What is adaptive planning?

by Daniel J. Power
Editor, DSSResources.COM

Adaptive planning is a process and "capability to create and revise plans rapidly and systematically, as circumstances require." AP is a useful skill in an agile environment. Agile teams should produce and maintain an evolving plan, from initiation to closure, based upon goals, values, risks, constraints, stakeholder feedback, and a review of outcomes. Adaptive planning is agile planning and time boxing.

Adaptive Planning refers to planning and execution performed multiple times and for small slices or segments of a project. The subsequent planning activities take inputs from the previous slice of product delivered. The process continues until the project is completed and is essentially an empirical process. Decisions are made based on observation and experimentation rather than based on detailed upfront planning. Empirical process control relies on the three main ideas of transparency, inspection, and adaptation, cf.,

Planning occurs at multiple levels within an organization. At the strategic, long term planning level both forecast-driven and adaptive, iterative planning is useful. At the project management level, some formal, structured planning is required to determine project teams, overall project goals, and broad resource allocations. During a project, the project team should generally use adaptive planning.

Adaptive planning is an iterative process framework for organizing myriad information flows, analyses, issues and opinions that coalesce into strategic decisions. There are four stages to this process: 1) Situation Assessment the analysis of internal and environmental factors that influence business performance, combined with a comparison of past performance relative to objectives and expectations, 2) Strategic Thinking identification of key issues that have a major impact on performance and the generation of creative strategic options for dealing with each issue, 3) Decision making selection of strategic thrust, choices of options, and allocation of resources in light of mutually acceptable objectives, and 4) Implementation ongoing activities that translate strategic decisions into specific programs, projects, and near-term functional action plans. The process is iterative because the implementation phase will eventually be followed by a revised situation assessment, AMA Dictionary.

Adaptive planning starts with a Vision Statement that states clearly the purpose and value of the activity, new product, project or initiative. Although agile projects are not plan-driven, planning is an important activity and projects must be planned at multiple levels, including the strategic and iteration level. In adaptive, rolling wave planning or in the progressive elaboration method, the plan evolves as the project progresses. The plan is continuously modified, detailed, and improved as newer and improved information becomes available to the project management team. "In this method, projects are kicked off with limited available information, which is used to create a high-level plan and estimates. As details emerge later in the project, plans and estimates are constantly revised to ensure they remain valid and current." PMI ACP

Agile planning requires time boxes, chunks of work performed for a finite period of time. Timeboxing means setting a fixed time limit for an activity. A key principle is that the fixed time limit cannot be exceeded. Activities that are scheduled in a timebox, but are not completed or in some cases started are rescheduled to a later sprint planning period. A timebox can be set for any duration, but generally, all timeboxes or sprints for a project are of the same duration. PMI ACP

Warner (2005) explains "Evolving projects that face changing conditions are best suited for adaptive planning. Adaptive planning involves breaking a project into small components over an undetermined timeline to allow ultimate flexibility in directing the course of the project."

Predictive planning for traditional plan-driven projects and strategies is sometimes appropriate, but freezing goals and requirements for an entire project or a planning horizon is increasingly challenging and inappropriate. Adaptive planning starts with a general direction and then feedback from results is used to alter and refine plans and the backlog of needs and requirements is updated. Computerized decision support and analytics can assist with adaptive planning.


AMA Dictionary, American Marketing Association, check URL

Author Unknown, "Adaptive Planning," Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Counterintelligence and Security Center at URL

"Empirical Process Control," at URL

Eriksson, J., "Scrum: An empirical process," blog, August 19, 2009 at URL

PMI ACP tutorial," PMI-ACP Certification course offered by Simplilearn at URL

Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), "Progressive Elaboration," at URL and "Definitions" at URL

Warner, E., "Adaptive vs. Predictive: Is the end clear?" idea Blog, December 2, 2005 at URL

Last update: 2019-07-01 06:45
Author: Daniel Power

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