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Should I take CAPM or PRINCE2?

Should I take CAPM or PRINCE2?

Post updated 27 January 2015.

Recently I was contacted by someone who wanted advice about which project management certification scheme to pursue. She asked whether she should take CAPM or the PRINCE2 Foundation. Is it possible to take CAPM and then PRINCE2 Practitioner or are the standards different, she asked? And are PMP and PRINCE2 seen as equivalent by employers in the UK?

I think these are quite common queries, and I’ve certainly been asked these questions a number of times.

Here’s my take on whether CAPM or PRINCE2 is the best route forward for an aspiring project manager.

The difference is experience…

The main difference between CAPM/PMP and PRINCE2 Foundation/Practitioner is project experience. Having said that, it’s not compulsory to have project management experience under your belt for CAPM, as long as you can demonstrate 23 hours of formal project training instead. There are no pre-requisites for applying for the PRINCE2 exams (although it will be certainly easier to understand the concepts if you have spent at least some time working on projects).


What credentials should you choose?

Because PMI requires pre-requisites either in the form of training or work experience and PRINCE2 doesn’t, I don’t think they are seen as equivalent (or competing, for that matter).

…and your training route

The route to achieve PRINCE2 Practitioner is through the Foundation qualification. Typically a five-day training course, the Foundation exam is normally on the Wednesday afternoon. If you pass, you continue the course and take the Practitioner exam on the Friday.

The majority of people who consider the PMI credentials go straight for PMP. There’s no obligation to apply for CAPM beforehand. If you can wait, and feel you will acquire the relevant training and experience hours, you can skip CAPM completely and go straight for PMP. However, if you’d like a qualification under your belt while you clock up the hours required to apply for PMP, CAPM could be the answer.

The standards are different

One of the downsides with project management as a profession is that we haven’t yet standardised the jargon or agreed on one set of best practices. Project management bodies across the world have their own take on it, and while none of them seem radically different, they are all different enough to mean you need to learn their way before taking their exams.

So, you could take CAPM and then follow it up with the PRINCE2 Practitioner but the standards are different, with different jargon and you’d have to learn a whole different set of methods for the Practitioner exam. Equally you could do PRINCE2 Foundation and then go on to apply for PMP but again the terminology and processes are different enough for that to be a confusing route.

I don’t think that is worth trying to cover both bases in the early days of your career, especially if you don’t yet have a job role  with ‘project’ in the title – pick one set or the other.

CAPM in the UK

PMI has a relatively low, but growing, penetration in the UK. I think the project management in schools programme and the excellent Synergy events are really helping to raise the profile of PMI here, even though the Chapter has been around since 1995. The 2015 PMI EMEA Global Congress is being held in London and will also massively engage the project management community in the UK.

Employers may not know about CAPM, even though it was introduced in 2003 and there are 26,711 CAPM credential holders worldwide*. This is especially true if you are applying to firms where project management is relatively new to them or their project management department is small.

However, PRINCE2 has had a foothold as the standard certificate in the UK for years due to its background in civil service projects and being the de facto standard for all government initiatives. In May 2013 there were around 365,000 Foundation certificate holders and 215,000 Practitioners in the UK alone**. Axelos no longer publishes the number of certificate holders but they do share numbers of exams taken.

Between January and September 2014 (the latest figures), there were 131,003 PRINCE2 exams taken worldwide. The data (which you can access here) doesn’t say how many are resits from candidates who failed the first time or split it by Foundation and Practitioner.

This makes it really difficult to compare penetration in the market as we aren’t comparing numbers of credential holders.

PRINCE2: 131,003 exams taken Jan-Sept 2014

CAPM: 26,771 credential holders

Given the prevalence of PRINCE2 (and the fact it is easier to get as there are no pre-requisites for application) I would personally opt for that as a UK-based project manager right now and then look at moving on to experience-based qualifications once you have had a project management job for a bit. These will show that you have practical project management experience as well as theoretical knowledge.

The APM route

There’s another popular and growing choice for project managers, and that’s the APM suite of qualifications. The Introductory Certificate has no pre-requisites. The APMP reflects a candidate’s breadth of knowledge across many competency areas, and is a good reflection on your ability to apply knowledge in a practical situation.

Study the job market

One of the best ways to find out what recruiters are looking for is to talk to agencies. Arras People and Wellington are two specialist UK project management recruitment firms so you could check their websites to see what job ads ask for in your sector. Make sure that you are spending time bolstering your CV with the right things.

Look at what sort of experience employers are asking for so you can build your CV to reflect what will make you employable. You will find many employers who won’t care what credential you have as long as you have one, but some employers and industries will give preference to candidates with particular qualifications. I have noticed, for example, a preference amongst US-owned corporations for project managers to have PMP, even if they have offices in the UK.

The certificate decision

Lots of people end up with multiple certificates from multiple bodies over time, so don’t think that you are taking a decision now that will stop you going for other credentials later in your career.

If you do opt for PRINCE2, then do the Practitioner as well if you can afford the extra twodays and the cost. The first three days of the Practitioner and Foundation courses are identical. Everyone takes the Foundation exam on Day 3, then the Foundation candidates go home. Then the others do exam practice for a day and take the Practitioner exam on Day 5. You really don’t learn anything new except exam techniques, and you do get a extra day of revision. It is worth doing the extra two days and attempting the Practitioner exam if you can.

Inside PRINCE2 ebookWhatever route you choose, you have to make the decision based on what you feel employers in your sector will be looking for, what you can afford and what experience you currently have. Getting a qualification is rarely the ‘wrong’ choice, as any project management training will increase your confidence and show employers that you are serious about making this your career.

Good luck with your choices!

Get my free PRINCE2 ebook here.

* Figure from PMI Today, January 2015. When this article was first written it was 20,933, a figure which was sent to me in an email from PMI Customer Care on 31 May 2013.

** Figures from APMG International in an email to me, 28 May 2013. More up-to-date figures have been requested (23/1/15) and I’ll update the article again when I have them.




The Inexorable Rise of PRINCE2®

Simon Buehring

Simon Buehring

This is a guest post by Simon Buehring

The number of people gaining PRINCE2® qualifications just keeps on growing and growing. September 2012 saw the total number of PRINCE2 examinations being sat break through the one million mark. That’s a pretty remarkable figure especially since this has been achieved in just 16 years since PRINCE2 was first launched. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that the number of people sitting exams just keeps on increasing every year.

I want to discuss in this article why PRINCE2 has become the professional project management qualification of choice in the UK, and why it is increasing in popularity in other parts of the world as well. But first, let’s look at some of the statistics.

Look at the graphic below, and you will see that by the end of 2011 (the last year for which full figures are available at the time of writing), the number of Foundation exams being taken had risen to almost 600,000 whilst the number of Practitioner exams was slightly over half of that number. Roughly 1% of Re-registration exams were also taken.

PRINCE2 exams worldwide

Since its lowly beginnings in 1996 when only 102 exams were sat, the number people sitting exams has grown every year (year-on-year) except during 2009 which of course was the year when the real economy went into freefall in the aftermath of the credit crunch (see graph below). Companies were cutting jobs and slashing training budgets which is probably why that year bucked the trend. The graph below shows this trend clearly and also highlights the fact that in 2011, more exams were taken than any other previous year. In actual fact on average, one exam was taken every 4 minutes during 2011.

PRINCE2 exams worldwide

Growing international demand

Since PRINCE2 has its beginnings as a UK government method for managing IT projects, it comes as no surprise to learn that the majority of exams have been sat in the UK, as this next diagram shows. However, year-on-year growth of examinations during 2011 in the UK was only 2.6%, far behind Denmark with 112%, Poland with 65%, China with 54%, and Germany with 33% year-on-year increases. The growing demand for PRINCE2 in other countries is a clear sign that PRINCE2 has broken out of its home base and has now become a truly global project management qualification. In fact there are now PRINCE2 accredited training organizations in over 30 countries.

Growing international demand

So why has PRINCE2 become so popular? Why do so many people spend up to 5 days in intensive study and spend large sums of money to become qualified in PRINCE2?

My PRINCE2 journey

I personally first became aware of PRINCE2 more than a decade ago. I was working at the time in a software outsourcing company in Asia and I was tasked with the job of helping the company improve its project management practices. When I first started reading about PRINCE2 it seemed interesting but perhaps a little heavyweight for the needs of our projects at the time. It was a few years later after returning to the UK when the question of becoming PRINCE2 certified was raised by a recruitment consultant who had kindly taken me out for lunch towards the end of a contract at the BBC. When discussing my next contract project manager role with him, he suggested that more and more companies were looking for PRINCE2 certified project managers. So, I bit the bullet, paid up and went on a 5 day course.

I was pleasantly surprised by the course. Although many of the concepts were not new to me, what impressed me most about PRINCE2 was its focus on systematically applying controls throughout the project, the business justification for the project and the product-based planning approach. The fact that people can learn what needs to be done on a project, by whom, and when, on a 5 day course is a huge factor in its growing popularity. It means that people with little or no previous experience of project management can quickly learn about best practices in a short period of time.

The labour market is increasing demand

I think the second, and perhaps more important reason why the qualification has grown so dramatically over the years is because of the demands of the labour market. The last 30 years has seen the pace of globalisation intensify, forcing companies to restructure their business operations and to develop new products on an ever-shortening timescale. Every one of these new product developments is managed as part of a project, so the demands for people with project management skills and qualifications is driving the demand for PRINCE2.

But it’s not just private sector organisations which need ever greater numbers of people with project management skills, it’s also the public sector. The prevalent consensus of all of the major political parties over the last 4 decades has been to privatise and to introduce more market conditions into the public sector. The result is that the public sector has undergone, and still undergoing, enormous structural changes in the way it provides services. Each of these changes require project management skills to manage them, so again, this is driving the demand for skilled and qualified personnel.

Some of the high profile organisations which have adopted PRINCE2 as their standard project management approach include the United Nations, NATO, Barclays Bank, DHL, Tesco, Rolls Royce, Visa and Vodafone. Rather than reinventing the wheel by developing their own project management approach, PRINCE2 offers these organisations a framework which they can embed into their existing business operations. An added benefit of using PRINCE2 is that it is free to use, so it can’t get any better than that.

So, where does this leave the demand for PRINCE2 certification? Well, the trends I have highlighted in this article I am sure will continue, and the demand for more skilled staff with project management skills and professional qualifications is therefore likely to continue. It took 12 years before the number of PRINCE2 examination reached 500,000 but only a further 4 years for this to reach the 1 million mark. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next million exams are taken before the end of this decade. So, if you haven’t yet sat your PRINCE2 exam yet, perhaps it’s time for you to start planning to do so.

PRINCE2® is a registered trade mark of the Cabinet Office.

Simon Buehring is based in the UK and is the founder and Managing Director of Knowledge Train which is a PRINCE2 accredited training company. Simon regularly delivers PRINCE2 and project management training courses within the UK and internationally.


How PRINCE2 can change your outlook

This is a guest post by Maria Burton from Focus On Training.

What is it about any business proposal that makes it more important than any other? I am about to present one of the most important business presentations of my entire career. It has to be fresh and bold. My mind flashes back to a time when I was in college, barely awake during a business class as one of the professors is talking about the importance of time management and presenting the hook. I had to be convincing and inspiring.

And then I remembered my PRINCE2 certification training. With one deep breath, I entered the room and I was no longer hesitant, but ready to face this room ready to blow them away. They would leave the presentation, more than interested in what they were about to be part of.

PRINCE2 training is not just about learning to be a project manager and to deliver projects. There are stages of the process and each stage entails a different amount of responsibility and also of confidence with which your superiors can comfortably trust you. So, facing this training and the invaluable information that you will gain is a process that is encountered successfully one step at a time.

Consistency and reliability

The first and possibly the most important is that it is consistent in its practices and recognised all over the world. The basis of this program is that it provides individuals with greater control of their resources and teaches the ability to manage project risk and business more efficiently which will benefit all involved stakeholders.

Steps to success – a source of confidence

The PRINCE2 approach to training involves various steps of expertise; those with Formula 1 training will be given extensive trust and independence on even the most difficult and challenging projects while those with Formula 3 training will be given support and guidance throughout the process. This insures the company and the employees that they will be entrusted with what they are capable of without fear of reprisal or failure. Top management will be able to choose those team members according to their ability levels, guaranteeing that projects are successfully handled and managed accordingly.

A beneficial employment asset

PRINCE2 is a valuable tool to possess. Those who have certification will not only be valued in their present positions, but will be able to use this information on resumes and in interviews. Just as holding a degree is an important asset, or experience with certain types of business are considered assets, this certification is also considered an asset that is respected and sought after, especially in the UK but also around the world.

The business world is one that requires intelligence and assertiveness, intuition and instinct about how to get to the top. Not everyone is cut out for this type of work, but for those who are, there are endless opportunities. Taking advantage of all of them is critical and certifying in business management practices like PRINCE2 is a significant step in the right direction.

In the end my presentation to that room full of people went really well which I put down to my PRINCE2 training. You see, it’s more than just a qualification. It gave me the confidence to deal with the situation at hand. Maybe you’re the same? Maybe you just need that something extra to separate you from your colleagues.

Click here for a free PRINCE2 ebook

Maria Burton is one of the coordinators for Focus On Training. Her roles include organising all PRINCE2 training and ITIL courses as well as keeping the company blog up to date. In her spare time Maria loves reading crime novels and going to the gym.


Want more about PRINCE2? Get Elizabeth’s free PRINCE2 ebook here.

Andrew Trainer

Andrew Trainer

This is a guest post by Andy Trainer of Silicon Beach Training.

Project management is a field that is becoming increasingly valued within both large and small organisations – our project management training has never been so much in demand! It’s now widely recognised that having employees with great project management skills leads to more efficient processes, better uses of time, and less wastage than without. Companies tend to adopt a project management method such as PRINCE2 to ensure that everyone works to the same framework.

Beyond training in how to define and execute a project and how to form a team, there are a number of other skills that contribute to success as a project manager. They need extensive industry knowledge, technical aptitude and good time management in order to make sure the project objective is achieved. Leadership skills are also crucial for project management – but so often overlooked or taken for granted.

Leadership skills and management skills are different things and, especially within the project management industry, it’s important to be aware of the differences. Just as a promotion to manager doesn’t automatically mean someone can motivate their team, an appointment to project manager doesn’t make someone a project leader. So what are the differences?

Leadership without Project Management

Project management is a mechanism for change. It’s a way of defining and achieving goals by tightly controlled structure and delivery. So, no matter how strong someone’s leadership skills are, a project manager needs knowledge of the tools and techniques of the specific framework being used. Without this, there’s a risk of miscommunications with colleagues, sponsors and the rest of the Project Board.

A natural leader will still need to have guidance on how to manage, just as managers need insights into how to lead.

Project Management without Leadership

The role of the Project Manager depends on being able to assign tasks to a competent and willing team. The project manager will therefore need buy-in from her team. This buy-in relies on leadership skills such as coherence and vision.

A project manager needs the others on the team to see this vision and believe in it. Without giving people a vision, they may not understand what they are working towards – and they may not be motivated to work as hard towards it.

A manager without leadership skills will not only have their decisions/instructions questioned more often but will find it less easy to defend them. A coherent leader will express their views clearly and will be able to provide easy explanations and defence if questioned.

Providing this coherent argument for the vision means the project manager will instil confidence in her project team. This will make it easier to meet challenges presented during the project – the team will be happy that they can trust their leader, and the manager will find it easier to rely on others to get the job done.

Leadership and Project Management together

It’s been said that managers work with processes and leaders work with people (The 360 Degree Leader, Maxwell, 2005). Managers organise, leaders inspire. Effective project management relies on being able to do both of these things so, without strong leadership skills, it’s difficult to be a great project manager.

Training in project management frameworks and techniques will give you the knowledge and skills to run all aspects of a project – but learning leadership skills will really set you apart from the field.

Andy Trainer works for Silicon Beach Training, leading providers of resources and courses in a number of subjects, including project management, leadership skills and more.


How PRINCE2 has helped big business

Peter Richards

Peter Richards

This is a guest post by Peter Richards.

When considering investing in a training course for yourself, a single staff member or your team, it’s crucial to consider the applications of that course. While PRINCE2 is a carefully-accredited training course, whose original two levels of Foundation and Practitioner have attracted favourable reviews from all over the training and project management industries, it is nonetheless advisable to consider how bigger businesses have used the course. After all, even small business-owners are aspirational, intending to emulate the bigger businesses in our field.

For those interested to know whether an agile, structural project management training course like PRINCE2 could be the perfect way to empower yourself or your staff, consider these case studies. They stand as examples of how established businesses in the public and private sectors have used PRINCE2 to implement change efficiently and transparently.

The challenge of currency conversion

Prominent Irish energy provider ESB was required to implement a major change in 2002 when Ireland converted to the Euro. Clearly, a change in local currency for even a major business requires not only changes of pricing and supplementary pricing, but also changes in the way that currency is handled and payment is taken.

ESB, whose change initiative was spearheaded by Eimear Barrett, their Chartered Secretary, needed to bring their information technology systems into line with the Euro and, crucially, needed to avoid any operational shutdown. Compounding the issue was the fact that Barrett herself was not experienced in the internal IT processes of her company, instead performing only as a user of the systems in question, making editing and managing their performance an added challenge.

Luckily, continuing to deliver a high quality service while implementing serious structural or operational changes, a challenge to any company, is at the heart of PRINCE2, and the program was perfectly chosen for this situation. PRINCE2 training, recommended by her line manager, allowed Barrett to not only handle the changeover from Irish pound to Euro without leaving customers stranded during the switch, but also empowered her and her team to use the changeover period as a catalyst for change. New health regulation and procedures, more practically efficient working relationships and better information management were all part of the package implemented in January 2002, with the help of PRINCE2.

In her own words, from a case study widely available, Barrett particularly benefited from PRINCE2’s practical and engaged approach to delegation. She said:

“Originally, I was doing everything myself. Nor did I really understand the project manager’s role so I took the job description out of the PRINCE2 Manual, tailored it for my circumstances and saw how I could get support from others.”

How Sony Ericsson handled their logistic nightmare

Another example of a large organisation making use of PRINCE2 in the private sector is its implementation within the working strategy of the project management team at Ericsson. This team faces all of the problems unique to such an enormous company; it has many different projects to manage, many diverse teams of project managers, and faces linguistic, cultural and geographical challenges innate in its global nature.

PRINCE2, however, was equal to the challenge, and was seamlessly integrated alongside the working project management methodologies which existed within the Ericsson network. These were suitable for large projects which made changes to complex telecommunications infrastructure, whereas consumer-based and operational changes demanded the more clearly-delineated project management system embodied in PRINCE2.

The set milestones and fundamentally inflexible nature of Ericsson’s existing project management procedures tended to alienate collaborating with outsiders and was unsuitable for the iterative software creation projects being spearheaded by the Customer Management Solutions Business Unit at the company. PRINCE2, then, lived up to the challenges posed by Ericsson, constituting a methodology which was flexible and agile enough to suit all sorts of business software projects while still remaining structured enough to provide support, transparency and accountability.

In the case study, which appears on industry websites and on Ericsson Services Ireland’s website, the business case for choosing PRINCE2 was based on the following:

  • The old methodologies were too inflexible for the projects within the group.
  • The old methodologies did not cater for dealing with sub-contractor management.
  • The rigid milestones and rules did not deal with iterative and overlapping phases of a project.
  • Projects were being delayed by the rules imposed by the old methodology.
  • Improving old methods was taking too much time away from core business activities.
  • Business decisions were being taken at inappropriate milestones.

Do you have these challenges in your organisation? As you can see from these examples, PRINCE2 has proven itself capable of managing large projects in complex environments, so it is worth considering for smaller companies and as a way of developing your teams.

Peter Richards works as a content creator and blogger for a UK project management training company.


February: News round up

Here’s the round up of news from the world of project management this month.

New Major Projects Leadership Academy

Said Business School

Said Business School, Oxford, home to the new Major Projects Leadership Academy

Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford will design and deliver a new Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA) for the UK public sector. The MPLA is designed to develop a cadre of world-class major project leaders within the Civil Service “to direct major government projects of high complexity and cost, such as the Olympics,” although frankly it’s a bit late for that.

The Academy expects to take 50 people through the one-year programme every year, starting in October. Students will attend 3 residential modules, blending practical and theoretical learning, masterclasses and mentoring. They will address three primary themes:  Major Project Leadership, Technical Understanding of Major Project Delivery and Commercial Capability.

“As you would expect from Oxford, the Academy programme is intellectually rigorous,” said Dr Paul Chapman, Academy Director at Saïd Business School. “But it will also focus on the practical skills necessary to develop senior practitioners that can deliver very large and complex projects on time and on budget. We will be drawing on our considerable experience of working with senior project practitioners from around the world, as well as our research insights in developing the first programme of its kind for the public sector.”

Sounds good. But the proof will be in successful delivery and long-term cost savings. By developing and retaining the skills of senior project leaders across government, the Academy should reduce the need for expensive external consultancy and equip civil servants with the right skills to deliver value for money projects.  The plan is that in the future, no one will be able to lead a major government project without undertaking this development course. I expect the National Audit Office will be watching this development closely, so it will be interesting to see how the Academy improves the delivery of government projects.

Happy Birthday APM!

APM logoAPM is 40. They are organising a series of events and activities throughout 2012 to celebrate, including a photo contest for pictures that sum up your favourite project or programme in one image. The plan is to display all the pictures later this year in a show of what project management can achieve. Think your project is worth celebrating? Email your photo and a couple of words of explanation to myproject@apm.org.uk or submit it via Twitter using #myproject.

They are also naming some new Honorary Fellows, having a conference and holding awards although they do that every year. I wonder if they will be making them extra special this year. I guess we’ll find out.

New qualification: PRINCE2 Professional

If you are one of the people who pooh-pooh PRINCE2 as it doesn’t have an experience requirement, sniff no more. An advanced PRINCE2 qualification, snappily called PRINCE2 Professional is now available.

“The qualification has been developed in response to demand from PRINCE2 Practitioners who want to prove they can apply PRINCE2 successfully,” said Nikki Kelly, Product Development Manager, APMG-International, the developer of the qualification. “We’ve also responded to industry feedback which says that organizations want to hire PRINCE2 qualified project managers who are competent – not just knowledgeable. PRINCE2 Professional will be suitable for those who can show their practical experience of applying the method. We hope it will become the new standard to which all professional project managers will aspire.”

The UK now has proper competition between two standards, each hoping to be the one to which project managers “aspire”. Registered Project Professional is also experience-based, but only requires a 45 minute interview. PRINCE2 Professional requires project managers to work on a case study for two and a half days, while being watched by expert assessors.

I couldn’t find a cost for this never-ending job interview, but I imagine it will only be cost effective for companies to charge a fair amount. Advantage Learning says that 30% of PRINCE2 Practitioners would be interested in this qualification, so let’s see what the take up and feedback is after a few cohorts have gone through the mill.


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