Methodology is most commonly thought of as a system or set of methods used in a particular area of study.
In fact, a methodology refers to more than a simple set of methods. It also refers to the rationale and the philosophical assumptions that underlie a particular area of study. In particular, it often sheds light on ontological questions (i.e. what kinds of thing exist?) and epistemological questions (i.e. what kinds of thing do I know?).
When undertaking any complex activity involving groups of people, access to a methodology can be extremely useful, if not absolutely vital. Good methodologies suggest rather than instruct; exhort rather than demand; and provide options rather than closing off opportunities.
A methodology can (speaking positively) provide supporting structure and useful boundaries to a project, but can also (speaking negatively) provide constraining rigidity and forbidden no-go areas.
Different kinds of methodology are appropriate for different kinds of task. Multi-million pound construction projects will benefit from a different kind of methodology to a £10K website development project.
The Good, the Bad and the Methodological
In a number of different guises (information architect, user experience consultant, project manager and production director) I've learned (the hard way) that there are good ways of ensuring that a happy client has a successful project of which everyone can be justifiably proud.
I've also learned (the hard way) that there are bad ways of throwing together dull, pointless projects that are a waste of time and money and generate an awful lot of hot air and bad manners. And because I was - and generally am - motivated enough to care, I sought to integrate those hard-learned lessons into what I called a production methodology.
In my view, a production methodology is really nothing more complex than a collection of methods and techniques, suggestions and procedures, all following a timeline organised into a number of different stages, all with a specific purpose.
What do you think?