Approach, philosophy or methodology?


Chris HOHMANN – Author

We hear and read them often in relation with our preferred body of knowledge*, among which Theory of Constraints, Lean and Six Sigma are the most popular: the terms “approach”, “philosophy” and “methodology”.

I wonder if people use them purposely or as synonyms and I prick up my ears each time an expert explains Theory of Constraints (ToC), Lean and Six Sigma is not this or not that.

Paying utmost attention to the sense of words, especially in English which isn’t my mother tongue, I decided to make some research of my own about what is what and when to use it.

A chose the Macmillan online dictionary and found this:

  • Approach (noun): a particular way of thinking about or dealing with something
  • Philosophy: a system of beliefs that influences someone’s decisions and behaviour. A belief or attitude that someone uses for dealing with life in general
  • Methodology: the methods and principles used for doing a particular kind of work, especially scientific or academic research

No surprise, these terms are not synonyms. Yet there is a certain relationship that I see as concentric circles:

Philosophy as a system of beliefs and knowledge provides a global influential framework. Approach is a focused way to deal with something, largely influenced by the philosophy. Consistently, the proper Methodology helps Approach dealing with something by providing methods and tools.

Philosophy is more about abstraction and knowledge, thinking and attitude while Methodology is action focused. Approach is somewhat in between and links Philosophy to methods and tools, or thinking and attitude to doing and action, if you will.

Fine, so what are ToC, Lean and Six Sigma for example?

Well, for me first they are systems of beliefs backed by tangible proofs and knowledge. They influence my way of thinking and consider things. When I have to deal with a situation, an issue, I am influenced by this system and it formats they way I will approach it. Of course I will use the methods and tools ToC, Lean and Six Sigma provide in a certain way**, which is my approach.

**Using ToC, Lean and Six Sigma in combination or synergy is referred to as “TLS

So to answer the question what are ToC, Lean and Six Sigma, my answer is they are what you make them! They can be either Philosophy, Approach or Methodology or a combination of the three.
Therefore, in my opinion, nobody is wrong using any of these words as qualifiers, but the choice should be made with care for the sake of clarity.

Assuming only few people really pay attention to the meaning of the words, I think most people use them alternatively as synonyms. I dare ask what they mean if I feel necessary to clarify.

Adding to the confusion with Body of Knowledge and Paradigm

Sometimes we also come across Body of Knowledge and Paradigm. What do these words mean?

A *body of knowledge (BOK or BoK) is the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a professional domain (
BoK is shared and accepted by a community while a philosophy can remain personal.

Paradigm is a formal set of ideas that are used for understanding or explaining something, especially in a particular subject. It is a windows through which watch things or a prism through which seeing and understanding something.

“Prism” is purposely chosen as the point of view can be biased or distorted.

Best example is probably the world of cost paradigm vs. world of throughput paradigm, where the proponents of the second see the biases of the cost paradigm.

About The Author, Chris HOHMANN

About The Author, Chris HOHMANN

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4 thoughts on “Approach, philosophy or methodology?

  1. Pingback: TOC or Lean or SS are they an approach, philoso...

  2. Pingback: Approach, philosophy or methodology? | Theory o...

  3. I agree on this contribution, tahta clarifies some misunderstandings. In my experience i can say that, whilst Lean and TOC are more phlisophy based, Six sigma can be viewed as a methology, in most of cases. I’d like to hear from you. Best regards. Giuseppe Lovecchio


  4. Hi Chris,
    I commented on your model on the LinkedIn site and it keeps coming back to me as a useful tool for anyone who does anything larger than task work. it is the basis of all Continuous improvement.

    One thing that as I revisited the article that I noticed is that Philosophy is pointing to Attitude/Thinking. I would argue the if Methodology is pointing toward Action and Doing, the outcome of a method, that Philosophy should point toward Rationality and Integration. All of the improvement programs out there are teaching leaders to integrate more phenomena in their model to solve for the larger problem in more meaningful ways. I would have used the word Truth but that seems to be the destination rather than the means.

    Thank you again for the excellent brain food.


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