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In some companies things are just happening without any kind of idea behind it all – they usually live a quiet life.

In most companies, however, some kind of philosophy is behind management’s decisions – often more than one, and they are often replaced. It is easy to believe that a new philosophy is really the Philosopher’s Stone, which will solve all problems for the company.

A broad selection of philosophies

During times a huge amount of such philosophies have seen the light – and most of them quickly went back into the darkness, but only after having havoced a long line of companies. They are not all that bad. Some are helping and improving.

These philosophies are also called management models and in a book of these, “Key Management Models” by Marcel van Assen, Gerben van den Berg and Paul Pietersma, more than 60 such models are listed and briefly described. There are big and small models there, from SWOT-analysis to Lean thinking, Six sigma and Kaizen/Gemba. The continuous improvement model PDCA is also included.

And still – after describing so many models, there are still some missing: CMMI, BPR, ISO 9001, ITIL, COBIT, and Agile, just to mention a few. So this is a big, big world!

A broad selection of words

There is some confusion in terminology: philosophy, model, framework, methodology, method, tool, technique, are all used for more or less the same things.

If I should try to sort this out a bit, I would say that a philosophy is a way of thinking, a framework or methodology is a toolbox of methods and tools, a method or technique is a procedure, and a tool is anything that will directly help perform a task. So many methods are tools and vice verca. A model is a simplification of something, or a template, so it covers most of the other meanings apart from non-dogmatic philosophies (like zen buddhism) and non-method tools (like a hammer).

Often a description of one of them is really a mixed description: as an example, the book “Managing Succesful Projects with PRINCE2” by The Office of Government Commerce (OGC), which is the official reference guide to the method, describes the method (and defines it as such) but it also describes a philosophy (the seven principles) and some tools and techniques, for instance MoSCoW and a responsibility assignment matrix (PRA, not RACI).

Lean thinking is a philosophy – it consists of five principles and about seven wastes, and that is more or less it. Everything else described as Lean belongs to the toolbox – or are philosophies in their own right, like continuous improvement could be: how to categorize it is very much a matter of personal preference.

Agile is a philosophy too, relying on methodologies like Scrum.

Project Management could be called a philosophy as well, and to some it is a very dogmatic one, executed through a methodology like PMBoK or a method like PRINCE2. On the other hand, Project Management could also be seen as simply managing a project, based on any philosophy.

But, honestly, it usually doesn’t matter if something is really a philosophy or not – if an organization decides to use it, then it is there and must be known and taken into account. And more often than not it must be mixed with or used in parallel with many other philosophies, models, etc.

The use of tools

A lot of tools and models are used with, and thereby shared between, different frameworks and philosophies and do not belong to any one of these. In its pure form a philosophy should not be connected with any particular tools, but often people see them as connected – so Lean is seen to “have” the tools PDCA, 5 Whys, 5S, A3, and more, while all of these are in fact both replaceable with other tools and at the same time being seen as belonging to other philosophies as well.

It could be argued that any tool that fits a philosophy can be used with it.

5 Responses to Philosophy

  1. Pingback: Change is a direction – not a goal | The No Crisis Blog

  2. Alex Jones says:

    I support natural philosophy, i.e if it is good enough for nature, it is good enough for me and my business.

    • Interesting! Does this mean that natural philosophy applies to all thing, natural or not, or does it rather mean that you and your business are somehow more natural?

      • Alex Jones says:

        Natural philosophy in my opinion should apply to all things. Business for instance talks about sustainability, a philosophy that equally applies to nature as well as business.

  3. I agree, Alex – sustainable value, maintaining harmony, accepting change. It all fits well together for an organization with the wish to survive as such.

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