PRINCE2 and PMP®: Should you learn both?

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Just in case you’re scratching your head at these acronyms, here’s a quick summary: PRINCE2 is an acronym for “PRojects IN Controlled Environments,” while the PMP® stands for “Project Management Professional.” They’re both certifications that many project managers seek.  As a project manager, you may have already been asked (perhaps several times over) what the difference is between the two certifications and if learning both is worth the effort. Of course, not all project managers are familiar with the difference, so let’s break it down. 

So, what’s the difference?

In the old days the world was divided into two main project management camps. If you were from the States, Canada or the Middle East, you would ally with the Project Management Institute (PMI)® and embrace the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) as your go-to reference for all project management-related matters. The PMBOK® Guide is a framework and generally focusses on the project manager function. It’s aimed at providing tools and techniques that make your life as a project manager easier.

On the other hand, if you grew up in Europe (especially the UK) or Australia, chances were you never heard of the PMI® or PMBOK® Guide, let alone the PMP® certification. You would see job vacancies and notice that about 80 percent of them asked you to be either PRINCE2 foundation or practitioner certified. PRINCE2 is more focused on the organization and processes needed to control the project itself, and less on the tools and techniques used by the project manager.

The following table sums up the main differences between the two approaches (for a more detailed overview and comparison you can reference the links at the end of this post).

PMBOK® Guide

PRINCE2®

Body of knowledge

Method

How things should be done

When, where and by whom things should be done

Focus on the project manager function

Focus on the project processes and organization

Descriptive (explains best practices)

Prescriptive (tells you exactly what needs doing)

More comprehensive and detailed

More abstract and aimed at a high-level view

Popular in the United States, Canada and the Middle East

Popular in Europe and Australia

As an example, let’s look at the business case and how both certifications approach this central subject in project management:

PRINCE2

PRINCE2 explains the concept of a business case, the importance of good business justification, and the processes surrounding a business case. It doesn’t tell you how to write the document itself (aside from a few pointers). So it’s up to you to figure out how to conduct the cost estimates, explain the benefits of the project, and how to conduct an investment appraisal.

PMBOK® Guide
The PMBOK® Guide works the other way around. It’s less focused on the project processes, but it tells you exactly what cost estimating techniques (analogous, 3-point, parametric, etc.) are out there and how to use them in your business case. The PMBOK® Guide's focus is more on the skills, tools and techniques useful for the project manager and what techniques the PM should use to write the business case.

So, it’s safe to say that both approaches each have their own purpose and are not two semi-identical approaches with a different name. Each is just focused on a different area of project management.

Should I learn both?

Definitely! Take a moment to imagine a project manager who knows all about project organization and the project processes, along with all the tools and techniques that make them a skilled project manager. It’s a winning combination. And, without both under your belt, you risk losing out on certain insights.

For one, PRINCE2 has received criticism for focusing solely on the life-cycle, organization and processes of the project. This means that it doesn’t do the particular knowledge areas (PRINCE2 calls them “themes”) the justice they deserve, for it lacks explanation of useful techniques and tools that are available. The PMBOK® Guide, in turn, is accused of being able to present a comprehensive approach to explaining each of the relevant knowledge areas (providing plenty of tools and techniques) but lacking the coherency to provide adequate guidance on particular projects.

So, as you can see, both approaches serve different purposes and, in a lot of areas they definitely complement each other. I’m convinced that expanding your knowledge with either of these approaches will surely present you with more than one “Aha!” moments. 

Should I get certified?

Yes, you should! Many people argue that the world is currently in a state of “certification madness” and, whether or not you spent enough time reading through either the PMBOK® Guide or the PRINCE2 manual has little to do with becoming a better project manager. There is, however, one extremely good reason for getting your certifications: Your paycheck will very likely increase. 

Well then, tell me more.

Like most things worth waiting for, it’s not going to happen instantly. Depending on where you live, the average annual pay of someone who’s either PRINCE2 or PMP® certified is 20 percent higher. So that means a payback time of two weeks while providing you with an annual increase of $20,000 (based on the US average). Not too shabby.

The truth is that project management is about soft skills, and recruiters have a hard time measuring the exact soft skills that allegedly made you the best project manager in your company. Besides your project track record, they look at the only other tangible thing on your resume: Your certifications. Unfortunately, there is little research available on the increase in pay for someone who is simultaneously PMP® and PRINCE2 certified, but just imagine how it would set you apart if you had both.

Additional resources

I hope this inspired you to extend your knowledge as a project manager. Here are some useful links if you’re looking for some extra information on this topic:

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Contributor

Tommy van Schaik