rigor and good governance make it PRINCE2 popular standard for many organizations.

This is one of our giant guides, in which we aim to answer all your basic questions – in this case, about PRINCE2 and the PRINCE2 Certification.

Your main questions, of course, will be:

  • First, what is PRINCE2?
  • Second, who needs PRINCE2 certification?

So, here is what you can expect to find:

  1. What is PRINCE2? And what are the qualifications that go with it?
  2. The PRINCE2 Qualifications. What they are and how to get them
  3. How is PRINCE2 Structured? We’ll look at an outline of the PRINCE2 methodology.
  4. Who is PRINCE2 Certification for? What is the business case for studying for and taking your PRINCE2 certification? And how does PRINCE2 relate to PMI’s PMP qualification?
  5. How to Get and Maintain Your PRINCE2 Certification. We’ll look at the exams and continuing requirements to maintain your PRINCE2 qualification.
  6. PRINCE2 Agile. Like so many areas of Project Management, PRINCE2 has adapted to Agile and offers its own Agile qualifications.

What is PRINCE2?

Let’s start with a video I made in autumn 2016, that answers the basic question, ‘What is PRINCE2?’

So, Let’s Unpack the Basics of PRINCE2

PRINCE2 Certification - Everything You Need to Know
PRINCE2 Certification – Everything You Need to Know

PRINCE2 is one of the most widely-used project management methodologies. Its owners boast over 1 million users in over 150 countries. And, it deserves to be widely used. Its emphasis on rigor and good governance makes it ideal for critical projects.

The UK Government developed PRINCE2 to improve the control of public sector projects. And it remains compulsory for projects that spend public money in the UK to use PRINCE2.

But now a wide range of organizations in all industries and sectors use it. And not just in the UK: PRINCE2 is used world-wide.

Also, PRINCE2 is highly flexible. You can adapt its principles and processes to manage successful projects at any scale. Its seven principles, seven themes, and seven processes represent good project management practice. You can tailor them to meet your specific needs.

And, if your need is Agile, then PRINCE2 also offers a solution: PRINCE2 Agile.

Who is Responsible for the PRINCE2 Methodology and Certifications?

PRINCE2 is managed by a commercial company called AXELOS. AXELOS is a joint venture company, formed in 2013 and co-owned by:

  1. the Cabinet Office on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, and
  2. Capita plc

AXELOS manages and develops the Global Best Practice portfolio that the Cabinet Office used to take responsibility for. The portfolio includes:

  • MSP (Managing Successful Programmes)
  • ITIL
  • M_o_R (Management of Risk)
  • and others

Before the Cabinet Office, these methodologies were managed by the Office for Government Commerce (OGC), and earlier still, the original toolsets were created by the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA).

What Does PRINCE2 Stand for?

PRINCE currently stands for PRojects IN a Controlled Environment. But this was not always the case

At first, the original methodology was called PROMPT (Project Resource Organisation Management Planning Techniques). In 1989, the CCTA adapted PROMPT II to create UK Government’s standard for IT (information technology systems) project management. They gave it the name ‘PRINCE’, which originally stood for ‘PROMPT II IN the CCTA Environment’.

They later ran a competition to find a better meaning for the PRINCE acronym. First, they chose ‘PRojects IN Controlled Environments’. Then, in 2009 they revised it to its current meaning ‘PRojects IN a Controlled Environment’.

The Development of PRINCE2

As a result of its flexibility, the UK Government soon started to apply it regularly to a range of project types, beyond the IT environment. And then, the private sector picked it up, both in UK government and then around the world. 

PRINCE was updated to PRINCE2 in 1996. Now, it was a generic project management method, that has become a de facto standard for project management in UK Government departments. It is also widely used in the United Nations (UN).

There have been three major revisions of PRINCE2 since its launch in 1996.

  1. PRINCE2 2009 Refresh
  2. PRINCE2 2017 Update
  3. PRINCE2 7th Edition

The PRINCE2 Qualifications

There are currently two levels of the 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
    • LevelA® (Certified Projects Director)
    • LevelB® (Certified Senior Project Manager)
    • LevelC® (Certified Project Manager)
    • LevelD® (Certified Project Management Associate)

* 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 Professional Level

In addition, you may also have heard of the PRINCE2 Professional Level. This was the most advanced qualification in the PRINCE2 family. The examination was by a residential assessment center over several days. It was available for a short time from 2012, but it is no longer available.

The PRINCE2 Manual

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2

The full PRINCE methoology is set out in ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’ (US|UK).

This is Published by The Stationery Office. If you go for the print edition and also have a copy of PMI’s shockingly poor print edition of the PMBoK 6th Edition, this will seem like a refreshingly good quality of printing.

How is PRINCE2 Structured?

The main features of the PRINCE2 methodology are designed to encourage good governance and control, through:

  • Creating a strong business justification
  • Defining a clear organization structure for the project management team
  • A planning approach that focuses on deliverables / products
  • Dividing the project into manageable and controllable stages
  • Tailoring the project process to the environment

Therefore, the PRINCE2 methodology consists of four elements:

  1. Principles
  2. Themes
  3. Processes 
  4. The Project Environment.
PRINCE2 Methodology

The Principles: The Why of PRINCE2

There are seven Principles to PRINCE2 2017. Together, they give you a powerful framework for good practice. Indeed, they are all mandatory parts of a PRINCE2 project:

  1. Continued Business Justification – not just a business case at the start, but maintaining it under constant review.
  2. Learn from Experience – continually drawing lessons learned, as you go.
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities – and a clear organizational structure for your team.
  4. Manage by Stages – these form a framework within which the seven processes operate.
  5. Manage by Exception – setting defined project tolerances and authorities to act when the project exceeds them.
  6. Focus on Products – clear definition and strong attention to meeting quality specifications.
  7. Tailor to suit the Project Environment – factors include size, complexity, importance, capability, and risk.

The Themes: The What of PRINCE2

The seven Themes cover what you should manage within your project. They are the disciplines, or knowledge areas, of Project Management. You will set them up at the start of your project, and then manage them throughout.

  1. Business Case – sets out the justification for your project. Why?
  2. Organization – defined structure, with clear roles and responsibilities. Who?
  3. Quality – the standards the end users need, and how to meet them. What?
  4. Plans – The how, how much, and when?
  5. Risk – managing the uncertainty of threats and opportunities. What if?
  6. Control of Change – assessing and acting on changes: What impact?
  7. Progress – status and ongoing viability. Where are we, where are we going, and should we continue?

The Processes: The How of PRINCE2

The PRINCE2 2017 methodology 7 processes by which you can run your project. And, as project manager, you will oversee all of them.

The Seven PRINCE2 Processes
  1. Starting Up a Project (SU) – establishing the project team and crafting a project brief.
  2. Directing a Project (DP) – oversight of the project by the Project Executive and Project Board.
  3. Initiating a Project (IP) – refining the business case and creating a Project Initiation Document (PID).
  4. Controlling a Stage (CS) – management of work pages
  5. Managing Product Delivery (MP) – delivery of work packages and acceptance of the deliverables/products
  6. Managing Stage Boundaries (SB) – managing the transition from one stage to the next – including the Gateway process.
  7. Closing a Project (CP) – formal closedown and evaluation of the project, and benefits review.

The Project Environment

Finally, the last principle is to ‘Tailor to suit the Project Environment’. Apply the right amount of planning, control, and governance to suit the needs fo the project, and the organization within which it sits.

Your considerations will include:

  • scale
  • complexity
  • importance
  • capabilities and existing resources
  • political sensitivity
  • geography and culture

AXELOS produces a ‘Common Glossary’ of terms used within the PRINCE2 and related methodologies. You can download it from their website.

Who is PRINCE2 Certification For?

We’ll break this down into two parts. The value for:

  1. Project Managers
  2. Organizations

The Value for Project Managers

Many employers value a PRINCE2 certification highly. The methodology is a de-facto standard for project management in the UK public sector and many companies. It is also practiced worldwide, especially in European and Commonwealth countries.

The qualification will improve your skills but it will not teach you project management. If you have had no training, we recommend you take one of our Core Programs first.

But once you know the basics of project management, PRINCE2 certification can improve both your confidence and your employment prospects. Most of all, many organizations, both private and public, use PRINCE2, and some require it. So, their staff need to be competent and qualified in PRINCE2. Look to see if the positions that appeal to you have PRINCE2 as a pre-requisite.

The Value for Organizations

For organizations, PRINCE2 offers a strong focus on governance, accountability, and control. So, this means it can give an organization’s projects:

  • A common, consistent approach
  • Formal roles and responsibilities
  • Focus on deliverables and their quality
  • Structured project lifecycle
  • Regular reviews of progress and viability
  • Clarity of processes
  • Continual assurance that the project has a business justification

AXELOS publishes a free tool that will help you make the business case for the value of PRINCE2 to your organization.

How Does PRINCE2 Relate to PMP?

It is easy to see PRINCE2 and the PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) qualification as in some way competing. This would be an inaccurate characterization. This is exacerbated by the global geographical split between where the two qualifications are most popular:

  • 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.

But the truth is that they complement one another. You can gain benefit from either qualification, and from both. What matters are two things:

  1. Your own priorities for your professional development
  2. The career opportunities and job market in the region and industry sector you choose to work in

One helpful way to think of the difference between the two is this:

Many companies and practitioners focus their processes and learning on one approach. But, the more tools you have in your toolbag, the more flexibility you have to solve problems and fix things. Depending on your project environment, geographical location, and industry sector, we recommend you consider both.

How to Get and Maintain Your PRINCE2 Certification

We’ll look at three areas:

  1. Learning PRINCE2 and preparing for certification exams
  2. The PRINCE2 certification exam itself
  3. Maintaining your PRINCE2 certification

Preparing for Your PRINCE2 Certification

There are three main resources you will need, to prepare well for your exams:

  1. We recommend you buy the book: ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’ (US|UK). You may want other books that interpret this, but, since the exam will be based closely on what is in this book… Oh yes, and this is the only book you can take into the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam.
  2. You are likely to want a training course. There are two approaches you can take:
    1. sit the exams at the end of a training course with an Accredited Training Organization (ATO), or
    2. study privately and then book the exam with PeopleCert, our PRINCE2 Examination Institute. This is the route we offer. More below.
  3. We also recommend you take one or more practice papers, so you know what to expect and can gauge how ready you are. You can download a sample paper from the AXELOS website

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”Study for Your PRINCE2 Foundation or Practitioner Exams with our Endorsed Provider”]
Our ‘try-before-you-buy’ promise means you can take up to 30% of each course before you need to pay anything (or even give us your email address!).
The courses include quizzes and free sample exams.
We also offer access to the PRINCE2 Foundation and Practioner exams, and have a PRINCE2 Foundation exam simulator.

The PRINCE2 Certification Exams

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)
  • No prerequisite qualifications
  • 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 must have a PRINCE2 Foundation, PMP, CAPM, IPMA-A, IPMA-B, IPMA-C, or IPMA-D certificate before taking the exam
  • You can sit the Practitioner exam on the same day (after) you sit your Foundation exam
  • Online, computer-based, or paper-based.

It’s a difficult exam, but if you prepare well and have experience with the objective testing format, you will be going into the exam with a high chance of success.

Note for non-fluent speakers

30 minutes of extra time is available if you are not taking the exam in your their mother tongue or the language you use in your workplace every day.

Important Tip

Lastly, let me emphasize something here: the answers are in the book. Everything you need to know is in ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’ (US|UK). This is like the CAPM exam, where everything is in the PMBoK. But it is unlike the PMP exam, where some of the questions are drawn from other documents like the Code of Ethics.

Maintaining Your PRINCE2 Certification

If you take the PRINCE2 Foundation exam only, and pass, you will get your Foundation examination certificate. But, if you take both the Foundation and Practitioner exam on the same day, and pass both, you will only get a Practitioner examination certificate.

Once you have your PRINCE2 Practitioner certificate is valid for three years, at the end of which you can either re-sit the Practitioner exam or you can maintain your certificate through My PRINCE2. There are more details on the AXELOS website.


We do not have space to go into details, but AXELOS also offers two tiers of accreditation against a complementary methodology: PRINCE2 Agile. This serves people working in on Agile projects in a PRINCE2 environment, or people who work in an Agile environment and want the rigor and good governance that PRINCE2 offers.

What is PRINCE2 Agile?

PRINCE2 Agile is for PRINCE2 Project Managers who need to be able to tailor PRINCE2 to an agile context or environment.

It lets practitioners combine the strong governance principles of PRINCE2 with the flexibility and responsiveness of agile methods such as Scrum and Kanban. The certification is designed for all individuals and organizations involved with project, product, and program delivery and support.

PRINCE2 Agile claims to be the world’s most complete agile project management solution. It was developed to meet demand from user communities, to help professionals tailor management controls to an agile environment.

Two Levels for PRINCE2 Agile Certification

PRINCE2 Agile is also available as two certifications: Foundation Level and Practitioner Level.

PRINCE2 Agile Foundation

  • The Foundation levelis designed for people who are new to PRINCE2 and are working in or around an agile project environment 
  • The course covers an overview of PRINCE2, an introduction to agile, and how to apply the two together
  • There are no course prerequisites.

PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner

  • PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner is designed for those who are already certified in either PRINCE2 or PRINCE2 Agile Foundation levels
  • The PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner course explores practical application of the PRINCE2 Agile method with real-world scenarios
  • Candidates for PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner must hold one of the following project management certifications:
    • PRINCE2 Foundation
    • PRINCE2 Agile Foundation
    • Project Management Professional (PMP)
    • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
    • IMPA Levels A, B, C, and D (Certified Project Director).

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”Study for Your PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner Exams with our Endorsed Provider”]
Our ‘try-before-you-buy’ promise means you can take up to 30% of each course before you need to pay anything (or even give us your email address!).
The courses include quizzes and free sample exams.
We also offer access to the PRINCE2 Agile Practioner exam.

What is Your Experience of PRINCE2 Certification?

Are you PRINCE2 certified? O have you chosen not to? Or maybe you are considering it. Please leave your comments or questions below, and we’ll respond to all contributions.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

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 ProjectManager.com 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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