PRINCE2 or APM BoK? Is that the question?

29th May 2012

In this article, Dr. Bill Egginton compares PRINCE2 with APM Body of Knowledge, and their respective qualifications...

As a society, we expect to have a choice in pretty much everything we do -  to choose our GP, select our preferred hospital, to ponder on options of the best school for our children, and we naturally expect to see a supermarket full of options for dinner. As project management and programme management professionals we also invariably have choices to make around how we do things, the standards we apply and the guidance we adopt. In my last piece, I compared the APM BoK with the PMI BoK. I suggested that there were no fundamental differences of principle, and that both have merit and could be used together to good effect. I also suggested that no Body of Knowledge in isolation was capable of addressing all the challenges that a dynamic change environment inevitably involves. In this thought piece we look at the APM BoK and PRINCE2 and their respective project management qualifications and ask the question: is it really a case of having to choose one or the other or can these qualifications collectively contribute to performance?

The APM BoK is a well established collection of project management knowledge that provides useful information and signposting in the areas considered essential to the discipline of managing projects. You may recall that it has 7 sections with a total of 52 separate topics with its first edition in 1992, and its latest (the 5th) in 2005. The APM’s ‘5 dimensions of professionalism’ (breadth, depth, achievement, commitment and accountability) make very clear the importance of continuous personal development and the contribution APM qualifications make to the profession. Crucially, APM qualifications are aligned to the International Project Management Association Four-Level Certification (4-L-C) with APMP and APM-PQ being at Levels D and C respectively. Certificated Project Management (Level B) was closed to new applicants in December 2011. As a matter of interest, though not explicitly stated, I do wonder if APM’s Registered Project Professional (RPP) status will, over time (and hopefully the arrival of chartered status) become the new 4-L-C Level B (even Level A?) given the fast track route now available to CPM’ers.

Turning to the flip side of this piece, PRINCE (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) was first published by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (betraying its IT roots) in 1989. It was seven years later, in 1996, when PRINCE2 appeared as the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) project management method and “the de facto standard for the management of projects in UK Government” - aimed at addressing common causes of project failure.  PRINCE2 – now in its 4th (2005) Edition – comprises a combination of 8 Processes (e.g. Starting Up a Project, Planning), 8 Components (e.g. Business Case, Plans) and Techniques (there are just three: Quality, Product Based Planning and Change Control). As for PRINCE2 qualifications, there are three: Foundation, Practitioner and Professional. The APM Group (as custodian of PRINCE2, and not to be confused with APM) openly admits that PRINCE2 has never been mapped against a framework of qualifications and so it is not possible to say where it sits against 4-L-C. However, since 2008 when it was first published, the ‘APMP for PRINCE2 Practitioners’ guide makes clear the ‘top up’ that can be made to allow those qualified in PRINCE2 to take a shortened APMP examination – which suggests to me that PRINCE2 is around about IPMA Level D.

So, having described both, do we really need to choose between one or the other routes for personal project management development? Clearly, cost is a consideration which may force a decision. Alternatively, corporate or public policy may deem one to have precedence. However, in the absence of such constraints I would argue that APM and PRINCE2 make ideal partners – sufficient similarity to make them compatible, but sufficient difference for each to benefit from the other. Personally, I believe an understanding of principles from APMP is best addressed first, and then knowledge of a method to apply those principles naturally follows. Put another way, addressing the ‘why’ question before the ‘how’ and the ‘what’, in my opinion, makes much more sense.

Interestingly, in his forward to ‘APMP for PRINCE2 Practitioners’, Mike Nichols, as Chairman of the APM, asks the question ‘can PRINCE2 Practitioners by virtue of their PRINCE2 examinations, be considered fully rounded project managers?’ to which he promptly answers a resounding ‘No!’. The same question could be asked of anyone with an APMP qualification, and I would venture to say that Mike would answer the same, working on the premise that it takes rather more than a 3 hour examination to make a project manager. At Cranfield we have 3 year masters programmes and not even that is a guarantee of a ‘fully rounded project manager’.

So what makes for that ‘fully rounded project manager’ that Mike talks about? What more needs to be added to the mix to make a project manager’s profile complete? Another project management qualification or something else?

Of course we must recognise the value of formal project management qualifications – be they from APM or PRINCE related training, or from undergraduate or postgraduate education. But I would argue something rather more than ‘just’ qualifications is required. We should – and do - recognise the importance of ‘experience’ and the wisdom that comes with having applied methods and ‘learned the hard way’. But, in my opinion, there’s even something more than that – something about personal traits, motives and attitudes as well as knowledge and skills that is essential before a project managment or programme management professional can claim to be ‘fully rounded’. The values we hold, the way we behave, the emotional quotient (EQ) as well as the intelligence quotient (IQ) – all play a key role in separating the ‘good’ from the ‘great’. Curiously enough, I don’t think such qualities are necessarily proportional to age – in fact the relationship might be just the opposite. Humility - one of the key qualities (in my humble opinion) of a great project manager – can come at any age…….and at no cost.

© Dr. Bill Egginton, May 2012

If you have any thoughts or comments on this piece, or would like to put a question to Dr. Bill, please email us here.


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