Are ISO 21500 or PMBOK Guides methods or methodologies?

Following an earlier post on the difference between method or methodology, it would be useful to revisit a question we often get or hear about. Is the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification, or the PMBOK Guide a methodology?

Although my post below focuses on the PMBOK Guide – most, if not all comments apply to ISO 21500 since it shares a similar structure to the PMBOK Guide.

In the past, we wrote about the four myths of the PMBOK Guide and one of them is related to our topic today. What is next is from a book we are finalizing now.

Is the PMBOK Guide a Method or Methodology?

What is project management?The first myth was primarily due to marketing; the second one is also driven by marketing. This third myth is partially driven by marketing, but its root cause is primarily due to a genuine misunderstanding of the PMBOK® Guide; including by those who deliver classes about it.

It is quite common to see advertisements for courses, or request for proposals, or online discussions referring to the PMI®, PMP®, or PMBOK® Guide Methodology. Well, one does not exist. The PMP® is a certificate, the PMBOK® Guide is a framework, and PMI does not offer nor promote a methodology.

It is vital to repeat something covered earlier, the guide is generic, its popularity is in being generic and “for most projects most of the time” (The Project Management Institute, 2013). On the other hands, a methodology or method has to be tailored, custom-fit to organizational needs and the project environment. Therefore, the PMBOK® Guide is not and cannot be a methodology.

Chapter 1 of the PMBOK® Guide is clear about this fact.

Consequently, because the guide is not a method, the recommended practice is for organizations to develop their methods, which can align to the guide. This is what SUKAD did in 2007 with the development of The Customizable and Adaptable Methodology for Managing Projects™ (CAMMP™).

Once again, what is the relevance?

Help the project management practitioners understand that the PMBOK® Guide, on its own, is not enough to manage projects; there is a need for a method to supplement it. Without a method or a well-defined project life cycle, the management of projects is deficient. A critical point, related to this myth, the confusion between process groups and project phases, which is covered in a dedicated chapter.


One thought on “Are ISO 21500 or PMBOK Guides methods or methodologies?

  1. Conerned

    Mounir: I agree with your observations. The classic case is that of “process groups and project phases”. A Project Phase is an industry standard and a Best Practice and calling it a “Process Group” is a sad attempt at replacing industry standards in project management as a whole, with a reference mechanism that’s based on its own unique vocabulary, the mastery of which will acquire the PMP status for those who are clueless as to what project management is all about.

    The PMBoK is a Framework of Reference at best; it’s not a method or a methodology. Hiring Managers and others, in their haste, do not and cannot see the difference. And to make matters worse, “PMP” has become the battle cry of the Mentally Blind leading the Brain Dead. .


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