Adaptive Project Framework (APF)

Adaptive Project Framework (APF) - Toolshero

Adaptive Project Framework (APF): this article provides a practical explanation of the Adaptive Project Framework (APF). The article starts with the definition of this method and a basic explanation. This is followed by an in-depth analysis of the steps that make up this project management approach, practical tips, and a real-world example. Enjoy reading!

What is the Adaptive Project Framework (APF)?

Peter Drucker once said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Yet companies and project managers often stick to old customs and working methods. Objectives are adjusted so that the process can remain unchanged, rather than the process being adjusted in response to the objectives.

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The definition of Adaptive Project Framework

The Adaptive Project Framework (APF) can be defined as a project management method that aims to add flexibility, adaptability and iterative development to complex projects. It has been specially developed to tackle the biggest challenges faced by large projects.

Origin of the APF

Jim Highsmith is credited with developing APF. Jim Highsmith is an American software engineer who presented the model in 1990 as a response to the limitations of traditional project management. He believed that the traditional approach to PM did not fit the reality that projects are often complex and have to endure changes, even after the project has started. He therefore introduced the more flexible APF.

A book explaining APF as an approach is “Adaptive Project Framework: Managing Complexity in the Face of Uncertainty” by Robert K. Wysocki.

The Adaptive Project Framework is partly based on the principles of Agile Project Management. Agile is focused on collaboration, iterative development and continuous feedback. APF is different from Agile in that it focuses more on project planning and project design. The method is also more structured than Agile.

A characteristic of APF is that projects are divided into a series of iterative cycles. Each of these cycles focuses on delivering a specific set of features or functionality to the final product. The project team works closely with stakeholders throughout the project, seeking as much feedback as possible to ensure the final product meets the end user’s needs.

In summary, APF is a flexible and adaptable project management approach suitable for complex projects and projects that are unpredictable in nature.

What are the benefits of using the Adaptive Project Framework?

  • APF uses iterative, adaptive cycles, enabling projects to be completed more quickly and efficiently
  • APF is flexible and can be easily adapted to changing requirements and circumstances
  • APF promotes collaboration and communication between team members and stakeholders, increasing the likelihood of success
  • APF enables the collection of feedback from customers and stakeholders, which can be used to refine project scope and increase customer value
  • APF can save costs by preventing delays and project cost overruns

The 5 phases of the Adaptive Project Framework

The APV is a flexible approach to project management, consisting of five phases:

  1. Project scope
  2. Cycle plan
  3. Cycle build
  4. Client checkpoint
  5. Final review

Below we take a closer look at each of the five phases.

1. Project scope

This first phase of the APF, project scope, is aimed at defining the overall scope of the project. This includes:

  1. Understanding the business objectives and requirements of the project
  2. Identifying the stakeholders
  3. Defining the goals, objectives and success criteria of the project

The project scope stage lays the foundation for the entire project and provides a clear understanding of what the project is to achieve and the parameters it must operate with.

An important part of this is the development of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), often included in project management software. A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a hierarchical overview of the tasks that must be performed during the project.

2. Cycle Plan

In this phase of cycle planning, the project team develops a plan for each cycle or iteration of the project. This phase consists of at least:

  1. Defining the specific functions and capabilities to be delivered in each cycle. This is done from a Work Breakdown Structure
  2. Drawing up a detailed plan for the cycle
  3. Identifying the resources needed to complete the cycle

The cycle plan phase also includes establishing communication channels and processes, as well as establishing the criteria that will be used to evaluate the success of the cycle.

3. Cycle Build

The phase of cycle building is aimed at carrying out the plan developed in the phase of cycle planning. This includes designing, building, testing, and deploying the features and capabilities identified for that cycle.

The cycle build phase follows the principles of the Agile methodology, where the project team collaborates and uses an iterative approach to development. The team continuously monitors progress, issues and risks, and adjustments are made if necessary and implemented immediately.

In summary, this phase consists of the following activities:

  1. Monitoring and adjusting the cycle build
  2. Ending the cycle at the right time
  3. Planning incomplete functions and functionalities
  4. Keeping track of all changes and ideas for improvement

4. Client checkpoint

The client checkpoint phase is an important part of the Adaptive Project Framework because it collects stakeholder feedback on the features and capabilities developed in the cycle build phase.

The team will demonstrate the completed work to stakeholders, gather feedback and make necessary adjustments as needed.

This feedback is used to inform the development of subsequent cycles.

5. Final review

This phase of final review is aimed at closing the project and conducting a final review. The phase includes at least:

  1. Reviewing the project goals, objectives and success criteria to ensure they have been achieved
  2. Conducting a final evaluation of project performance
  3. Identify any lessons that can be applied to future projects

The team will also archive project documentation and make any necessary financial transactions associated with the project.

Tips for effective use of an Adaptive Project Framework

Here are some tips for using the Adaptive Project Framework in an easy way:

Clearly define what you want to achieve with the project

Before you start planning the project, it is important to clearly define what exactly you want to achieve. Write down the objectives of the project and make sure they are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound).

Make a plan for each cycle

The APF consists of several cycles, each involving a certain amount of work. Make a plan for each cycle and make sure that the plan is realistic and takes into account the available time, resources and budget.

Work closely with the customer

The APF emphasizes the importance of working with the client throughout the project. It is important to have regular contact with the client and collect feedback to ensure the project stays on track and meets the client’s expectations.

Stay flexible

The word ‘adaptive’ in APF means that the framework is flexible and can be adapted to changing circumstances. It is important to be open to change and address it when necessary. Avoid tunnel vision and keep innovating.

Evaluate the project afterwards

At the end of the project, there should be an evaluation to see what went well and what can be improved. This can help to make future projects even more successful and to use time and resources even better.

Real-world scenario example

Consider the following Adaptive Project Framework example.

In the mid-2000s, software development company Innov8 struggled to complete projects on time and within budget. The company primarily used a traditional Waterfall approach to project management. This method requires a lot of planning and offers limited possibilities to adapt due to changing environmental factors.

Motivated to address these shortcomings, the company decided to use the Adaptive Project Framework (APF).

They started by dividing their projects into smaller, iterative cycles, which allowed them to deliver value to the customer faster and collect feedback that could be used to refine the project scope.

Now the company could better collaborate with stakeholders and the team could identify problems and opportunities for improvement at an early stage. This helped them make course changes and keep the project on track.

APF also made the team more flexible and able to respond to project scope changes. This helped them to avoid delays and extra costs.

By implementing the APF, the software development company was able to improve their delivery times and reduce costs while continuing to deliver high quality products to their customers. The company also saw improvements in team collaboration.

The example above demonstrates well how the APF can be valuable in the real world. The approach is especially suitable for projects that are complex and subject to change.

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Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation about the Adaptive Project Framework (APF)? Does your work environment use this approach for PM? What other approaches to project management are you familiar with? Do you have tips or comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Cao, L., Mohan, K., Xu, P., & Ramesh, B. (2009). A framework for adapting agile development methodologies. European Journal of Information Systems, 18(4), 332-343.
  2. Qureshi, M., & Kashif, M. (2017). Adaptive Framework to Manage Multiple Teams Using Agile Methodologies. International Journal of Modern Education & Computer Science, 9(1).
  3. Tydeman, J. (2012). Toward Adaptive Project Management. Strategic Project Portfolio Management: Enabling a Productive Organization, 141-151.
  4. Wysocki, R. K. (2010). Adaptive project framework: managing complexity in the face of uncertainty. Addison-Wesley Professional.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2023). Adaptive Project Framework (APF). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 08/30/2023 | Last update: 08/30/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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