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Project puzzle

Project management methodologies - is there a winner?

Posted 05 February 2013
by Allegra Consulting

Organisational change is usually delivered through the implementation of a project or series of projects and shared milestones identified in a project plan. Like change management, project management has grown and strengthened as a discipline over the past 20 years and there are a number of methodologies organisations can use to plan, manage and execute projects. The three most widely adopted methodologies are PMBOK (Project Management Book Of Knowledge), PRINCE 2 and Agile.

So what are the key strengths of each methodology? Is one really better than the other? To better understand the pros and cons, we have examined a series of expert reviews to bring you this summary.

Definitions from Wikipedia

1. PRINCE2 (an acronym for projects in controlledenvironments, version 2) is a project management methodology. It was developed by a UK government agency and is used extensively within the UK government as the defacto project management standard for its public projects. The methodology encompasses the management, control and organisation of a project.  PRINCE2 is widely adopted throughout the UK and Europe as the preferred project management methodology.

What the experts say about PRINCE2:

  • Theme “business case” and focus on product delivery help focus on delivering value.
  • Stages provide a mechanism to incorporate iterations in the lifecycle.
  • Thorough explanation of how roles other than the project manager contribute to the project.


2. Agile management or agile project management is an iterative method of determining requirements for engineering and information technology development projects in a highly flexible and interactive manner, for example agile software development. It requires empowered individuals from the relevant business, with supplier and customer input. Although developed in the US, Agile Management has gained significant worldwide popularity over the traditional “waterfall” project management methodology

What the experts say about Agile:

  • The iterative nature of agile makes it an excellent alternative when it comes to managing development projects, especially software projects.
  • It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, a time-boxed iterative approach, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
  • Tasks can be broken down into smaller stages and this allows for substantial risk reduction through earlier assessment, testing and analysis.
  • An emphasis on team and individual initiative.

3. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) was first published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) as a white paper in 1983 in an attempt to document and standardize generally accepted project management information and practices. The PMBOK Guide is process-based, meaning it describes work as being accomplished by processes. PMBOK is widely adopted throughout the US as the preferred project management methodology.

What the experts say about PMBOK:

  • Scrupulous planning
  • Rigorous project control
  • Clearly defined roles
  • An emphasis on communication
  • Clear and validated deliverables

In summary, PMBOK and PRINCE/PRINCE2 are project management methodologies for use across a wide range of projects (software, building, major events etc.); Agile is a software developmentmethodology that can be applied to some projects.

Each of the three methodologies have a central theme in common – they provide a set of tools, techniques and templates for managing projects – avoiding the need for re-invention.

They each aim at tackling common and problematic project characteristics:

  • Accelerated change
  • New or unique deliverables
  • Limitations on resource or budget
  • Delineated timescales.

All three methods also seek to reduce the risks inherent in undertaking projects: unsatisfactory deliverables; overspend; schedule slippage.

What are the main differences?

In some of the literature we reviewed, many felt that rather than compete, PMBOK and PRINCE2 actually complemented each other with PMBOK providing the information on what a project manager needs to know while the PRINCE2 methodology demonstrates how to apply this knowledge in a structured and consistent manner.

The key difference between PMBOK/PRINCE2 (predictive methodologies) and Agile (reactive methodology) is that the PMBOK/PRINCE2 focus on analysing and planning the future in detail and cater for known risks. They involve a large amount of “upfront” documentation. Reviews of these methodologies suggest predictive methods rely on effective early phase analysis and if this goes very wrong, the project may have difficulty changing direction. Predictive teams will often institute a change control board to ensure that only the most valuable changes are considered.

In contrast, the Agile methodology is more flexible, making it better able to produce deliverables without the need for substantial changes and reworking. Tasks can be broken down into smaller stages and this allows for substantial risk reduction through earlier assessment, testing and analysis. This makes it ideal for IT based projects and software development where a full set of requirements cannot always be known upfront and are further refined during the iterative build/test phases.

It is difficult to do justice to a full analysis of these methodologies in such as small amount of space, but perhaps in summary we can safely say that PMBOK, PRINCE2 and Agile methodologies have each gained popularity with large numbers of practitioners around the world because each offer compelling methods for dealing with the administration and management of projects. It therefore seems likely that best practice will eventually be defined as an adaptive hybrid of all three schools of thought.

We would love to hear your thoughts on this much debated topic via our blog.

References and sources:

CIO: PMBOK vs. PRINCE2 vs. Agile project management What are the pros and cons

Hilogic Project and Programme management

Bruno Collett: Comparing PMBOK and Prince2 in 1000 words

Andreski Project Management: Agile, Prince2 and PMBOK


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