A Comparison of Project Management Approaches (PMBOK, PRINCE2, Agile)

Project management in one form or another has been used since ancient times. Some of the stunning achievements include the Giza Pyramids, Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal.  In the past, it was traditionally engineers and architects that managed the efforts. Only recently, starting in the 1950’s, has project management been recognized as a distinct discipline. It has flourished since then and serves as an important role in organizations that undertake projects.

A variety of established project management approaches are used today. The more prevalent ones used around the world include the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), Agile, and Projects In Controlled Environments (PRINCE2). When determining the best approach, it helps to consider your own project needs in addition to general pros and cons that each approach offers.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a professional association that recruits volunteer practitioners to create the standards for PMBOK. PMI was formed in 1969 by U.S. leaders in the construction, defense, and aerospace industries to foster recognition for professionalism in project management. Today PMI has chapters worldwide. The PMBOK is often related to the Waterfall Method which is a sequential (non-iterative) approach to software development.


  1. Works well for projects that have clear requirements and little chance for change.
  2. Forecasting can be done throughout the project giving the customer an understanding of scope, cost and timelines.


  1. Poses a challenge for projects that are complex with constant changes as costs and schedule impacts can be significant.
  2. Integration is often done late in the process which could cause difficulties if assumptions are wrong or there are unknown issues.


PRINCE was established in 1989 by a UK government agency. PRINCE2 was published in 1996 having been contributed to by about 150 European organizations. It is owned today by a joint venture AXELOS which has a commitment of nurturing best practice communities on a global scale. The pros and cons of PRINCE2 tend to be similar with the PMBOK as both are predictive methodologies.


  1. The Business Case is the key driver and is routinely updated at the end of each process. It is referenced on a regular basis to ensure that the project is delivering business value.
  2. The extensive documentation that PRINCE2 requires helps large organizations with performance appraisals, corporate planning, and supports risk mitigation.


  1. As with the PMBOK, changes can be quite disruptive to the project, particularly with burdensome document revisions.
  2. Some believe that PRINCE2 does not address the importance of “soft skills” for a project manager.


At the turn of the 21st century, the rise of the internet fired up an unprecedented innovation race in IT. It soon became clear that a more flexible approach for project management was needed. In 2001, the Agile Manifesto was endorsed and the Agile Alliance was created shortly after to encourage, promote, and curate resources for Agile adoption. While there are several practice types under the Agile umbrella, Scrum is the most popular today. It should be noted that a Project Manager role does not exist in Scrum as responsibility is distributed across a Product Owner (Customer), Scrum Master (Coach/Facilitator), and Development team.


  1. The customer sees tangible progress at the end of each iteration instead of having to wait until close to the end of the project.
  2. Agile can often easily absorb requirement changes due to its iterative nature.  Scope creep is usually not a big issue.


  1. Agile was specifically created for software development. There have been mixed results when expanding it to non-software projects.
  2. It is resource intensive for the project team and particularly challenging for the customer who is expected to be available and actively involved throughout the project. Other challenges arise for teams that are geographically dispersed.

The methodology you choose will ultimately depend on the needs of your project. It may even make sense to consider a hybrid approach. Ninestone can help you to evaluate your options and make the choice that is most appropriate for your project. Once a decision is made, we can provide the required expertise which can make the difference between a smoothly executed project and a poorly implemented one. 

Tammy Chu, Senior Ninestone Consultant

September 2017