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Project Management Institute PMBOK Guide / PRINCE2 / Project Planning Breakthroughs

Lexicon of Project Management terms

This lexicon will cover the terminology and language of several different project management standards, guides, approaches, frameworks and methodology.

However, before we start our lexicon, we need to discuss a few terms, specifically the terms standards, guides, approaches, frameworks and methodologies!

Standards, guides, approaches, frameworks and methodologies - what do these terms mean?

The definition of some of these terms may seem obvious, but many of them are used interchangeably by different practitioners and organisations. Therefore, we thought it best to go through the various definitions and meanings.

So what do each mean and which of them should you be following in order to achieve project management success?

The short answer

The short answer is that the meaning of the terms does not matter much at all. What is important is that you and your organisation know what to do in order to achieve project management success according to your own definition and standards. Whether it is following an approach, framework, or methodology, or a standard or guideline, the answer is all about delivery and results.

However, the use and different variations of these terms may influence the way that you perform your project management activities, so it is useful to understand their meanings.

The following is the Doldrum Bay Consulting view on how each of the terms, standards, guides, approaches, frameworks and methodologies should be interpreted. (Please note that as there are so many different spins on some of the terms, we have tried our best to simplify them. However, this meant that sometimes we had to put our own spin on the terms ☺).

We recommend that you speed read the following sections and, hopefully, the diagrams will make it all worthwhile!

Where do you start?

Well, to coin a phrase, it depends upon where you want to go!

Often people start with an understanding of what would be a 'good' outcome. In order to measure 'good', many professions start with a set of standards.

As in other professions, Project Management has standards, such as those defined in the PMI "Standard for Project Management". As with the standards for other professions, such as building standards that cover fire regulations, or health and safety, some of the standards may have compulsory or mandatory elements. However, often they are there as a model or a guideline.

So, what is a standard?

The Oxford dictionary defines standard as “something used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations” [3]

For our purposes, a standard is a collection of knowledge that is generally accepted as best practice. Standards don't tell you how to do something, only what 'good' looks like in your profession. 

The PMI definition is that a standard is "a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, which provides for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context." [4]

However, if you want to know what you need to do or how to do something (e.g. step by step instructions), then you would look for a procedure or a technique. What you want are the tried and tested ways to do an activity.

However, these procedures or techniques are often specific to an activity under particular conditions and may not be exactly right for another person's or organisation's particular activity or situation.

For example, in project management, a procedure to perform software testing may be of no value to someone trying to implement a new HR policy. As there are so many different types of project, defining a specific set of procedures for every situation would be almost impossible.

Therefore, rather than having specific procedures, many professions have less rigid methodologies.

What is a methodology?

The Oxford dictionary defines Methodology as “a system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity” [1]

Methodologies define the practices, responsibilities, rules, techniques, procedures and workflows needed to achieve an objective. They tell you what you must do in order to successfully manage your projects from start to finish. They do this by describing every step in the project life cycle in depth, so you know exactly which tasks to complete, when and how. However, they tend to do this in a more generic way so as to be of value to a variety of different situations without going down to the low-level detail that a procedure or a technique might get into.

Often methodologies demonstrate a well thought out, defined, repeatable approach [6] for dealing with more generic activities or areas that you may wish to control in your profession. For example, in project management, the areas you may wish to control may include costs, timescales, quality, scope, risk and benefits.

Standards to Methodologies

To Doldrum Bay Consulting, the terms standards, guides, approaches, frameworks and methodologies can be put on a varying scale, starting with the flexible best practice of a standard and progressing through to the more rigid approach of a methodology (with any specific procedures or techniques)

Standard to Methodology

So, what is a Framework?

The Oxford dictionary defines a Framework as “a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text” [2]

In general, a framework is a real or conceptual structure intended to serve as a support or guide for the building of something that expands the structure into something useful.[5] it can provide structure and direction on a preferred way to do something, without being too detailed or rigid. They provide guidance while being flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions or to be customized for your company while utilizing vetted approaches. [6]

Methodology vs. Framework

[6] Methodology Framework
Structure Prescriptive More Flexible
What it covers What, when, & how to do What to do
Consistent outcome High Low

So, in essence, a methodology provides answers (e.g. "if you do it this way, then you will get this result"). In contrast, a framework does not provide answers, opting instead to provide a set of questions to enable you to work out your solution. [6]

So, what is the REAL difference between a methodology and a framework?

To be truthful, the two terms (methodology and framework) are used interchangeably too often by too many people and organisations for there to be any real point in trying to enforce any arbitrary difference.

Although we may be able to define the two terms, inevitably they are applied differently across the board.

Therefore, in terms of which you should use, the answer is a cross between, "does it work for you and your organisation?" and "what does your organisation say you should follow?"

So, for example, what is the PMBOK® Guide? A standard, a methodology or a framework?

Standards can give you guidance on what is best practice in your industry, whereas methodologies and frameworks provide practical processes for managing projects.

Therefore, the PMBOK® Guide is a standard containing good project management practices, processes and procedures. These best practices may help you to build your own methodology or framework, but the PMBOK® Guide is not a methodology or framework. For more details, see Project Management Institute PMBOK Guide.

What other project management standards, methodologies or frameworks are there?

Standards

International standards

  • ISO 21500: 2012, Guidance on project management
  • ISO 21503: 2017, Guidance on programme management
  • ISO 21504: 2015, Guidance on portfolio management
  • ISO 21505: 2017, Guidance on governance
  • The Standard for Project Management ANSI/PMI 99-001-2017

PMI standards [7]

  • The Standard for Organizational Project Management (OPM)
  • Practice Standard for Scheduling
  • Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures
  • The Standard for Risk Management in Portfolios, Programs, and Projects
  • Practice Standard for Project Estimating
  • Practice Standard for Earned Value Management
  • Benefits Realization: A Practice Guide

Methodologies or frameworks

  • PRINCE2® ** - owned by AXELOS Limited
  • Project Planning Breakthroughs *** - owned by Priority Management International Training
  • MITP – Managing the Implementation of the Total Project - owned by IBM
  • Waterfall
  • Critical Path Method (CPM)
  • Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
  • Integrated Project Management (IPM)
  • PRiSM (Projects integration Sustainable Methods)
  • Rational Unified Process (RUP)
  • Agile
  • Hybrid
  • Six Sigma
  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Lean

Other Project Management approaches and methodologies

To learn about some of them, choose one of the following methodologies/approaches/good practices:

Project Management Institute PMBOK Guide / PRINCE2 / Project Planning Breakthroughs

References

[1] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/methodology

[2] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/framework?q=framework

[3] http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/standard

[4] https://www.pmi.org/pmbok-guide-standards/about

[5] https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/framework

[6] Adapted from https://activecollab.com/project-management-guides/project-management-methodologies-and-frameworks

[7] https://www.pmi.org/pmbok-guide-standards/about/current-projects

* "PMI" is a service and trademark and "PMBOK" is a trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc. which is registered in the United States and other nations.

** "PRINCE2®" is a (registered) Trade Mark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

*** "Project Planning Breakthroughs" is a Trade Mark of Priority Management International Inc. © Priority Management International Inc. All rights reserved.