Adaptive Project Management

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What is Adaptive project management?

Adaptive project management is a structured and systematic process that allows you to gradually improve your decisions and practices, by learning from outcomes of the decisions that you took at previous stages in the project. As the name suggests, project management process changes and adapts to the needs of the organization, ultimately boosting business value.

Adaptive Project Framework (APF) has a number of variations, with adjusting scope at each iteration. Robert K. Wysocki, the author of Adaptive Project Framework, says that APF is more like creating a recipe than following one. He also explains that project managers are in charge of the approach, meaning they need to understand the situation and adapt their approach and techniques.

Main characteristics of Adaptive Framework are:

  • Thrive on change
  • Learn from discovery
  • Client driven

What distinguishes APF from other methodologies is the fact that it places the client as the central figure who decides on project’s next step. Also, the client has the power to completely change project direction.

Why do we need Adaptive project management?

Traditional projects have a clear structure and a static strategy where project managers distribute tasks and keep the entire team under control. But the fast-paced technological advancements and ever-increasing demands of today’s market have changed project management in three key areas:

  • Strategy - it became more dynamic and difficult to predict
  • Work - the development of new technologies speeded up the pace of work
  • People - they work collaboratively and strive towards creating a real team culture

Taking all these changes into the account, it’s obvious that software development projects evolve as they go and that applying traditional project management would be futile.

Wysocki uses the analogy of a chef and a cook to explain the difference between the traditional and the adaptive project management: while a cook follows a recipe to the letter, a chef doesn’t only have the knowledge and experience to create a recipe but also the ability to improvise if something unexpected happens.

How was the idea of APM born?

During the 1970’s, two ecologists C.S. Holling and Carl J. Walters researched how to predict the fish stocks, which are dependent on a number of factors that can’t be controlled. As a result, they came up with adaptive project management, a method whose idea is “learning by doing”.

APM has become an integral part of project management methodologies, and most big corporations and environmental organizations are using it on their large-scale projects. It has become top methodology of environmental engineering and is used on some of the biggest projects worldwide (such as Everglades and Grand Canyon National Park).

How does APF work?

Adaptive project management processes (planning, execution, monitoring, control, and evaluation) can be:

Passive

Passive Adaptive Management allows you to apply important lessons that you’ve learned during the process to the current management approach. The information you obtain from one iteration you can then use on the following one. In this way, you can minimize all the uncertainties related.

Active

Active Adaptive Management enables you to determine the best management strategy by learning through experiments.

Here are the essential steps you need to take when implementing Active Adaptive Management:

  • Define a project strategy and make it flexible. This way, you’ll be able to reverse decisions if necessary. -Break your project plan into multiple iterations (phases).
  • Create a more detailed plan that will include a schedule and a list of risks for the next phase. Make sure you don’t make detailed plans for future iterations as you cannot predict all potential changes to the project.
  • Perform a quantitative risk analysis, which should help you determine what will happen with project schedule if a certain risks occur.
  • Execute one or more project scenarios and measure their results. Perform quantitative risk analysis again to gain a better insight into which risks actually occur and which ones don’t.

Traditional project management vs Adaptive project management

Future uncertainty prevents us from relying on traditional management, especially if we are involved in complex projects (eg. IT projects). Robert K Wysocki claims that traditional project methods are not applicable in such cases.

By using a traditional project management, you can achieve positive results only if you have a clearly defined goal and a reasonable solution. However, If your goals are not specific and may change as project progress, you should consider using adaptive project management.

Agile project management vs Adaptive project management

Agile project management was introduced to reduce complexity by breaking down ambitious and complex software development processes into smaller segments so you can make product changes even at later stages.

While Agile project management is mainly focused on the project organization, Adaptive PM takes it to another lever. Besides helping you organize your project more efficiently, it also gives you the ability to include quantitative analysis methods, which can help you:

  • Analyze model and test hypothesis
  • Measure the actual performance of the project
  • Analyze project risk

The core values of APF

Since the client is in the center of attention in APF, they are given an opportunity to control the direction of the entire project. According to Wysocki, this way of thinking is embodied in six core values of AFP:

  • Client focused - it helps you stay focused on your client’s needs as long as they are within the scope of ethical business practices
  • Client-driven - It allows you to include the client in your project and keep them meaningfully involved by having project co-managers Incremental results early and often - ADP enables you to deliver a workable solution to the client as early as possible and keep them meaningfully engaged in the project
  • Continuous Questioning and Introspection - refers to an openness and honesty that must exist between client team and development team in order to make the best decisions possible and deliver positive results
  • Change is the progress to a better solution - by working with deliverables from the early stages of the project, both the client team and the development team will get the big picture of what else can be done to improve results.
  • Don’t speculate on the future - APF strips out all non-value-added work. Although the APF team will always be tempted to achieve perfection, they must resist the temptation. It’s essential that your team doesn’t waste their time and money on guessing but instead focus on the work your client will benefit from.

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