One of the main reasons why you need an adaptive approach is because development projects are carried out in complex, non-linear, and unpredictable environments, and that the goal of the project is not simply completion but rather the satisfaction of various and diverse stakeholders. If there is a change in the environment, if new information arises, if the assumptions behind the project are proven false, then the project must be able to adapt to the new environment. Otherwise, the project cannot finish on time and on budget, and will be a total failure. A key distinction is that in traditional (or predictive) project management, the manager checks for deviations from the plan and corrects to stay on the plan, but in adaptive project management the manager checks for changes in the general context of the project and changes the plan to fit accordingly.
The project manager can design a series of sub-cycles to help reduce risks and manage the complexity of a changing environment. These sub-cycles can occur at specific milestones or intervals in the projects. The graph shows how these sub-cycles occur during the life of the project. Each sub-cycle is a process of planning, doing, checking, and adapting the project for the next cycle.
Using a cyclical approach is a structured and systematic process for continually improving the project based on the learnings from the outcomes of actions previously taken. It looks at each cycle as a learning cycle to understand what went wrong, what went right, and the changes that are needed to make in order to improve the next cycle. The information obtained from each cycle of the project can be used in subsequent iterations. This way, risks and uncertainties associated with each cycle, can be significantly reduced. It is important to remember the following concepts:
- Projects are not linear
- Initial assumptions are never accurate
- Every project is a learning environment
- Change happens
Do all projects need this approach? If you are simply delivering products or services, the environment is simple and static, and the project doesn’t have major risks or critical assumptions, then an adaptive project management approach may not be so necessary. In these type of projects, the project managers’ responsibility is simply to finish the planned scope on time and under budget.
If you want to learn more, join the next session of the online course: Adaptive Project Management for Development Organizations and NGOs. https://www.pm4dev.com/elearn/ecourses/eapm.html