AXELOS® (2017). Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2®.
Stationery Office Books. Norwich, UK.
At 405 pages, this invaluable manual doesn't easily slip into the back pocket on your way home from your PRINCE2 training course. After your course though it is extremely useful to keep at your office to refer to in one of those crucial 'what am I supposed to do now' moments on your project.
The latest version of the manual was released in 2017 and was a significant update to the previous 2009 edition. I say significant, not because the core methodology has changed – it hasn’t – but because of the addition some very useful guidance about how to tailor PRINCE2 to different projects.
With this manual, which is the definitive reference book for the PRINCE2 framework, there's no need for an organization to reinvent the wheel by developing their own project management methodology from scratch. They can simply use PRINCE2, customizing it of course, so that it fits into the rest of the organization and existing business practices.
So why is this book invaluable if you either direct or manage a project? Well, it simply tells you what needs to be done on your project, when it needs to be done, and who needs to do it. Because PRINCE2 is a generic project management framework - i.e. it can be used on any type of project - project managers and project sponsors the world over can benefit from its clearly defined descriptions of the PRINCE2 project lifecycle.
Not only that but it has in depth descriptions of the 26 management products which are recommended by PRINCE2. These act as templates so you can customize these when developing your own project documentation.
So let's look in detail at what's contained within the manual. The first two chapters deal with some introductory concepts such as how projects differ from business as usual activities within an organization, what a project manager does and explanations of projects in context – for example, if they operate with a wider programme or portfolio.
Chapter 3 deals with the PRINCE2 principles, of which there are seven. The principles are the guiding obligations and good practices which are recommended. Since PRINCE2 is a synthesis of project management best practices, it's always useful to keep these principles in mind whenever there is a decision to take on a project.
Chapter 4 is perhaps the most important chapter in the book. This describes how to tailor the method to suit the needs of your project, and also describes some of the factors to consider when embedding PRINCE2 into the organization as the project management method of choice.
Chapters 5-12 then deal with the seven PRINCE2 themes. These are: Business Case, Organization, Quality, Plans, Risk, Change and Progress. These themes are aspects of project management which need to continuously addressed throughout the entire project.
For example, the Risk chapter defines what is meant by a risk (risks by the way can have both negative and positive effects in PRINCE2) and describes a procedure for identifying, evaluating, planning responses, implementing responses and reporting risks. It describes when risk management activities need to be performed, who is responsible and which documents support the management of risk.
The next 7 chapters deal with the seven processes of PRINCE2. These processes form the PRINCE2 lifecycle and describe what each member of the project management team are responsible for doing and when do they do such things.
One of the major differences between PRINCE2 and the PMBOK® Guide  (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) is PRINCE2's focus on defining a much broader set of project management responsibilities than that defined by the PMBOK® Guide. The latter only focuses on the Project Manager and to a lesser extent the Project Sponsor. PRINCE2 defines responsibilities for 9 separate project management roles. This I think is a major advantage of the PRINCE2 manual when compared with the PMBOK® Guide.
Chapter 19 is perhaps the most important chapter in the book. This describes how to tailor the method to suit the needs of your project, and also describes some of the factors to consider when embedding PRINCE2 into the organization as the project management method of choice.
The book contains 5 appendices. The first one contains the templates referred to earlier for the 26 management products. If you're studying for the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam you're able to take your copy of the manual into the examination room with you. In the Practitioner exam, you are likely to need to refer to Appendix A when answering the questions, unless of course, you have a photographic memory to remember lots of the details contained therein.
Appendix B briefly refers to project governance and Appendix C contains a detailed list of the responsibilities for the 9 project management team roles referred to above. Appendix D gives some examples of the product-based planning technique in action. This is one of only 2 techniques described in the manual. The final appendix contains a health check - a checklist of questions which you can ask on your project to judge the general health of your project.
With a fairly detailed glossary and a comprehensive index, that completes the book.
Is it worth it?
The PRINCE2 manual is not cheap, but it’s invaluable if you are studying for the PRINCE2 Practitioner exam (although less necessary for the PRINCE2 Foundation exam).
If you're not simply seeking to gain PRINCE2 certification, but are already an experienced project manager or a PMP® looking to get a better overall understanding of project management then the PRINCE2 manual is a truly useful guide to what needs to be done on a project and when. It doesn't however (except for 2 techniques) describe how to do these things. For an understanding of the common project management techniques you should buy the PMBOK® Guide to complement the PRINCE2 manual. Yes, that's right, it's better to buy both in order to truly benefit from having the best project management reference manuals out there.
If you are simply doing the PRINCE2 Practitioner certification however, just get the PRINCE2 manual because I'm sure you'll need it during the exam.
References and acknowledgements:
1. Project Management Institute (2017). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK® Guide. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc. ISBN: 9781628251845.
2. PMP® is a registered mark of Project Management Institute, Inc.