Methods Yes, Methodologies No

Michael Ballé opens his 1/29/2018 Gemba Coach column with “all methodologies are about making a better use of our minds.” Are they? Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister disagree. In Peopleware, they describe methodologies as follows:

“A Methodology is a general systems theory of how a whole class of thought-intensive work ought to be conducted. It comes in the form of a fat book that specifies in detail exactly what steps to take at any time, regardless of who is doing the work, regardless of where or when. The people who write the Methodology are smart. The people who carry is out can be dumb. They never have to turn their brains to the ON position. All they do is start on page one and follow the Yellow Brick Road, like happy little Munchkins, all the way from the start of the job to its successful completion. The Methodology makes all the decisions, the people make none.”

DeMarco and Lister contrast methodologies, as excuses not to think, with methods, that help execute tasks faster and better than with just your common sense. Methodologies are 12-step processes that you and your team are mandated to follow; methods, on the other hand, are tools in a kit that you pull out as needed based on your own judgment.

In manufacturing, consultants with a methodology who assess a factory always arrive at the same recommendations, like, “Draw Value Stream Maps and run Kaizen events.” What they should have done instead is immerse themselves in the business, technical, and human issues and recommend specific, ad-hoc solutions.

Methodologies work only when the goal is compliance with external mandates. A methodology will let you check all the boxes and be certified to ISO 9001, Class A ERP, or as a Lean Supplier. But there is no methodology that works every time to reduce lead times, enhance quality, or increase productivity. Everything you have learned to date has enriched your set of methods but there is no guarantee that it includes one that works for your current problems. You may have to invent new ones.

#Method, #Methodology, #Lean, #LeadTime, #Quality, #Productivity

6 comments on “Methods Yes, Methodologies No

  1. In English, methodology is a branch of philosophy which is the study of method.

    All of both method and methodology, according by DeMarco and Lister’s formulation, are what English calls methods. In the end they tell you what to do: they are a collection of recipes. Even a smart recipe doesn’t always work.

    That’s why I prefer pattern languages and frameworks. Even PRINCE-II, as a framework, is better than Kanban, which is a method: any subset of PRINCE-II is PRINCE-II. PRINCE-II is liberating; kanban is a tyrrany.

    • Wikipedia agrees with you that methodology is the study of methods. In the US, however, and in the manufacturing improvement literature in particular, I have never seen it used in this sense.

      • Michel — well, I’m from the U.S. originally. Further, Alistair Cockburn — another American — for years has been clarifying the use of this and related terms. What most people call “methodologists” with the intent of describing experts in a given method, Alistair I think calls “methodists”. Curiously enough, this well matches the foundations of the Methodist Church (which started in the UK) as extolling methods for life conduct.

        Anyhow, this is just nits. I think everyone knows what is intended in your piece. I just want to make space for the real methodologists to do their thing. They could add much value — but no one seems to listen to them. The methodists are still alive and well in agile, and another thing worth pointing out is how ironic that is. Both XP and kanban are methods; Scrum and DSDM are frameworks.

      • I just noticed that you wrote the foreword to Clean Code and teach Scrum at various locations in Europe. Are you familiar with Tom DeMarco’s work? If so, what do you think of it?

        Learning about Scrum, I confessed to being confused by the mixed metaphors, starting with “scrum” itself. I played rugby as a kid, and remember scrums involving two opposing teams. A scrum without an opposing team is like the sound of one hand clapping. Then you have scrum masters, pigs and chickens running sprints…

  2. Whether it is methodologies, methods, an anal retentive or rigidly structured boss, or some nonsensical mandates, if it causes you to cook-book the solution or otherwise put your mind in neutral, I would say it is long-term counterproductive. I agree you should ” immerse themselves in the business, technical, and human issues and recommend specific, ad-hoc solutions.” Otherwise let the mindless, and the cooks do the changes……and then good luck.
    Well said…..wish it was more listened to…

  3. Hi All,
    Interestingly, it seems that the notion of methodologies – particularly in terms of what they are and represent, how they can and ought to be leveraged, and why they are of value – is highly dependent upon where and how they’ve been encountered in one’s career/work experience…

    That said, I may be in a unique position, but my earliest experiences with methodologies caused me to view them not as inviolable/rigid approaches to accomplishing some targeted objective or desired outcome, but much more so as a structured guideline that’s capable of being flex/adapted to a particular situation or set of circumstances. And the more experienced one became with a particular methodology – and its attendant/embedded methods – the better one was able to modify/adapt and even evolve it.

    It was in this context, that the two-edged nature of methodologies became evident. In the hands of an inexperienced/novice user, a methodology provided a relative safeguard against getting “lost” or going “astray.” This worked especially well when it a particular methodology was applied in a KNOWN situation; that is, one in which the methodology had been previously employed and had demonstrated its viability in terms of efficiently and effectively pursuing and achieving the desired/targeted outcomes. In contrast, in situations that included a large measure of both KNOWN UNKNOWNS and potential UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS, strict adherence to a methodology was likely akin to the kiss of death. Ergo, in the hands of an experienced practitioner, as is the case for any tool or method, any methodology can be flexed and adapted on an as needed basis. The good news is, that the methodology provides the equivalent to a “stake-in-the-ground” reference point from which one is able to judge just how far away from a STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE one might be deviating. The secret to be proficient in one’s use of a methodology is knowing when, how, to what extent, and why to deviate from it.

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