Reinventing Project Management
The Adaptive Diamond Approach

What is Adaptive Project Management - A Better Way to Manage

In this book we developed a new approach and a new formal model to help managers understand what project management is all about. We call it the Adaptive Project Management approach. Fortunately, it is easy to implement the adaptive approach on top of the traditional techniques used by companies.

According to the adaptive approach, projects are not just a collection of activities that need to be completed on time. Instead, projects are business related processes that must deliver business results.

Our model considers the strategic as well as the tactical aspects of project performance in the short and the long term, and it considers the points of view of different project stakeholders, including customers and businesses. The main differences between the traditional approach and the adaptive approach to project management are presented in the table below. 

From traditional to adaptive project management


Traditional project management

Adaptive project management

Project goal

Getting the job done on time, on budget, and within requirements

Getting business results, meeting multiple criteria

Project plan

A collection of activities that are executed as planned to meet the triple constraint

An organization and a process to achieve the expected goals and business results


Plan once at project initiation

Plan at outset and replan when needed

Managerial approach

Rigid, focused on initial plan

Flexible, changing, adaptive

Project work

Predictable, certain, linear, simple

Unpredictable, uncertain, nonlinear, complex

Environment effect

Minimal, detached after the project is launched

Affects the project throughout its execution

Project control

Identify deviations from plan, and put things back on track

Identify changes in the environment, and adjust the plans accordingly


All projects are the same

Projects differ

Management style

One size fits all

Adaptive approach; one size does not fit all

Once adopted, the new model will affect the planning and execution of projects and will focus everyone’s attention on more than just meeting time and budget goals. Specifically, the new success criteria involve at least five dimensions (or metrics):

  • Project efficiency: meeting time and budget goals
  • Impact on the customer: meeting requirements and achieving customer satisfaction, benefits, and loyalty
  • Impact on the team: satisfaction, retention, and personal growth
  • Business results: return on investment, market share, and growth
  • Preparation for the future: new technologies, new markets, and new capabilities

To address differences among projects, we present a diamond-shaped model to help managers distinguish among projects according to four dimensions: novelty, technology, complexity, and pace (NTCP). If you think of the diamond as a baseball field, then each dimension can be seen as a base, and each base represents three or four possible project types.

The four bases of the diamond are defined as follows:

  • Novelty. This base represents the uncertainty of the project’s goal, the uncertainty in the market, or both. It measures how new the project’s product is to customers, users, or to the market in general and thus how clear and well defined the product requirements are. Novelty includes three types of products: derivative, platform, and breakthrough.
  • Technology. This base represents the project’s level of technological uncertainty. It is determined by how much new technology is required. Technology includes four types: low-tech, medium-tech, high-tech, and super-high-tech.
  • Complexity. This base measures the complexity of the product, the task, and the project organization. Complexity includes three types: assembly, system, and array.
  • Pace. This base represents the urgency of the project—namely, how much time there is to complete the job. Pace includes four types: regular, fast (or competitive), time-critical, and blitz.

DiamEach dimension affects project management in its own way. Novelty affects the time it should take to freeze project requirements and theaccuracy and reliability of marketing data. Technology affects how long it should take to get the design right and freeze it, the intensity of the technical activities, and the technical skills required by the project manager and team. Complexity affects the project organization and the level of bureaucracy and formality needed to manage it. Pace affects the planning and reviews, the autonomy of the project team, and the involvement of top management, particularly in the most urgent projects.

As an illustration, consider how the diamond analysis can help us understand the failure of the Denver International Airport project:

Denver International Airport was conceived as a typical, although complex, construction project. As is common in construction projects, its technology level can be classified as low-tech. If you look at the diamond’s four dimensions, you will conclude that the project was managed as a platform, low-tech, array, fast/competitive project. But the automatic bag-handling system was a different kind of project. It required a totally new technology that had never been applied on such a large scale. That part of the program was really a platform, high-tech, system, fast/competitive project, but it was managed just like all other components.

Note: you can download a diamond-charting spreadheet here fdfd Cese studies