A big area of confusion in the world of project management involves the terms framework, methodology, and process. Unfortunately these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. That’s incorrect, and creates most of the confusion.

So let’s look a the difference –

One of the better analogies used to illustrate these terms is that of cooking.

A framework is the equivalent of a recipe book. It contains a number of possible combinations and the expected results, but it doesn’t tell you which to use, or when. It simply gives options, and then some basic guidelines (cook at this temp, use this technique, etc.)

The key is, it’s not ‘proscriptive’. It’s doesn’t tell you what you ‘have’ to do, or in what order.

PMI’s Guide the the PM Body of Knowledge (PMBoK Guide) is a framework. It tells you what all (or most) of the possible approaches are, but it’s up the PM to decide which is appropriate. Trying to implement all of the processes it mentions (thinking it’s a method) is guaranteed failure.

The next step down from a framework are the methods. These are akin to the recipes within the cookbook (framework). Have a Big Design Up Front (BDUF) project? Then the Critical Path recipe is probably right, so you can ignore the Agile recipe. Have an large IT project? Then maybe you need to look at the PRINCE2 method/recipe. Both of these will be contained within the larger ‘framework’, but are more specific as to what needs to be done, and in what order. These ‘methods’ help to focus on the type of project, and eliminate the extraneous processes that ‘might’ be used, but aren’t really the best for that application.

And last, are the processes. These would be similar to the ‘techniques’ and ‘tools’ used in cooking. Baking, roasting, chopping, etc. As in cooking, there are a lot of overlapping techniques used in all of the various methods, but you wouldn’t use them all. Nor would you ignore one simply because it’s also used in another method. Like a good cook, a good PM will use whatever is necessary, drawing from a wide rands of possibilities.

So remember, when deciding on on how you’re managing your project, you’re going to draw your ‘method’ from the larger framework, and that will dictate your processes.

by Trevor K. Nelson
Chair of PM4NGO’s Board

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