Project Management

Comparing the Differences of PRINCE2 and the PMI PMBOK

If you’ve ever yearned for a deeper understanding of PM best practice, this article should satisfy that desire. In a detailed and structured report by Derek Bell, a Senior Instructor at ESI International, the nuances of PMBOK and PRINCE2 are deconstructed for swift comparison.

Origins and Chronology

In case you ever wondered about the origins of these methodologies, Bell offers a chronology of their development to better contextualize their different functions. Bell's report notes that PRINCE2, derived from PRINCE (circa1989), originated as the project management method for the UK Government.  As the senior of the two methods, it was adopted first and gained prominence as a global standard.

PMBOK, the guidebook disseminated by the Project Management Institute (PMI) headquartered in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, represents a sum of knowledge about PM and offers a “tools and techniques” approach that differentiates it from PRINCE2. It was mainly developed in the mid-nineties by PMI.

The Documents

Document style, though it may seem an insignificant detail, can also give useful insight into the nature of these methods. PRINCE2 is encapsulated in a 327 page reference book, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2. It outlines core principals, gives an introduction to its 7 themes, its 7 processes, and then presents a guide for tailoring itself to fit with varying organizational structures. This ‘tailoring aspect’ is what PRINCE2 is most noted for globally, making it the more flexible and generic of the two approaches.

The PMBOK Guide, a 459 page text that often references external materials, is divided into five sections that outline the Project Management Framework and the 5 Standards for Project Management, as well as the 9 knowledge areas of Project Management. The PMBOK guide is more generalized and yet specific, offering tools and techniques to fit different industries and work cultures.


Each of the methodologies had several adjustments since their inception. PRINCE2 was itself a revision of the original PRINCE in 1996, with updates following in 2002, 2005, and then significant changes appearing in a 2009 version that makes it less proscriptive while including simplifications in its language and method. PMBOK has seen the regular introduction of new editions since its mid-eighties origins as the PMBOK, from the creation of the “Guide” to the publication of its newest (5th) edition in 2008.      

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