Adaptability and Resiliency – PMBOK 3.11

“Build adaptability and resiliency into the organization’s and project team’s approaches to help the project accommodate change, recover from setbacks, and advance the work of the project.” PMBOK pg. 55

In my 20+ project management career, I can truly think of only ONE project that went to plan and had no issues. It was a month long and a small application enhancement. Otherwise, every project had an issue at some point. How you deal with it is critical to project success.

PMBOK defines Adaptability as the ability to respond to changing conditions, and Resiliency as absorbing the impact and ability to recover quickly from a potential setback. A project professional needs to have both adaptability and resiliency to be successful. Though the definitions are different, I also believe they go hand-in-hand.

Let me give you an example of adaptability and resiliency. I was the program manager for a merger & acquisition (M&A) integration. Because this was a publicly traded company, there were certain promises made to the board and shareholders, including having the acquired company integrated into the parent company by the first of the upcoming year.

After doing some initial planning, the project leadership team estimated we had 14 months worth of integration work. The challenge is we had six months to get it done! After a heart to heart with the executive steering committee about what the definition of “integrated by 1/1” meant, we marched forward.

The first obstacle we hit; loss of SME’s to voluntary and mandatory attrition. Because we didn’t know whose time was up or who was leaving on their own, as soon as a SME was engaged, we required them to write down the key functions they perform and systems they interact with. This helped, especially during the early stages of the project when a lot of personnel movements were taking place. Thankfully our team was able to adapt and stay resilient during a trying time.

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The second obstacle; really old systems to integrate. On the surface, the integrations looked straight forward enough. Both companies used the same core applications. The problem was, the acquired company was SOOOOO far behind on their updates, many applications were no longer supported by the vendors. Because we had anticipated something like this happening, we immediately pulled in partners who were on standby and got to work right away. Yes, this hurt our schedule, but the team stayed flexible and bounced back.

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The thing about adaptability and resiliency is you can talk about it with your project teams and try to envision all the scenarios of what could go wrong. But until you’re smacked in the head with it and learn from experience, it’s a hard aspect to teach. Adaptability and resiliency can be used in our personal lives too. As an ultra racer, I know at the start line something will suck during the day, but press on knowing I can handle it.

No project is without issues. Whether you envision them during the planning phases or not, when the inevitable happens, adapt to the situation and stay resilient. Help lead your team through the trying moments and keep them moving toward the ultimate goal. Good luck!

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Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (7th ed.). Project Management Institute.

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