PRINCE2 and DSDM Atern – Why Should I Use Both?

Author: Dorothy Tudor – DSDM and PRINCE2 Practitioner and Trainer, a Certified ScrumMaster (Agile) and a member of the DSDM Consortium, the Agile Alliance and the Agile Project Leadership Network.

Executive Summary

Most organisations have accepted the need to adopt a project approach to the way they address business change. Organisations are also under increasing pressure to deliver business benefit as early as possible, and Agile approaches are proving irresistible, with their promise of early, iterative project delivery, within budget.

This short article considers the case for an organisation to adopt both PRINCE2 and DSDM (Agile Project Management) in combination. It examines the similarities, differences and potential inter-operability issues related to PRINCE2 and DSDM. It also addresses the commercial & business compatibility of PRINCE2 and DSDM.

It contains:

  • An overview of the PRINCE2 approach, its key features, main benefits and limitations;
  • An overview of the DSDM/Agile approach, its key features, main benefits and limitations;
  • How each brings its own strengths and moderates the limitations of the other;
  • How they fit together to deliver more successful projects.

The Rationale for using both DSDM and PRINCE2 together is that:

  • The structures of PRINCE2 and DSDM do not conflict: Process models, Components, Techniques and Project Management Team roles are all complementary;
  • DSDM would benefit from the governance strength of PRINCE2
  • DSDM could adopt elements of PRINCE2;
  • PRINCE2 would benefit from the team, communication and delivery culture of DSDM;
  • PRINCE2 could adopt elements of DSDM.

The premise of this paper is that PRINCE2 and DSDM can not only be used effectively together to gain the benefits of both, but that their combination produces a result where the whole is greater than the sum of the constituent parts.


In the product development process, results are rarely predictable. Business change projects are not the performance of a routine set of tasks with a pre-determined outcome; they are empirical rather than defined. These projects often need to be highly innovative, making them more akin to the research-and-development process than the manufacturing process. Jim Highsmith, a respected Agile thought leader, observed that the failure to differentiate between highly uncertain (innovative) and highly certain (defined) project environments can cause confusion when measuring project performance. He suggested that this confusion stems from two sources: the definition of scope and the difference between estimates and constraints.

Empirical projects will inevitably be difficult to define accurately at the outset and will be subject to considerable change throughout their duration. In spite of this, budget holders need to be able to control timescale, cost and return on investment and need a framework for project management which will enable them to achieve this.

Project approaches which embrace change and uncertainty are grouped under the term “Agile” and of these, DSDM is the most widely known and used in the UK and Europe. The most widely known and used traditional project management approach in these territories is PRINCE2. The premise of this paper is that PRINCE2 and DSDM can not only be used effectively together to gain the benefits of both, but that their combination produces a result where the whole is greater than the sum of the constituent parts.

The main features of PRINCE2 and DSDM

What are PRINCE2 and DSDM?


  • A de facto standard for project management, owned by the Office of Government Commerce, and is free to use;
  • A non-technical method, independent of the type of project;
  • An approach using eight major components, three techniques and a process model.

DSDM is:

  • A de facto standard for user-centred business development owned and developed by the DSDM Consortium membership. Prior to 2006, it was “members only” use, but is now free to use;
  • An Agile project framework, with guidance, to achieve on-time and on-budget delivery of a product to satisfy a business objective;
  • An approach focusing on user involvement, prioritisation, prototyping, timeboxing, facilitated workshops, modelling and iterative, incremental development.

Both approaches have accreditation and examination processes. Both have accredited training organisations that can prepare delegates for these qualifications.

Both PRINCE2 and DSDM2 apply to projects which:

  • can be IT and non-IT;
  • can exist in their own right or have relationships with other projects or are part of larger programmes of work.

Both PRINCE2 and DSDM are applicable to all sizes and types of organisation and project. Both are product-based and business focused.

Overview of PRINCE2

PRINCE2 is a project management method that:

  • Is repeatable and teachable;
  • Builds on experience;
  • Ensures everyone knows what to expect, where, how and when;
  • Gives early warning of problems;
  • Is proactive, not reactive;
  • Is able to accommodate sudden unexpected events.

Key Benefits of PRINCE2

  • Well-documented method;
  • Strong framework for the governance and management of projects;
  • Clearly-defined management roles;
  • Allows “management by exception”, having a clear escalation and issue handling process
  • Business-focused;
  • User-centred;
  • Product-based;
  • Controlled and organised start, middle and end to projects;
  • Already well-established in many public and private sector organisations.

Perceived Limitations of PRINCE2

PRINCE2 can be percieved as: DSDM would improve this by:
Heavily document-driven and bureaucratic. Introducing small teams, short timeboxes and more facilitated workshops and face-to-face communication.
Waterfall (one delivery at the end of a potentially long project). Incremental development and delivery of product throughout the project. This fits well with the Work Packages and Product Based Planning technique of PRINCE2.
Non-Agile (unable to easily and quickly manage change and uncertainty). Including empowered, responsible user representatives within the teams to handle detailed definition of product. Up-front definition is high-level, with prioritisation providing the mechanism to handle inaccurate estimates.
Not making on-time and on-cost delivery a strong enough probability. Removing time and cost tolerance and replacing this with a culture of flexibility of requirement.
Not covering enough techniques. Providing DSDM techniques and guidance for: rich communication; team working; project planning; timeboxing; prioritisation.

Overview of DSDM

DSDM is an Agile Project Management framework for business-centred change.

The DSDM philosophy is that any business change initiative:

  • must align itself to clearly defined strategic goals;
  • must be focused upon the early delivery of business benefit;
  • recognises a delivered, working increment of a product as the primary measure of progress;
  • is most effective when stakeholders are empowered and collaborate in order to converge on the best possible solution;
  • must be delivered in the appropriate timescale and budget, according to the priorities set by the business.

Key Benefits of DSDM

  • On time, on budget delivery;
  • A well-documented method, by comparison with other agile approaches;
  • Business prioritisation of the deliverables;
  • Business-objective focused;
  • Promotes early and continuous delivery of product, in business-valuable increments throughout the project;
  • Welcomes changing requirements, even late in the project, using prioritisation and timeboxing to control this within time and budget, to harnesses change for the customer’s competitive advantage;
  • Continuous active user involvement at both management and team level, with guidance on making this effective;
  • Product-based;
  • Clearly-defined management and team roles;
  • Techniques for communication, project control and team working.

Perceived Limitations of DSDM

DSDM can be perceived as: PRINCE2 would improve this by:
Agile, and therefore not sufficiently strong on governance for large organisations and large projects. Overlaying the structure of the Project Board and Project Assurance.
Iterative, and therefore potentially not sufficiently controlled. Using Product-Based Planning technique to define the high-level products to be delivered in each timebox. Retaining the exception procedure for timeboxes not successfully completed.
Not defining the products in detail at the outset, and therefore having an ill-defined outcome. Using Product Based Planning technique to define the high-level products to be delivered.
Advocating face-to face communication and therefore not having a sufficient audit trail. Retaining highlight reporting at a light level. Using Configuration Management and Quality Review (both also present in DSDM) for completed timebox products.

Using DSDM and PRINCE2 together

Critical differences and synergies

The critical differences and synergies between PRINCE2 and DSDM are the cultural ones.

Teams and communication

DSDM advocates the use of small, self-organising teams. These will comprise teams of appropriately-skilled individuals from different disciplines, representing those who will use the product in addition to those who will build, procure or deploy it. These individuals must be empowered by management to work together to achieve a solution. It has guidance on facilitated workshops and rich communication for more effective working. PRINCE2 has strong guidance on the hand-over of work to teams, but treats the team-level of working as being out of scope for its guidance.

Flexibility, Prioritisation, Tolerance

DSDM has a culture of flexibility of requirement, intentional prioritisation and an acceptance that the project will de-scope lower-priority features in order to deliver on time and within budget. PRINCE2 allows tolerance on time, cost, scope, benefit, quality, risk. DSDM does not advocate time and cost tolerance at all.

Discovery vs. Detailed Product Descriptions

DSDM discourages the production of a fully-detailed specification of requirements at the outset, and recommends an incremental approach to the discovery of the detailed requirements during the project. PRINCE2 defines the Product Breakdown Structure and Product Descriptions at the outset, with further detail at stage boundaries. Product Descriptions are a powerful tool, if kept at a high level and supplemented with planned discovery of the more detailed requirements through user involvement within the team during the execution of Work Packages.

Incremental Delivery

DSDM plans for incremental delivery of product throughout the project. The project is “chunked” into small deliverables, managed by small teams, within short timeboxes. Each team develops these “chunks” of functionality from a high-level definition at the outset of the timebox to a fully-tested and delivered product at the end. Timeboxes are short: usually no more than 2 – 6 weeks in length. The ethos is of a production facility of small craft teams, with the right skills, producing product, rather than a factory production line, where every worker has their limited task, but cannot see the whole. PRINCE2 does not give specific guidance on the management of teams, but the ethos of many traditionally-run projects is more of the production line than the craft teams.

The Introduction of the DSDM culture to a PRINCE2 project

Introducing DSDM to a PRINCE2 project would result in:

  • Short timeboxes within stages;
  • Small teams with empowered user representatives as fully-resourced and continuous team members;
  • Delivery of business products during the project, not just at the end;
  • Fewer change requests (most are dealt with at team level, in line with initial prioritisation agreed by major stakeholders);
  • Fewer exception situations (flexibility to de-scope to stay within plan is in the hands of the team, but controlled by the baselined high level prioritised requirements, signed-off by the Senior User/Project Board);
  • More visibility of progress (complete and business-meaningful products delivered during the project are visible measures of progress);
  • Timeboxing to keep the project on track. This simplifies the use of tolerance. The only tolerance used extensively is scope, and this is flexed under the control of the empowered business representatives. This gives the business what they often need the most – on time and on budget delivery of a product which meets the business objective;
  • Prioritisation being clearly defined, and performed early in the project;
  • Facilitated workshops and face-to-face communication, minimising documentation wherever possible;
  • Team roles, including user and developer responsibilities, being clearly defined, but teams being self-organising;
  • An iterative and incremental approach to development and delivery of the final product, enabling the culture-change from a traditional “waterfall” and onedelivery approach.

To this, PRINCE2 would bring:

  • Corporate management confidence in the control and governance of projects;
  • A Project Board with clear responsibilities;
  • Project Assurance of the on-going progress;
  • A clearly-defined set of management products, to be tailored as required;
  • A clearly-defined escalation (exception) process, when needed;
  • A well-documented approach to Product-Based Planning and Quality Review.

An Outline Method for using PRINCE2 and DSDM together to deliver More Successful Projects:

  • Use the Process Model, Components and Techniques of PRINCE2, but with a DSDM culture (light documentation, mixed teams of users and developers, frequent deliverables, rich communication);
  • Use the PRINCE2 Management Products as required, but with a DSDM culture;
  • Use the PRINCE2 Project Board Roles, with added guidance from the DSDM roles;
  • Use Project Assurance, but with a light touch, to allow the teams to be selforganising and empowered;
  • Use the DSDM Project Manager role, with guidance from the PRINCE2 role definition;
  • Use the DSDM team roles for those working on the creation, procurement and deployment of the product;
  • Use the DSDM lifecycle and products particularly to augment the Managing Product Delivery process, to ensure analysis, design and construction have a prototyping approach. Apply the incremental DSDM approach to implementation;
  • Use DSDM guidance for facilitated workshops and team behaviours;
  • Teach the DSDM culture and techniques to PRINCE2 project management teams, at all levels.

In Conclusion

In a world where speed of delivery is often more important than having 100% of the functionality and where projects have to deliver on time and within budget to take advantage of market opportunity or to comply with legislative requirements, DSDM delivers.

In an environment where many organisations are constrained to demonstrate that they are controlling their projects effectively and giving best value for money, PRINCE2 performs.

Since both of these needs often run concurrently, the use of PRINCE2 for its control and DSDM for its agility is a powerful combination.


  1. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 – The Stationery Office
  2. DSDM Version 4.2 Manual (Hyperlinked)
  3. Agile Project Management – Jim Highsmith – Addison Wesley
  4. Dynamics, Modelling And Control – B A Ogunnaike and W H Ray Process. Oxford University Press.
  5. DSDM and PRINCE2 – Perfect Marriage or Strange Bedfellows? Dorothy Tudor – Technical Director TCC Ltd – (Research Paper published on

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