Once upon a time, a friend of mine, he is PMP and CISA certified asking whether it is possible to have COBIT/PMBOK as PhD topics. He is expert in consulting (know the detail in real life world) and pragmatic (believe in practical framework like COBIT/PMBOK). He think that his experience working with what so called international standard best practice thing, would be useful, and would be an advantage.
My answers is as below:
1. You will never work with PMBOK / COBIT
In undergraduate you will use COBIT to perform IT assessment, you use COBIT. In master degree, you will use COBIT to review the IT assessment performance. But in PhD you will not use COBIT, in Phd you will criticize COBIT. Well if you think that criticize COBIT is against your belief (some consultant having a deep belief with framework), you will have difficulty. Why? because the purpose of PhD is building something better than COBIT -including testing that new framework. And, this is not easy.
If you always think that PMBOK / COBIT is always right, always on the top, always an ideal, utopia and dream. Now its the other way around. COBIT/practical standard has the lowest level of appreciation. Simply, its not peer reviewed, its like dogma.
2. You will work with Theory
If you are thinking that PMBOK has a weakness in interaction area e.g in Culture, then the things that you will be working with is Hofstede Culture Theory as the theoretical framework, not the ‘Culture’ experience you do with PMBOK in the field. If you think that PMBOK has a weakness in the area of implementation, you will work based on Sustainable Urban Theory.
It also goes with COBIT, instead studying COBIT e.g COBIT version 5 or Risk IT or any ISACA or IIA or ISO / BS standard, you will be studying about Governance Theory. Which is totally different things that the -again- what so called standard.
3. The way “research originality” concept work is different than “process improvement” concept
To strengthen this, the Theory is the epicentrum, center and core of PhD. Why? because theory provide a strong background, a falsifiability, a peer review. There is a huge difference between Theory (Culture/Urban/Governane and Standard (COBIT/PMBOK), as huge as difference between Theory (Thermodynamics) and Standard (V6 of BMW). The purpose of Thermodynamics Theory Research is to lead the discovery of Nuclear Energy, but the purpose of V6 Engine Standard Research is to build better V6 Engine or build better V8 Engine.
Theory lead to discovery, Standard lead to improvement, well both are good things.