How to implement adaptive project management methods

As you will learn during any project manager course, adaptive project management is a systematic and structured process, allowing the project manager to slowly improve on their practices and decisions. This is done by learning from the outcomes of decisions made during the earlier stages of the project. Under this method, the processes of a project are adapted and changed to fit the requirements of the organisation. This is something that can boost the value of the business.

The Adaptive Project Framework (APF) provides several variations that have adjusting scope for each version. APF has often been referred to as not following a recipe but creating one of your own. This is a process that the project manager themselves is very much in charge of, and therefore it is important that they fully understand the situation in order to be able to adapt their techniques and approach.

How to implement adaptive project management methods

ADF’s main characteristics are:

  •   It thrives on change
  •   You learn from discovery
  •   It is client-driven

The big difference between APF and other forms of methodology is that the central figure is the client, and it is they who make the next step in the project. They also have the power to change the direction of the project. 

What is the importance of Adaptive project management?

In a traditional project, there is a structure that is clear and a strategy that is static, the project manager hands out the tasks and is in charge of the team. However, as a result of advances in fast-paced technology and the increasingly demanding market, project management has changed in three key areas:

  • Strategy – this is now more dynamic and therefore difficult to predict
  • Work – development of new technologies has increased the pace of work
  • People – work collaboratively and towards creating a real team culture

When all of these are considered, it is important to remember that software development projects, for example, evolve as they go, and this means that more traditional project management, like those you will cover in APM, PMP and PRINCE2 training, will not work. For the most part, the project manager needs to be able to improvise on the project when something unexpected occurs.

How did the idea of APM come about?

APM dates back to the 1970s when two ecologists were researching fish stocks and how to predict them, and realised there were several factors that could not be controlled. This led to them coming up with the idea of adaptive project management, the idea of which is “learning by doing”.

APM has become an important methodology in project management with most large corporations using it for larger scale projects. It is also the top methodology for environmental engineering.

How does it work?

The processes of APM (planning, execution, monitoring, control, evaluation) can be:


Passive adaptive management applies important lessons learnt during the current management approach. Any information that is gained during the iteration can be used for the next one and this can help to reduce all related uncertainties.


Active adaptive management allows the project manager to choose the best management strategy as a result of learning through experimenting. There are some important steps that need to be taken in order to implement this:

  •   Begin by defining a project strategy, then make it flexible. This allows for the reversal of decisions when necessary.
  •   Break the project plan into several phases.
  •   Make a plan that is more detailed, include a schedule, and compile a list of risks for your next stage. This shouldn’t plan too far into the future because it is not possible to predict every possible change to the project.
  •   Do a quantitative risk analysis. This will allow you to determine how the project schedule will pan out if certain risks take place.
  •   Run through one of more project scenarios and then measure the results.

Perform your quantitative risk analysis again in order to gain a greater insight into which risks might occur and which won’t.

The traditional approach vs the adaptive approach

Traditional management cannot be relied on when it comes to future uncertainties, particularly when it comes to complex projects. When traditional methods are used you can only achieve positive results if you have a goal that is clearly defined and a solution that is reasonable. When you have non specific goals that might change across the progression of your project, the adaptive project method may be more appropriate.

Agile project management or adaptive project management?

The Agile methodology was introduced in order to reduce complexity. It does this by breaking down the complex and ambitious development processes of software development into smaller tasks, so that product changes can be made at any point including towards the end of a project.

The main focus of project management is organisation. Adaptive project management takes it up a notch. In addition to helping you make your project more efficient, it also allows you to use quantitative analysis methods, and these can help you to:

  • Analyse models and then test hypotheses
  • Measure the actual performance of your project
  • Analyse your project risk

The core values of any Adaptive project framework (APF)

With APF, the client is the centre of attention, this means that they are given the chance to direct the project. There are several core values that can be used to embody this in APF:

  • Client-focused – this allows you to remain focused on the needs of the client as long as they are within the scope of business practises that are ethical
  • Client-driven – this allows you to include the client in the project, ensuring they are meaningfully involved as a result of having project co-managers
  • Continuous Questioning and Introspection – there need to be honesty and openness between client and development team so that best decisions are made, and positive results delivered
  • Change is the progress for a better solution – working with any deliverables from the beginning of the project, the client team and development team get to see the bigger picture which will help them see where to improve results.
  • Don’t speculate on the future – APF removes all non-value-added work. Whilst the APF team will always strive to achieve perfection, it is important to resist the temptation. Money and time should not be wasted on guessing but rather focused on the work that will benefit the client.