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Development Approach and Life Cycle Performance Domain Concepts

Different approaches can be used for deployment, depending on the project goals and desired outcomes, as well as the risk or uncertainty associated with a project’s environment. The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition considers this an important topic and has articulated this as a performance domain in Section 2.3, Figure 2-6. Figure 4-7 shows the key outcomes that should result from the successful execution of this domain.

Figure 4-7

Figure 4-7 Development Approach and Life Cycle Performance Domain (Source: Figure 2-6, PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition)

Terms Relevant to the Development Approach and Life Cycle Performance Domain

In addition to the terms project phase and project life cycle, this performance domain focuses on some other key terms:

  • Deliverable: Any unique and verifiable product, result, or capability to perform a service that is required to be produced to complete a process, phase, or project.

  • Development approach: A method used to create and evolve a product, service, or result during the project life cycle, such as a predictive, adaptive, or hybrid method. The development approach can demonstrate specific characteristics, such as being iterative or incremental.

Development approaches can be broadly seen as two extremes in terms of goals and implementation. Figure 4-8 shows the predictive and adaptive extremes, as well as a blended development approach that uses some of both, known as a hybrid approach.

Figure 4-8

Figure 4-8 Types of Development Approaches


The hybrid development approach combines two or more predictive and adaptive elements. For example, within a generally linear step-by-step project flow, you could have one of the steps refer to the development of a mobile app. This particular step might be adaptive until its completion, to account for the need to carefully iterate user input until a final, finished app has been delivered. After its completion, the remaining linear steps of the predictive approach take over until the completion of the project. Therefore, the hybrid development approach is seen as applying the best of both extremes in a combination that is most appropriate for the specific project outcomes that are needed.

Terms used to describe these approaches have varied over the years. Table 4-2 shows some different expressions related to predictive and adaptive approaches that are available in the literature and used in practice.

Table 4-2 Terms in Use Referring to the Predictive and Adaptive Approaches


Alternative Terms


Waterfall, linear, structured, plan based, stable, traditional


Agile, iterative, incremental, spiral, extreme, evolutionary

Choosing the Predictive Approach

A predictive development approach can be considered when the project and product requirements can be defined, collected, and analyzed at the start of the project. This approach is widely referred to as a “waterfall” or “traditional” approach to project management. With the predictive development approach, you design and implement a project in a life cycle sequenced in distinct phases, from the initial conceptual and feasibility phase to the deployment of the final product or service. The predictive approach is more structured, predictable, and stable than the adaptive approach. Next, we review additional aspects of the predictive approach, as you will be tested extensively on this topic on the CAPM® exam.

The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition, Section 2.3.3 indicates that the predictive approach is best used in the following situations:

  • When there is a significant investment involved and a high level of risk that may require frequent reviews and replanning between development phases

  • When the scope, schedule, cost, resource needs, and risks can be well defined in the early phases of the project life cycle and are relatively stable

  • When the project team wants to reduce the level of uncertainty early in the project and do much of the planning up front

  • When the project work can follow plans that were developed near the start of the project

  • When templates from previous similar projects are available

Choosing the Adaptive Approach

An adaptive development approach is practical when requirements are subject to a high level of uncertainty and volatility and are likely to change throughout the project. In such an environment, you can proceed with an adaptive life cycle for project implementation. This life cycle is designed around iterations that repeat project phases. The project can move to the next phase only after customer or product stakeholder feedback is available. It suggests that a particular stage of development has reached a point at which it is appropriate to move on. Different expressions related to the adaptive approach can be found in the literature, but the most common terms are iterative, incremental, and agile.

The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition, Section 2.3.3 indicates that the adaptive approach is best used in the following situations:

  • When a clear vision of an end state is available at the start of the project but very little is known about the details of the requirements that make up that end state

  • When there is flexibility to refine, change, and replace requirements

  • When there is an opportunity to receive frequent user and product owner feedback

  • When there is uncertainty or when high risks are associated with the project or business environment (In other words, the final deliverables have to be right, but all factors may not be fully articulated in advance.)

  • When an empowered team is given a prioritized backlog of desired deliverables, as well as the freedom to determine what scope is achievable within a given iteration, and the team is permitted to work through the backlog over multiple iterations until the requirements are fully delivered

Choosing a Hybrid Approach

A hybrid development approach is a combination of adaptive and predictive approaches. This means that some elements from a predictive approach are used along with some elements from an adaptive approach. The project professionals must determine which elements are best for a particular aspect of a project and how to blend the different elements into an overall plan of action.

The PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition, Section 2.3.3 indicates that the hybrid approach is best used in the following situations:

  • When an organization has both an opportunity and a need to leverage the strengths of the adaptive and predictive approaches. (For example, when very little might be known about a product or service, a front-end adaptive approach might be used to gather requirements and prototype a solution for feedback. Subsequently, when the general approach has been learned through the iterative prototyping steps and a final solution is clear, a known project implementation template is more appropriate; the project could be completed using the predictive model to deliver that solution.)

  • When compliance requirements indicate that certain aspects of the deliverable must be implemented in a very predictable way, but the core nature of the solution may need to be entirely determined through iteration in a simulated environment

  • When there is project management maturity in the organization and the project team is familiar with both approaches and can thus fuse together the two approaches to develop a new model for project delivery that is suitable for the organizational needs

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