Method Or Methodology

Method or Methodology? It seems to depend on which dictionary you use.

Method is roughly synonymous with "procedure", a regular and systematic way of accomplishing something.

Methodology in WebstersAmericanDictionary comes out as 3 things: Methodology in the OxfordEnglishDictionary comes out only as which explains why British people tend to "correct" their American cousins for their Webster-style use of the word.


One American (AlistairCockburn) and two Brits (KeithBraithwaite and RichardDrake) haggled over this for a while. They found they could agree on the use of phrases such as They even agreed on the phrase The place they came out different was in They ended with an agreement to disagree on this last item (00-04-07).


AlistairCockburn's summary of the disagreement: Actually, I'm not insisting that "XP is a methodology". I'm insisting on the right of Americans to call it a methodology while Brits call it a method. I'm only tired of Brits insisting that Americans are wrong in using the American term. I use the American form since that is where I learned the business, but I wouldn't dream of insisting that Brits use the American term.

To me it amounts to discussing the "boot" vs. "trunk" of a car. To an American, it is obvious that a boot is what one puts on one's foot, and so the part of car that holds the baggage is the "trunk". To a Brit, it is equally obvious that a trunk is an elephant's nose, and so the part of the car that holds the baggage is the "boot". It doesn't matter how the words came to be that way, but if you start talking about boots and bonnets, I'll follow your conversation. If I refer to trunks and hoods, you'll follow mine. Ditto method and methodology.

Here is how I use the words (you need not use my vocabulary, only understand it). I save methodology to emphasize group communications and the interaction of principles, practices and procedures. A method, procedure, or technique deals mostly with one person doing the work. Hence, JSP is a method. XP is bigger than that. It contains a method for designing software, but it starts from values, and builds a set of practices, procedures, team structures and work products. On the way, it contains a method for project planning and another for developing the software. --AlistairCockburn

KeithBraithwaite's view: I'd say that, using the UK/Commonwealth definition, methodology is: how any person or group decides what they are going to do given the problem, what tools they are going to use to do whatever it is, and what criteria they will use to know if you did it right. Hopefully, they are thinking about these things all the time, but eventually these thoughts becomes as one with the thoughts they think while solving the actual problem.

The process of identifying and exploring the XP practices was methodology (Beck is methodologist shock! film at eleven...) XP is a method albeit unusually comprehensive, and unusually small. Like all methods it contains descriptions of a bunch of practices. I'd say that the PlanningGame is a practice. Like all methods, XP provides rules for using the practices. What XP doesn't contain is its own derivation. No method does. ExtremeProgrammingExplainedEmbraceChange does provide that derivation. It is both a manual of method and a record of a methodological argument.

I'd still say XP is a method though. In fact, it is a method in a strong sense since all the discussion of the interaction of principles, practices and procedures is long over before you start an XP project. On an XP project everyone is going to use these practices in this configuration, or else Ron will be scheduling a revival meeting (or inviting you to seek alternative employment). I'm using "Ron" in a generic sense here, any similarity to actual persons living or dead is unintentional.

RichardDrake's view: I'd prefer to say that JSP is a narrow but useful method (a compliment) and XP a very comprehensive but still useful method (an almost unique compliment). The person who has studied many methods, both in theory and practice, and advises which parts of which method to use in a particular project is a methodologist (one day, believe me, it'll be a compliment) and practices methodology.

This isn't a UK/US thing, it's a OnceAndOnlyOnce thing.

I agree with Keith. In both our usage, methods (and practices) can be composed into bigger, more comprehensive methods but never into a methodology. We don't need the -ology because method itself is quite capable of coping with the change of scale. That's what I mean by OnceAndOnlyOnce. Now we have the cool question: "what do we use methodology for then?". We do revert to the OxfordEnglishDictionary at this point. But for the non-racist reason that it's very useful to have a separate word for the study of methods (of all shapes and sizes). The irony for me is that you, Alistair, more than most, have studied different methods in practice as well as on paper - which in my view will one day be recognised as the key quality of the good methodologist. See also MethodologistsOfTheFuture.


A methodology is a method that has been to college.


BillBarnett: Is method what you are doing right now, and methodology is how you think about it when you're a bit removed from the problem? I'm reminded of stanza V from WallaceStevens?' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"

	I do not know which to prefer, 
	The beauty of inflections 
	Or the beauty of innuendoes, 
	The blackbird whistling 
	Or just after.
See http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/stevens-13ways.html


See also LessSyllablesMoreMeaning

CategoryMethodology

EditText of this page (last edited October 25, 2000) or FindPage with title or text search