Best Practice, Model, Framework, Method, Guidance, Standard: towards a consistent use of terminology – revised
Author: Bart Verbrugge
Version: 1.4 (3 minutes reading time)
There is a lot of confusion regarding the use and meaning of the terms ‘standard’, ‘best practice’, ‘body of knowledge’, ‘framework’, ‘guidance’, ‘method’, ‘model’ etc. In order to promote and establish a consistent use of these terms within VHP publications we have developed this document. It is, of course, based on a ‘best practice’ approach and is the result of input from various stakeholders.
In this document, these terms are explained in relation to each other, using simple and consistent descriptions. These descriptions align with the VHP publications within the following domains: Business Management, Project Management, IT & IT Management and Enterprise Architecture.
Terms and definitions
Practice is the description of the way in which professionals work within their profession, in order to carry out a specific task. Best practice is the description of the best way of working based on the situation in hand. Such a description can be used by (future) professionals. The term ‘good practice’ is also in use.
A model is the presentation in schematic form, often in a simplified way, of an existing or future state or situation. The modelling technique determines the way in which the situation is represented in a schematic way. Popular modelling techniques are: process model, workflow model, life cycle model.
A method is a systematic approach to achieve a specific result or goal, and offers a description in a cohesive and (scientific) consistent way of the approach that leads to the desired result/ goal. Minimally a method consists of a way of thinking and a way of working. Possible additional components of a method are: management model(s), presentation model(s), support model(s) (prescriptions, instructions, tips, examples, etc.), based on the modelling techniques mentioned above. The meanings of the terms ‘practice’ and ‘model’ are much broader than the term ‘method’.
A framework is an entity between a ‘model’ and a ‘method’. A framework is, or contains, a (not completely detailed) structure or system for the realization of a defined result/goal. Many frameworks comprise one or more models, based on the modelling techniques mentioned above and often based on (best) practices. Compared with methods, frameworks give the users much more freedom regarding the (partial or entire) use of the framework and the use of the models or techniques therein.
A body of knowledge (BOK or BoK) is the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant community of professionals or professional association. A body of knowledge is the accepted set of standard terminology (also: ontology) for a specific domain. Mostly, a BOK is more than simply a collection of terms. It is (a.o.): a professional reading list; a library; a website or a collection of websites; a description of professional functions; or even a collection of information.
The international standardization organizations, e.g. ANSI, IEEE, ISO, etc., make a distinction between a ‘guidance’ (or ‘guideline’) and a ‘standard’.
ISO definition: A standard is a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.
Definition of guidance/guideline: Recommended practice that allows some discretion or leeway in its interpretation, implementation, or use. For ISO, a guidance/guideline is the first version of a document that is intended to become a standard. In general, the period between publication of a guidance/guideline and the official status as a standard is five years.
- PMBOK Guide is set up as a Body of Knowledge and also it is both a framework and an (ANSI-) standard; PRINCE2 is a method and is designated by the UK government as a ‘de-facto standard’. Therefore it is formally not a standard.
- Within the agile family there are clear differences: Scrum is a framework; RUP and DSDM/Atern are methods.
- New ISO guidances for programme management and portfolio management are in progress.
- The ICB and the e-CF are competence frameworks.
‘Method’ versus ‘methodology’
In many publications the term ‘methodology’ is wrongly used in place of the term ‘method’. The correct definitions of the term ‘methodology’ are:
- the systematic, theoretical analysis of the methods applied to a field of study, or the theoretical analysis of the body of methods and principles associated with a branch of knowledge. Typically, it encompasses concepts such as paradigm, theoretical model, phases and quantitative or qualitative techniques.
- the design process for carrying out research or the development of a procedure; it is not in itself an instrument for doing those things.
Governance of models, frameworks, methods and standards
A large number of models, frameworks, methods and standards are managed by a governance organization. These organizations manage the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) and are the central point for activities and products regarding the subject matter, aimed at the target group(s). In some cases a certification/examination program is offered.
Often these organizations develop new, improved versions. The websites of these organizations clarify the situation regarding the latest version and stipulate the conditions that anyone who intends to apply the model/method/framework should adhere to. Usually, the most recent version is the one to apply.
Bon, Jan van (ed.), IT Service Management best practices, Volume 4, 2007, Van Haren Publishing, p. 351
ISO website: http://www.iso.org/iso/home/standards
Ngi, Wegwijzer voor methoden bij Enterprise-architectuur – 2de herziene druk, 2013, Van Haren Publishing, p. 15