Adaptive vs predictive project management

If you don’t have a plan or the right tools to execute your plan, your goal is just a wish!

No matter how good your team is, or how efficient your process definition is, if you are not managing the process with the right methodology and tools, you are setting yourselves up for an adventure – and eventual failure in meeting your process goals. One of the most common mistakes which project managers make is trying to follow a single project management strategy, irrespective of the project requirements and scope.

In a report by Clearcode, 49% of managers who developed projects with the Adaptive methodology were challenged mid-project, while 57% of managers were challenged by following the Predictive methodology.

 Post the dot com boom, agile (Adaptive) methodologies have seen many adopters compared to the conventional (Predictive) Waterfall methodology.

However, there is no single methodology that fits in every project, and in some cases, it may also require a blend of both for successful completion. Project managers should know how to strategize projects depending on the timeframe, budget, client’s requirements, and specifications. Continually working with a single strategy will improve the project managers’ and teams’ ability to implement the strategy efficiently and also improvise the whole development cycle. However, various project managers have reported that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the world of project management.

Below we have explained the differences between Predictive (Waterfall) and Adaptive (Agile) project management and how to win projects in the long run.

Predictive Project Management

The predictive methodology focuses on planning and analyzing the projected future in-depth for anticipated risks. Also known as the Waterfall method, this methodology relies on an early phase analysis and a detailed breakup of features and tasks for the entire development process. In this traditional model, you define standard timelines to complete tasks and dependencies between tasks. This also determines the critical path and a projected completion date. It becomes quite challenging to change the direction of the project if something goes wrong. Predictive teams don’t appreciate change, and often buffers are added to timelines to begrudgingly accommodate minor changes.

Waterfall Methodology

The predictive planning strategy uses milestones to control the entire process. It is a very rigid model since the tasks get activated when previous tasks are completed, and there is very little wiggle room with respect to dynamic resource allocation and scheduling. The objective is to complete the project as fast as possible. If all goes well, with this methodology everything happens just in time, with optimal utilization of resources. The predictive planning fails when there is a significant project specification change or modification and leads to project paralysis.

The Predictive methodology is one of the best methods for projects that have regular standards and no scope of change. The predictive method doesn’t entertain flexibility in development and is ideal for projects that have been fully explored on the conceptual level and now only need to be implemented correctly with performance.

The predictive methodology is highly appropriate for:

  • If the project is familiar to the team and they have worked on a similar project earlier also
  • The specifications of the project are not to be changed
  • The project team is large and remotely distributed
  • The project development process is documented and shared with all stakeholders
  • The project manager is not experienced with other project methodologies

The predictive methodology requires a sense of responsibility and an in-depth understanding of the project and technology. If somehow the project representatives are unable to educate the team project with exact information, the final product will not meet the requirements of the client and will lead to further changes, which can be time-consuming and incur more costs.

Adaptive Project Management

Also known as Agile methodology, adaptive project management caters to focusing on adapting quickly to changing scope and project reality. As with the waterfall model, with this methodology you still plan, schedule, identify key milestones and dependencies. But this model provides way more flexibility in the path to the end goal, which accommodates changing requirements along the way.

Agile Methodology

With this methodology, the team needs to have a different mindset, being open to working in shorter sprints and with short term goals. The development cycle is quite rapid and iterative. Adaptive teams are mission-focused and are clear about the work and tasks for the coming weeks, but not for the complete duration of the project.

In the Adaptive model, teams work backward from the desired completion date. Every task is defined along with its worst possible completion date and then clubbed with other tasks with similar timelines into sprints. Dependencies between every task will not necessarily be mapped out. This allows a more flexible model allowing for more wiggle room to adjust resources around and allows iterations due to innovation or scope change.

In this model, tasks may finish way ahead of time, and still the project completion date may stay put for other constraints. So the impetus here is more on quality and flexibility rather than speed.

The Agile methodology is popular for projects where clients’ demands and requirements change frequently. Though it may sound like a herculean task for the team, Agile is a faster approach compared to the Predictive project management strategy because of the flexibility of the timeline. By following an adaptive method, the final product may differ from the initial concept and make the overall journey more exploratory and innovative.

There are various steps in the agile technique, which generally include:

  • Project conceptualization breakdown and brainstorming sessions
  • Detailed planning and production of components of the project
  • Delivery of components for feedback from various stakeholders
  • Take feedback and implement changes into the project designs and update the goals
  • Production of project component under the redefined project parameters

Which kind of teams and companies use agile:

  • Projects which are ever-evolving and have an undetermined closing
  • Organizational teams which are quite flexible and adaptable to change
  • When the project team is lean and small
  • When the timeline is flexible
  • The company is in such an industry that is rapidly evolving.
  • The project manager is well experienced in agile methodology and can lead the team efficiently.

In organizations with larger teams, they can also be broken into subgroups and follow the Adaptive methodology in cohorts.

There are various strengths and weaknesses regarding both the project management strategies, and it requires a clear understanding of the project requirement to adhere to a specific methodology. In some cases, a combination of methodologies with multiple milestones in the development journey are more suited. A stage-gate process is typically employed in many product development organizations, where a blend of both methodologies is efficiently deployed – a more agile approach during the ideation and validation phases, and a more structured approach in the execution and launch phases.

When selecting a tool to manage your projects, tasks, collaboration, and reporting, you need the flexibility to accommodate the varied methodologies you employ to manage your goals. The requirements may vary for each stakeholder in the organization. Unified user experience is of utmost importance to drive adoption.

The Zvolv process automation platform lets you build apps to drive your process execution with the right blend of project management methodologies. Zvolv apps adapt to your process and methodology, not the other way around. With an array of project and task management tools, built-in form builder, intuitive visualizations with GANTT charts and timelines, advanced intelligence to make predictions and adapt your timelines and processes, and contextual dashboards to analyze and plan, Zvolv apps can be as simple or as in-depth as you need. Zvolv apps drive execution across the business process with virtualized mobile apps and web portals. As data gets more unified and structured, Zvolv empowers teams by making work exciting and meaningful. Drop a note at and let’s get going with your transformation journey!

Unleash the power of Zvolv for your business.

Connect your people, processes and systems with intelligent automation.