PRINCE2’s 7 Principles: Details You Didn’t Know You Needed 

 September 13, 2023

By  Dave Litten

PRINCE2’s 7 Principles: Details You Didn’t Know You Needed

You’ve probably heard of PRINCE2’s seven principles. They’re the backbone of this framework, supporting everything else. When taking your PRINCE2 Exams (both Foundation and Practitioner), Principles questions will first greet you. I bet you get a head spin when you first read such a question.

When preparing for your exam, you ran through what Principles were all about, even to the point of remembering the names of all seven.

But now it’s different.

The question is teasing out stuff you don’t even remember reading. The examiner will deliberately take a small detail from one of the Principles and put it front and centre of the question, making your brain crash-dive!

Many students need help to even get just 50% of PRINCE2 Principle questions right. 

This can cause a fail – even though a pass would have been achieved on ALL remaining PRINCE2 exam topic areas.


This blog is to sensitize you to the subtleties of any Principles question. For a start, such a question will usually relate that Principle to a PRINCE2 Theme. So, I include a rationale for each in this blog.

Let’s make a start.

PRINCE2 is designed to be applied to any project, taking account of its scale, organization, geography and culture. PRINCE2 contributes to the success of a project without burdening it with bureaucracy. The themes, processes and product descriptions describe what should be done but generally differ from how. 

PRINCE2 is principle-based rather than prescriptive; the principles are:

Universal – that they apply to every project 

Self-validating – they have been proven in practice over many years

Empowering – they give practitioners of the method added confidence and ability to influence and shape how the project will be managed. 

PRINCE2 principles provide a good practice framework for people involved in a project and were developed from lessons taken from successful and failed projects.

Read carefully as I provide a complete breakdown for all seven PRINCE2 principles with example questions for each theme.

1. Continued Business Justification

Key Message: Always have an apparent reason for starting the project and ensure it remains valid throughout.

PRINCE2 requires there is a justifiable reason for starting the project, that justification is recorded and approved, and that the rationale remains valid and is revalidated throughout the project’s life.

Example PRINCE2 Business Justification Principle questions for Each Theme:

Business Case: How does the project benefit the organization’s strategy?

Rationale: Aligning projects with strategic goals is central to business justification.

Organization: Who ensures the business justification remains valid?

Rationale: The Senior User should monitor ongoing project viability.

Quality: How does the project’s quality criteria impact its business justification?

Rationale: Meeting quality criteria ensures the project delivers the desired benefits.

Plans: How often should plans be reviewed in light of the business justification?

Rationale: Regular reviews ensure alignment with the project’s original objectives.

Risk: Which potential risks could most threaten the project’s business justification?

Rationale: Identifying critical risks safeguards the project’s rationale.

Change: How does the change control approach protect the business justification?

Rationale: A robust change control ensures changes don’t invalidate the business justification.

Progress: At which milestones should the business justification be reviewed?

Rationale: Key milestones are suitable moments to reassess the project’s continued relevance.

2. Learn from Experience

Key Message: Use the wisdom of past projects to inform current decisions. Learning from experience takes place throughout PRINCE2: 

When starting a project. Previous or similar projects should be reviewed to see if lessons could be applied. If the project is a ‘first’ for the people within the organization, then it is even more important to learn from others, and the project should consider seeking external experience. 

As the project progresses. The project should continue to learn. Lessons should be included in relevant reports and reviews. The goal is to seek improvement opportunities during the project’s life. 

As the project closes. The project should pass on lessons. Unless lessons provoke change, they are only identified (not learned). 

Everyone involved with the project is responsible for looking for lessons rather than waiting for someone else to provide them.

Example PRINCE2 Learn from experience Principle questions for Each Theme:

Business Case: How have past project outcomes influenced this business case?

Rationale: Previous project experiences should refine current and future business cases.

Organization: How are lessons from previous projects communicated across the team?

Rationale: Effective communication ensures that lessons learned are universally understood and applied.

Quality: Which quality benchmarks from previous projects have been incorporated here?

Rationale: Past benchmarks can help set realistic and efficient quality targets.

Plans: How have planning strategies evolved based on past project experiences?

Rationale: Past strategies can indicate what methods are most efficient or suitable.

Risk: What past risks materialized, and how have they influenced this project’s risk approach?

Rationale: Previous risk outcomes can guide current risk strategies.

Change: How did past project changes inform the current change control approach?

Rationale: Learning from past change experiences can streamline and improve current processes.

Progress: Which progress tracking methods from previous projects are used or avoided in this project?

Rationale: Previous projects can indicate effective methods for tracking and reporting progress.

3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities

Key Messages: Everyone involved should understand their exact role and responsibilities.

All projects have the following primary stakeholders:

‘business’ sponsors who endorse the objectives and ensure that the business investment provides value for money

‘users’ who, after the project is completed, will use the products to enable the organization to gain the expected benefits

‘suppliers’ who provide the resources and expertise required by the project (these may be internal or external).

Example PRINCE2 roles and responsibilities Principle questions for Each Theme:

Business Case: How do defined roles contribute to developing and maintaining the business case?

Rationale: Clearly defined roles ensure that the right people provide input and maintain the business case.

Organization: How are roles and responsibilities communicated and understood across the team?

Rationale: Clarity in roles ensures smooth communication and workflow.

Quality: How do roles and responsibilities factor into the quality management approach?

Rationale: Defined roles ensure the right people are involved in quality checks and controls.

Plans: How do roles influence the planning process?

Rationale: Clearly defined roles mean efficient task allocation and planning.

Risk: Who is responsible for risk management, and how is it delegated?

Rationale: Risk management is a shared responsibility, but clear roles ensure it’s handled efficiently.

Change: Who has the authority to approve or reject changes?

Rationale: Defined roles provide a clear hierarchy for change decision-making.

Progress: Whose responsibility is it to track and report on project progress?

Rationale: Regular progress reporting is crucial; roles define who manages this.

4. Manage by Stages

Key Messages: Break your project into manageable stages with distinct objectives.

The choice of appropriate management stages for a project will depend on several factors, including:

the size and complexity of the project (e.g. shorter management stages offer more control, whereas longer management stages reduce the burden on senior management)

significant decisions and control points required during the project’s lifecycle; these will often be linked to essential investment, business or technical decisions

Example PRINCE2 Manage by stages Principle questions for Each Theme:

Business Case: How does dividing the project into stages affect the validation of the business case?

Rationale: Staging allows for periodic business case reviews, ensuring alignment.

Organization: How do roles shift or evolve across different project stages?

Rationale: Different project stages might have distinct requirements necessitating role adjustments.

Quality: How are quality reviews structured across the various stages of the project?

Rationale: Staged quality reviews ensure ongoing alignment with quality criteria.

Plans: How are plans adjusted after each stage?

Rationale: After each stage, plans can be refined based on what’s learned.

Risk: How are risk assessments revised between stages?

Rationale: Different stages can present different risks, requiring fresh assessments.

Change: How are changes handled between stages?

Rationale: Staging provides natural breakpoints to assess and integrate changes.

Progress: How does stage completion influence progress assessment?

Rationale: The completion of stages offers tangible progress metrics and can influence future progress strategies.

5. Manage by Exception

Key Messages: Set clear boundaries for project stages. If exceeded, escalate the issue.

PRINCE2 enables appropriate governance by defining distinct responsibilities for directing, managing and delivering the project and clearly defining accountability at each level.

Accountability is established by: 

Delegating authority from one management level to the next by setting tolerances against six aspects of performance for the respective level of the plan: Cost, Time, Quality, Scope, Benefits, and Risk.

Setting up controls so that if those tolerances are forecast to be exceeded, they are described as an exception and immediately escalated to the next management level for a decision on how to proceed. 

Putting an assurance mechanism in place so that each management level can be confident that such controls are adequate.

Example PRINCE2 Manage by stages Principle questions for Each Theme:

Business Case: How might deviations from the business case trigger exception management?

Rationale: Major deviations from the business case could compromise the project’s justification, necessitating escalation.

Organization: Who is responsible for handling exceptions when they arise?

Rationale: Defined roles will dictate who handles exceptions and how they escalate.

Quality: At what point is it considered an exception if quality criteria aren’t met?

Rationale: Clear quality thresholds ensure that sub-par results trigger exception handling.

Plans: How are deviations from the plan managed, and when are they escalated?

Rationale: Minor deviations might be handled within the team, but major ones require escalation.

Risk: How are unexpected risks or risk outcomes handled as exceptions?

Rationale: Some risks might exceed the tolerances set, triggering exception processes.

Change: What magnitude of change requires escalation rather than team-level handling?

Rationale: Significant changes, especially those affecting the project’s core, might necessitate higher-level decisions.

Progress: If progress lags significantly behind schedule, how is it managed as an exception?

Rationale: Major progress delays might require revised plans or additional resources and should be escalated appropriately.

6. Focus on Products

Key Messages: The project’s end product should always be front of mind, guiding decisions and actions.

This focus on products:

Ensures that the project only carries out work that directly contributes to the delivery of a product; that is, 

The project does no more work than it needs to deliver its agreed products 

Helps manage uncontrolled change (‘scope creep’) by ensuring that all changes are agreed in terms of how they will impact project products and the business justification for the project 

Reduces the risk of user dissatisfaction and acceptance disputes by agreeing, at the start, what will be produced by the project. 

A PRINCE2 project uses product descriptions to provide clarity by defining each product’s purpose, composition, derivation, format, quality criteria and quality method. They provide the means to determine the effort, estimates, resource requirements, dependencies, and activity schedules.

Example PRINCE2 Principle Focus of products questions for Each Theme:

Business Case: How does the desired end product shape the business case?

Rationale: The business case should outline how the end product delivers value.

Organization: How do team roles align with producing the desired product outcome?

Rationale: Roles should be structured around delivering a quality end product.

Quality: What quality criteria define the desired end product?

Rationale: Clear criteria ensure the product meets stakeholder expectations.

Plans: How do project plans revolve around product delivery milestones?

Rationale: Plans should be structured to guide the team towards successful product delivery.

Risk: What risks could prevent the team from delivering the desired product?

Rationale: Risks should be assessed regarding their potential impact on end product quality and delivery.

Change: How do proposed changes to the project impact the end product?

Rationale: Changes should be evaluated for their effect on product quality and stakeholder satisfaction.

Progress: How does product development progress influence overall project progress assessments?

Rationale: As the end product is central, its development progress is crucial.

7. Tailor to Suit the Project Environment

Key Messages: Adjust PRINCE2 methods to the project’s specific environment and needs.

PRINCE2 is tailored to suit the project environment, size, complexity, importance, team capability and risk.

The purpose of tailoring is to ensure that:

The project management method used is appropriate to the project (e.g. aligning the method with the  business processes that may govern and support the project, such as human resources, finance, and procurement) 

Project controls are appropriate to the project’s scale, complexity, importance, team capability and risk (e.g. the frequency and formality of reports and reviews). 

Tailoring requires the project board and the project manager to make proactive choices and decisions on how PRINCE2 will be applied. When tailoring PRINCE2, it is essential to remember that effective project management requires information (not necessarily documents) and decisions (not necessarily meetings). 

The PID should describe how PRINCE2 has been tailored for that particular project so that all those involved on the project understands how PRINCE2 will be used and how to carry out their responsibilities. 

If PRINCE2 is tailored, it is likely that the project management effort and approach would be appropriate for the project’s needs. This can lead to ‘mechanistic’ project management at one extreme (a method is followed without question) or ‘heroic’ project management at the other extreme (a method is not observed at all).

Example PRINCE2 Tailor to suit the environment Principle questions for Each Theme:

Business Case: How does the project’s unique environment shape its business case?

Rationale: Different environments can present distinct opportunities or challenges, influencing the business case.

Organization: How does the project environment dictate team structure and roles?

Rationale: A project’s environment can influence which roles are most crucial.

Quality: How are quality criteria adjusted to suit the project environment?

Rationale: Different environments might necessitate different quality standards or benchmarks.

Plans: How does the project’s environment influence planning strategies?

Rationale: Certain environments require more flexible or dynamic planning methods.

Risk: How does the project environment dictate risk assessment and management strategies?

Rationale: Different environments come with distinct risks.

Change: How does the project’s environment influence the change control approach?

Rationale: A more agile change control might be needed in dynamic environments.

Progress: How does the project environment affect progress-tracking methods and tools?

Rationale: The tools and methods for tracking might vary depending on environmental factors.

There you have it: a deep dive into PRINCE2’s seven principles, integrating each with every PRINCE2 theme. Such a comprehensive look will undoubtedly aid in understanding and applying PRINCE2 effectively – and allow YOU to pass on your first try!

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Dave Litten

David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of Project Management Masterclasses, under the Projex Academy brand name. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.

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