The History of PRINCE2

History of Project Management | By Duncan Haughey | Read time minutes

Large business team gathered around a wooden table looking up

It's reasonable to say, in the past, the public sector hardly covered itself in glory with its ability to deliver projects on time, within the budget, scope and to the right quality. PROMPTII, PRINCE and PRINCE2, were all introduced to address the common causes of project failure.


Project Resource Organisation Management and Planning Techniques

A project management method developed by Simpact Systems Limited, PROMPTII, responded to the outcry that many computer projects were overrunning on time estimated for completion and original budgets as set out in feasibility studies. It was not unusual to experience factors of double, treble or even ten times the original estimates. PROMPTII was an attempt to set down guidelines for the stage flow of a computer project as follows:

  • Feasibility Study: to decide whether to do the project and whether it will work if done.
  • Initial Stage: where the project organisation is set up.
  • Specification Stage: development of the user specification.
  • Design Stage: where the logical, and from this, the physical design of the computer system is developed.
  • Development Stage: when the system is built and tested.
  • Installation Stage: where the user accepts a working system.
  • Operation Stage: when the system gets tuned for the work in hand.

In 1979, the UK Government's Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) adopted the method for all information systems projects. This decision led to PRINCE's development ten years later.


Projects in Controlled Environments

Published by the UK Government agency CCTA, Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE) became the UK standard for all government information systems projects.

The main features are:

  • A defined management structure.
  • A system of plans for resourcing and technical issues.
  • A set of control procedures.
  • A focus on products, deliverables to the customer and project deliverables used for managing the project.

A feature of the original method, not seen in other methods, was the idea of "assuring progress" from three separate but linked perspectives:

  • Business Assurance Coordinator (BAC): whose role is to oversee that the project is in line with the company's mission and to report at progress meetings. This role ensures the project stays in the best interests of the company.
  • Technical Assurance Coordinator (TAC): whose role is to oversee the technical aspects of the project and ensure it does not get into technical difficulties.
  • User Assurance Coordinator (UAC): whose role is to represents the end-user.

However, the PRINCE method developed a reputation of being too unwieldy, rigid, and applicable only to large projects, leading to a revision in 1996.

1996 PRINCE2

Projects in Controlled Environments 2

An upgrade to PRINCE was considered necessary, and the development was contracted out but assured by a virtual committee spread among 150 European organisations. The BAC, TAC and UAC roles were removed in the official version. Most companies who adopt a PRINCE approach to project management adapt the method to their commercial environment and use those parts of PRINCE that work for them. This approach is acceptable, for the puritanical days of sticking rigidly to a method are seen now as undesirable and unnecessary.

Initially developed for information systems and information technology projects to cut cost and time overruns, the second revision was made more generic and applicable to any project type.

In 2002 and 2005, PRINCE2 underwent an update in consultation with the international user community.

2009 PRINCE2 Major Revision

A significant revision made the method more straightforward and more easily customisable, a frequent request from users. The updated version had seven fundamental principles (not in the earlier versions) that contribute to project success:

  1. Continued Business Justification
  2. Learn From Experience
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities
  4. Manage by Stages
  5. Manage by Exception
  6. Focus on Products
  7. Tailor to Suit Environment

The updated method gave project managers better tools to deliver projects on time, within budget, and with the right quality.

2017 PRINCE2 Second Major Revision

PRINCE2, from the beginning, supported and encouraged tailoring. PRINCE2's ownership changed to AXELOS in 2013, which published its next major update in 2017. The new guidance focuses on scalability and flexibility. The 2017 update clarifies the bare minimum for a project to qualify as PRINCE2. It then shows examples, hints and tips about how to adjust these core principles to your project.[1]

Despite being significant revisions, the name PRINCE2 hasn't changed. Instead of referring to PRINCE3, the international committee and later AXELOS chose PRINCE2:2009 Refresh and PRINCE2 2017 Update because the core principles behind PRINCE2 remain the same. PRINCE2 2017 was renamed PRINCE2 6th Edition in 2020, but AXELOS didn't change the guidance along with the name.

2018 PRINCE2 Agile

PRINCE2 Agile is a tailored form of PRINCE2, suitable for Agile projects that use Kanban, Scrum or a similar Agile system in their delivery layer. It adds a management and governance layer to the relatively simple Agile methods focused on the delivery layer.


PRINCE2 certifications, awarded by AXELOS, require the user to undertake a training course with an Accredited Training Organisation (ATO) followed by an exam, either online or in person.

PRINCE2 has its roots back in the 1970s and has stood the test of time across the decades. The method remains a popular framework for managing projects of all types.

The Development of PRINCE2

YearRelease NameRelease Edition
1996PRINCE2 1996PRINCE2 1st Edition
1998PRINCE2 1998PRINCE2 2nd Edition
2002PRINCE2 2002PRINCE2 3rd Edition
2005PRINCE2 2005PRINCE2 4th Edition
2009PRINCE2 2009PRINCE2 5th Edition
2017PRINCE2 2017PRINCE2 6th Edition
2018PRINCE2 AgilePRINCE2 Agile

Recommended book: The Deep-Space Oddity Project: Study PRINCE2


[1]The History of PRINCE2 | USA.

Recommended read: IT Project Governance and PRINCE2 Project Management, by Alan Calder.


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