PRINCE2 project context

Tailor your PRINCE2 project to the unique context of your organization. Read on to learn how to adapt the methodology for optimal results.
PRINCE2 project context

Understanding the project context

The project context, alongside the principles, people, practices, and processes, is the fifth element within PRINCE2.

We can think of the project context in five main ways:

The rest of this article will explore each of these five elements and describe the implications for tailoring the PRINCE2 method.

Organizational context

PRINCE2 doesn’t assume any particular organizational context. On any project there will be business leaders who will provide the project’s justification and commit the necessary resources to the project. There will be users who define the expected outcomes (known as products in PRINCE2), and there will be suppliers who contribute resources and their expertise to design and build these products.

PRINCE2 doesn’t dictate specific organizational ties between these users, suppliers, and business leaders. They might all belong to the same organization or from different ones, potentially linked by commercial contracts.

In the PRINCE2 framework, the business leaders are from the entity initiating the project (the commissioning organization, or business). Their decisions align with the organization’s strategy, goals, and policies.

It’s also possible that the project is part of a programme or portfolio within the organization, or it may be a standalone project. In all these cases, PRINCE2 can be applied successfully.

Commercial context

The business might establish a commercial relationship with a supplier to provide products that meet the users’ requirements, as highlighted in the project’s business case. The entity delivering the project (the supplier) aims to address a specific need recognized by the business (the customer).

The business might divide the project into various elements, with different elements being delivered by different suppliers. Meanwhile, some elements might be internally managed, for instance, by departments like IT or facilities.

From a supplier’s perspective, the deliverables might be under a legally binding agreement stemming from a procurement process. To meet these deliverables, the supplier could engage subcontractors, each of whom would deliver sub-deliverables.

In a commercial context, commercial relationships might exist amongst suppliers. Instead of a straightforward two-party customer-supplier relationship, projects could encompass several organizations bound by multiple contracts. A single customer might have a commercial relationship with a single main contractor, or there could be multiple customers and suppliers, each having distinct motives for their involvement in the project.

All such contracts between the organizations describe how the customer(s) and supplier(s) will jointly execute the project. The obligations and rights outlined in a contract should be reflected in how the project is managed which in turn requires the PRINCE2 methodology to be tailored accordingly.

Delivery method

The delivery method of describes how a project’s work is carried out. A project might use a single deliver method, or multiple, depending upon its needs. The three most common methods include the following.

Sequential approach

Here, every bit of work needed to design and build the product follows a set order. The product emerges either during the project or at its closure. A construction project exemplifies this, where design follows requirements gathering before actual construction begins.

Iterative-incremental approach

Typically (but not always) this approach is used for product development. This method involves repeated cycles of requirements gathering, designing, development or coding, and testing throughout the project’s lifespan. It’s frequently dubbed the ‘agile’ method.

Hybrid approach

This method merges both previous approaches. Certain aspects of the project might adopt a sequential method, while others adopt an iterative-incremental one. For instance, infrastructure development for a service might follow the sequential pattern, whereas creating a user portal for accessing that service could be iterative-incremental.

PRINCE2 establishes a structured environment suitable for various delivery methods. It doesn’t dictate or presuppose any specific method. Any delivery approach can be used, providing the work of managing the project is separated from the work of delivering the products.

Sustainability context

Businesses typically have sustainability goals and commitments which a project must align with or support. These sustainability considerations shape the project’s objectives and its management. PRINCE2 caters to these sustainability requirements by counting sustainability among its seven key performance indicators for project management. The method also incorporates sustainability in its roles (assigning sustainability duties), its documentation (for example plans and reports), its practices (for example the business case), and its processes (for example activities verifying sustainability requirements).

While ‘sustainability’ is commonly equated with environmental concerns, its interpretation can vary among organizations. For some, it’s about the project’s environmental footprint; for others, it considers the total lifetime costs of the products the project delivers and their operational resilience. Certain projects, like solar panel installations, might be intrinsically focused on sustainability.

In the PRINCE2 manual, ‘sustainability’ refers to any combination of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as outlined by the United Nations.


The PRINCE2 methodology is flexible in that it can be adapted for straightforward, small projects or for complex, large ones.

It’s important to note that the perceived size of a project is subjective to its host organization. For a global corporation, what is deemed a minor project might overshadow what a smaller entity classifies as a major one. It’s often more insightful to categorize projects as ‘simple’ rather than ‘small’ and ‘complex’ instead of ‘large’. Typically, it boils down to the organization’s assessment of the project’s risk and significance in comparison to its routine operations.

To fit a project’s scale, PRINCE2 offers tailoring through a combination of the following.

Governance structures

This involves the hierarchical interaction between the business layer, the project board, the project manager, and the team managers and teams.

Role assignments

Choices about which project responsibilities are allocated to individuals across user, business, and supplier groups (e.g., merging roles for simpler projects and separating them for complex ones).

Project documentation

The degree of formality and detail in project documentation (referred to as ‘management products‘ in PRINCE2).

Project controls

The rigidity of project controls, such as how often reports are generated and reviews are conducted.

Management approaches

Deciding on and incorporating management approaches, like commercial management or a change management approach.

Management stages

The number of management stages and work packages into which a project is divided.

Performance targets

Establishing the project’s performance targets and their permissible variances (tolerances).

Tailoring PRINCE2

In PRINCE2 ‘tailoring’ refers to the steps taken by the project management team to the practices, processes, roles, and management products to ensure that it meets the needs of a project’s context.

‘Tailor to suit the project’ context is one of the seven principles of PRINCE2. The goal of tailoring is to establish project management processes and governance to a degree that does not overburden the project team. The aim is to offer a suitable level of governance, planning, and control which are in line with PRINCE2’s principles, with a level of risk which is deemed acceptable.

Tailoring responsibility

The project manager is responsible for identifying and documenting the degree of tailoring for the project. Tailoring influences the management of the project, so it should be incorporated into the project initiation documentation (PID), evaluated by relevant stakeholders, and authorized by the project board. Project assurance should provide advice to both the project board and the project manager about the degree of tailoring that is appropriate for a project.

Agreeing the tailoring requirements

During the ‘initiating a project’ process the project manager documents the tailoring approach for the project.

When doing this, the project manager often must modify the guidance and oversight of a project to accommodate internal and external influences impacting the project’s execution. Any departure from the company’s typical project management style should be recorded and agreed upon.

Aspects to be tailored

There are main areas of PRINCE2 that may be tailored.

  1. PRINCE2 processes can be merged or modified.
  2. PRINCE2 practices might be applied using techniques suitable for the project.
  3. Roles can be consolidated or divided, if accountability is upheld, and conflicts of interest are avoided.
  4. Management products can be combined or separated into multiple products or data sources.
  5. Terminology can be adjusted to match organizational standards or policies, as long as it is applied consistently.

Tailoring considerations

Environmental and project factors

Both environmental and project factors can restrict and shape how a project can be tailored. Project processes should easily integrate the business organization’s policies, processes, methods, and standards. Tailoring should also consider factors external to the organization such as environmental standards, laws, or regulations.

The proficiency of project’s participants (for example, how experienced they are with project management) can also restrict the degree of guidance required. Whether there is a commercial context must also be factored in when tailoring.

The development of specialized products can also play a role because specialists usually perform the working practices (such as agile delivery) which is appropriate for the type of product they are delivering. The project manager must unify these practices to ensure the project’s outputs and outcomes are produced, and the benefits are realized.

Whether the project is part of an ongoing programme or portfolio also matters. In such cases, processes, procedures, techniques, or approaches might be given to the project manager by the project, programme, or portfolio office (PMO) to adopt.

In all cases when tailoring effective governance requires maintaining clear chains of accountability from higher levels to the project level.


Consistent terminology also plays an important part because the uniform use of language and terminology aids communication and comprehension. The project management method should, as much as possible, mirror the language within the organization.

Tailoring processes, themes, and role descriptions

Tailoring processes, roles, and product descriptions are intrinsically related. All the activities within the PRINCE2 processes are performed by one or more of the project management team roles and generate one or more of the PRINCE2 management products.

It is a good idea to start adjusting the PRINCE2 processes, updating them with any new terminology, and revising the process model and activities, to reflect the organization’s operational methods. Detailed role and role descriptions can then be tailored to align with the processes.

The PRINCE2 practices are applied within the process activities. The organization must decide how each practice is used within its project management method. Having well-defined organizational processes for project management aspects such as risk, issues, quality, and communication ensures these aspects are consistently addressed. This also helps to alleviate the burden of each project manager having to define their own.

Managing the method

Although every PRINCE2 project must be tailored, many similar projects within the same organization might share many similar tailoring provisions. In this case, the organization can benefit from having a standard approach to tailoring across multiple projects.

If an organization embarks on the path of adopting a customized version of PRINCE2 across the organization, the method still requires management and maintenance. The method should therefore include guides, procedures, or processes to explain how it is managed, along with corresponding roles and role descriptions.

The roles should incorporate one for managing the overall method architecture, ensuring the process model and its elements function collectively. Another role would involve the management of each element of the method, which would enable the method architect to delegate different individuals to manage each component.

Tailoring rules and guidelines

Any method derived from PRINCE2 should incorporate its seven principles, including the ‘tailor to suit the project’ principle. This means the method should contain tailoring guidelines.

Organizations may consider categorize their projects by complexity and provide guidance on how each category should be tailored. The goal is to guide project practitioners in determining what constitutes ‘just enough’ project management to ensure project success.

For all projects, a project manager must guarantee there is an efficient and secure method of storing and distributing information. For more simple projects, a logbook and wall display might be enough, but for more complex projects, information systems must be developed and implemented.

Embedding the tailored method

There are benefits to be obtained for the organization from looking at maturity models such as P3M3 and seeking to embed PRINCE2 within an organization. Embedding PRINCE2 would require a change management approach to enable all practitioners to apply the method in a consistent way across all projects.

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