Are Scrum and the PMBOK Guide considered frameworks or methodologies?

Many people familiar with the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide are of the view that the guide is a methodology. Scrum, the popular agile framework, is viewed similarly. It is a common misconception that this article will clarify. It is important to know the meaning of the terms methodology, framework, and theory and how these constructs relate to each other because understanding the meaning facilitates the understanding of their purpose.

Remington and Pollack (2011) position this relationship as hierarchical. A theory may be implemented by multiple methodologies, which in turn may be practiced through the use of multiple tools and techniques. This would then place the theory at the top of the hierarchy. Theories provide the philosophical rationale for the underlying methodologies. Remington and Pollack (2011) provide an example of complexity theory as being the set of models and prescriptive descriptions of how complex systems behave.

For a theory to be useful it must be testable. Kivunja (2018) asserted that theories also need to explain, and therefore predict, behavior. It needs a clear definition of its variables and boundaries (i.e., where it applies and does not apply). 

 Remington and Pollack (2011) describe methodologies as being the logic that enables one to construct a method through the use of tools and techniques. WebFinance Inc. (n.d.) within the describes a methodology as a set of practices, principles, and rules upon which specific methods and procedures may be used to interpret and solve problems.

Complicating the definition of a methodology is the concept of a framework. The definition of both methodology and framework sometimes gets blurred. Collabnet (n.d.), the maker of the Agile tool VersionOne, defines Scrum as being both. Their website states, “Scrum is an agile project management methodology or framework…” (Collabnet, n.d.). Yet the Scrum Guide defines Scrum only as a framework (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2017). Draffin (2010) emphasizes that there is a distinction between frameworks and methodologies. Frameworks are not prescriptive. They provide a model for understanding what needs to be accomplished and which artifacts are produced. A framework does not provide details on how to achieve this, however. A methodology will provide such detail. 

For example, Draffin (2010) noted that the waterfall lifecycle is a framework. It begins with analysis but does not prescribe how to do the analysis. A methodology will prescribe how analysis is done, and the Rational Unified Process (RUP) is provided as an example of such a prescriptive methodology. RUP clearly describes the steps needs to achieve the required artifacts in the analysis and follow-on phases. He explains why the distinction between framework and methodology is important. If a project team is using Scrum (a framework), the team will make different choices and use different tools and techniques than another project also using Scrum. Therefore, there will be a lack of consistency between the two. It is important to understand this difference then, between framework and methodology, if the goal is to provide consistency across projects. For such a goal, a common methodology is what the management should pursue.

Draffin’s (2010) concept of a framework being a model is also shared by Wysocki (2014, p.40), who referred to traditional project management (TPM), agile project management (APM), extreme project management (xPM), and emertxe project management (MPx) as models.

Tools and techniques will help solve the problem that an associated methodology was designed for. Remington and Pollack (2011) note that tools and techniques involve a series of clearly delineated steps with a well-defined purpose. Methods, in turn, are derived from a system of tools and techniques. It is the method that results in the practical output of the methodology. For projects, it is the employment of the methods that will result in the product or service that the project was designed to create. However, that this occurs at all is dependent to a degree on the selection of the right methodologies, tools, and methods that are appropriate for the type and complexity of the project. Wysocki (2014) advised that the project characteristics should determine the appropriate model, or framework, to choose. He believes that the selection of inappropriate models has been a contributor to a high rate of failure.


Theories, methodologies, tools, techniques, and methods are related and  Remington and Pollack (2011) demonstrate how they form a pyramid. Frameworks and models are another concept that enters into this equation with the clarification that the majority of what we may be calling methodologies (ex. scrum, waterfall) are actually frameworks (or models). The framework selection should be dependent on the function of the project complexity, as the agile-oriented models are designed to work well with uncertainty and directional complexity while traditional methods are not as capable. Once the model is selected a specific methodology, which delineates the process and procedures should be designed to work within that model. Tools and techniques designed to work within the methodology become a logical selection process. For example, RCF is used with Monte Carlo and stochastic methods to account for the range of possibilities in cost or schedule estimates. These are more suited for complex projects where single-point estimates would not be adequate.

Note: This article was adapted from coursework submitted to Capella University in 2020.


Collabnet (n.d.). What is scrum methodology? Retrieved from

Draffin, A. (2010, April 7). Methodology vs framework: why waterfall and agile are not methodologies. Retrieved from

Kivunja, C. (2018, December 3). Distinguishing between theory, theoretical framework, and conceptual framework: a systematic review of lessons from the field. International Journal of Higher Education, 7(6), 44.

Liu, H., Jiang, C., Liu, Y., Hertogh, M. J. C. M., & Lyu, X. (2018). Optimism bias evaluation and decision-making risk forecast on bridge project cost based on reference class forecasting: Evidence from china. Sustainability, 10(11), 3981. 

Remington, K. & Pollack, J. (2011). Tools for complex projects. In Cooke-Davies et al., Aspects of complexity: Managing projects in a complex world. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Schwaber, K. & Sutherland, J. (2017, November). The Scrum Guide. Retrieved from

WebFinance Inc. (n.d.). Methodology. Retrieved from

Wysocki, R. K. (2014). Effective project management: traditional, agile, extreme (7th ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Wiley.

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