What are the differences between standard, framework, and methodology?

In this blog post, we respond to questions from a friend, who has been following this blog.

The Questions

“I sincerely thank you for all your valuable input on SUKAD blogs; I refer to it when I have some inquiries and it is really always interesting. I have a question; I need your expertise and support in; I didn’t know how to reach you so if you don’t mind I am sending it to you by email.

… What is the difference between a Project Management Methodology, Framework and Standard. Is the framework the same as the standard? I have read in various links that PRINCE2 along with Agile, Scrum, Waterfall are types of Project Management Methodologies and I read on SUKAD Blog that PMBOK is a framework (a guide).

I wanted to ask you is that in Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ERP implementation there is a tool that we use called Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step Implementation Methodology and there is also the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF); how do we relate these to the PRINCE2 or PMBOK?”

Microsoft Dynamics … Solutions Framework

In this area, we do not have the expertise. We mention it here in case readers have expertise in this area and would like to write about it. We would be happy to publish as a Guest Author’s article.

Framework vs. Standard vs. Methodology


The word ‘standard’ could be many things.

Dictionary definition: “something used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations”[1]

  1. It can be anything that an organization establishes for their internal work … as a standard … meaning … for their employees to follow. In this scenario, the organization usually mandates the use of the standard; although optional standards could exist.
  2. The most common use of the term ‘standard’ usually refers to something (documents) a professional organization establishes for others to use. For example, there are engineering standards, programing standards, and standards for numerous areas of practice.
  3. It is also common that some countries have standards’ issuing authorities that they publish their own standards or sanction the standards that other publish.
  4. For project management standards, many organizations publish standards. These include:
  • PMI publishes the PMBOK® Guide along with other standards
  • IPMA publishes their IPMA Competence Baseline
  • UK Government has PRINCE2 as a Standard
  • GAPPS also publishes project and program management standards

Here are some more notes about ‘standards’

  • A standard could be a guide or a methodology …. PRINCE2 is a standard methodology whereas PMBOK is a standard guide
  • A standard could be obligatory or optional, depends on their use.
  • Often, professionals chose what standard to follow, assuming their organizations have not adopted one
  • In engineering and some other technical domains, standards could also be ‘codes’ and/or mandated by law.
  • For project management,  there are no laws that govern the use of standards or what standard to use so one can use them or not.


Dictionary definition: “a basic structure underlying a system, concept, or text” [2]

Sometime we use the words ‘Framework’ and ‘Guide’ interchangeably, but that is not 100% accurate; in our professional opinion they are quite similar but not the same. It is too hard to explain the differences so let us assume they are the same for the purpose of this article.

A Framework is a general guideline that an organization can adopt. The Framework could include many components. For example, PMBOK Guide presents processes and knowledge areas, along with project life cycle, stakeholders, project organizations, among other topics. The PMBOK offers guidelines on how to develop a scope statement, a WBS, an estimate, a communication plan; therefore, PMI labels the PMBOK Guide as a framework for managing a single project.

Other examples: ISO 31000 offers a framework for managing organizational risks. IPMA offers us with a Competence Framework … there are other examples. To summarize, a framework offer suggestions for organizations to implement so their teams can use.

A-Guide-to-the-Project-Management-Body-of-KnowledgeThe PMBOK is a framework and most also label it as a standard, but this is not 100% accurate. What most people do not know that the PMBOK (the whole guide) is not a standard … even though PMI put ANSI stamp on it (ANSI = American National Standards Institute = the USA standard authority). Refer to bottom right side of image

Only part of Chapter 3 in PMBOK 4th edition is the ANSI standard; in PMBOK 5th edition, the standard is now an appendix. In other words, the standard is only about 30 to 40 pages out of about 600 pages. In short, the PMBOK include the standard that ANSI approves, and the other sections by developed by the volunteers as the rest of the Framework.


Dictionary definition: “a system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity” [3]

A methodology is different from a framework since a methodology — come from method — means there has to be a certain way of doing something; like systematic process.

A common project management methodology follows a project life cycle or something like that.

Usually one do not hear about project management methodologies much since these would be custom built for an organization. In telecom,  a famous methodology is PROPS-C (Ericsson).

Is a methodology also a standard?

It can be if an organization adopts a methodology it become their standard. Such as PRINCE2, PROPS-C, … For example, in SUKAD we use the CAM2P™ methodology, it is our standard.

Which one to use

Should we use a methodology, a framework, a guide, or what?

SUKAD-Seven-Elements-of-Project-Management-MaturityIn our professional opinion is that to manage the organization’s project effectively, we need more than one element; unless someone is using the term methodology to encompass everything. We like to use the term project management organizational system and this ‘system’ should consist of (a) methodology, (b) processes, (c) competence framework, among other things. This is part of the SUKAD maturity model, which we will explain in a future post.

To summarize, a methodology (project life cycle) is not enough to manage projects effectively. The same is true about the PMI Framework (we published a few articles on this). Refer to the image at the right.

The rest of your questions

I have read in various links that PRINCE2 along with Agile, Scrum, Waterfall are types of Project Management Methodologies”

  1. Waterfall – is a name that people use for a methodology that fallow the waterfall approach … it is mostly like a project life cycle where the results from one phase will drop, like a waterfall, into the next phase. As you know, water drops but do not go back up – meaning we go forward with no possibility of going back. Some would label SUKAD CAM2P™ as a waterfall, but that is not correct since some phases and stages in CAM2P™ overlap …, and if we must, we can return to a prior phase (re-evaluate the work) and yes there is a sequence but the ‘waterfall’ term is not appropriate.
  2. I am not too knowledgeable about SCRUM and Agile but what I know about them is that they are NOT project management methodologies even though their advocates claim they are. What I know about them is that they are software development methodologies — so a very specific form. I realize that agile publicist claim Agile is good for all type of projects but what I read and understand – that is not accurate.


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

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

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

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  • Undercover Brother

    I’d go with dictionary definitions, and apply those definitions to a situation.

    The problem is, if you try and look at the ‘industry’, essentially you have a bunch of self-propagating rubbish that each corporate publishes its version of life.

    E.g. the Unified Process has been around for a while, and then IBM bought Rational, and glorified the Rational Unified Process as IBM’s masterpiece – essentially designed to sell their Rational suite of tools.

    As for PM terminology re: frameworks and methodologies, most corporates and government agencies are run by morons who have their own definitions of these terms…

    I’ve seen at least one top level official (CIO/CEO/CFO/CTO) look at a process flow diagram and call it a ‘framework’.

    BoKs are bodies of knowledge that describe elements and knowledge areas that may be used as a framework, and approaches to building models/methodologies based on that framework.

    Academic definitions of a framework suggest that unless you bundle standards, procedures and processes together at an enterprise level, you don’t have a framework.

    Until you distill a framework into tools, methodologies governing processes, and standards that act as gateways in a procedure within those methodologies, you don’t have a methodology.

    Very broadly, the Framework is ‘what’ the enterprise is doing in the broadest sense, and the Methodology is ‘how’ that includes methods, tools etc.

    I heartily agree with Mounir Ajam on his points in relation to this.

    I’m sure every corporate worth its shares would be out there molesting that definition till it is no more sensible than the US Dollar.

    Happy days ahead… woo hoo!

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  • francois bureau

    Prince2 is a method:
    “PRINCE2® (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a process-based approach for project management providing an easily tailored and scalable method for the management of all types of projects. The method is the de-facto standard for project management in the UK and is practiced worldwide.
    The continued international development of PRINCE2 examinations, training and course material is contributing significantly to the recognition of PRINCE2 as a truly international standard. More and more people are having the opportunity to benefit from the training courses and certifications that are available worldwide.”
    Source: http://www.apmg-international.com/en/qualifications/prince2/prince2.aspx

    PMBok v5 is a Guide & a Standard:
    “The PMBOK® Guide—Fifth Edition continues the tradition of excellence in project management. This standard contains the fundamental practices that all project managers need to attain high standards and project excellence. This internationally recognized standard gives project managers the essential tools to practice project management and deliver organizational results.”
    Source: http://www.pmi.org/PMBOK-Guide-and-Standards/Standards-Library-of-PMI-Global-Standards.aspx

    Scrum is an Agile Method.

    Waterfall is a life cycle.

    A methodology is a set of methods, technics, tools, knowledge…
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodology

    PmBok is a Guide, a Standard and contains a methodology (with methods, tools & technics, knowledges…).
    PMBok is also a framework with 10 Project Management Areas, 5 Process Groups and 47 process.


    • Dear Sir
      Thank you for your post. On the PMBOK thing – i know you are quoting PMI but PMI own quotation is faulty.
      1. “This standard contains” – the PMBOK – as a book is NOT a standard – only chapter 3 in PMBOK 4 and Annex 1 in PMBOK 5 is the standard – the rest is additional content but not an official standard.

      2. “to attain high standards and project excellence” PMI says PMBOK is common practice and in my dictionary – common practice is not “high standards of project excellence”

      3. You also added “PmBok is a Guide, a Standard and contains a methodology (with methods, tools & technics, knowledges…).” That is not correct – PMBOK is a framework and NOT a methodology and this is not my opinion it is what PMI states in the PMBOK

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