Adaptability and Resilience

Cultivating Adaptability and Resilience

By Cyndi Synder Dionisio, Lead for the PMBOK ® Guide & President | Cynergy2

There is a principle in the PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition about adaptability and resilience, and if there is anything the past 2 years has taught us, it is the need for adaptability and resilience. The principle states: 

“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.” 

With the rapid pace and relentless need for transformation we are all facing change fatigue - so how can we continue to not just adapt but thrive in this environment? In this article I’ll talk about personal adaptability and resilience and provide you with some ways you can cultivate these two important qualities. 

Cultivating Adaptability 

Adaptability isn’t just about being able to adjust to new or changing conditions, environments, trends and other circumstances; it is about being able to adjust quickly, calmly and effectively. Change is often accompanied by stress, uncertainty, anxiety, self-doubt, and other limiting feelings. To move past these feelings and cultivate adaptability, we can take steps to prepare for a changing environment. When I say prepare, I’m not talking about preparing for a specific change, I am talking about updating your mindset and the way you think about change. There are three ways you can prepare yourself to function effectively in a rapidly changing environment. 

  1. Be observant. Rather than waiting for the next shift in your job, the competition, the market, etc., spend time observing what is happening. Look for trends and indicators of what is likely to happen. This behavior can put you in front of the change rather than being taken by surprise. Being ahead of the change allows you to maintain a sense of calm and prepare for what is coming.  
  1. Develop a growth mindset. Rather than seeing change as something that is bad, frightening or irritating, focus on what you can learn. What new skills can you develop? How will the new situation help you? Find ways you can turn it to your advantage. This mindset will help you maintain a positive attitude and shift your thinking from victim to victor.  
  1. Learn to accept change. Things are going to change whether we want them to or not and whether we are ready for them to or not. As the quote from Star Trek says, ‘resistance is futile’. Therefore, the faster you can accept it, plan for it, and even leverage and grow from it, the happier you will be. 

With change and transformation, preparation is only half the game. The other half is how you respond. There are several ways you can foster adaptability in the face of disruption. To start with, be curious and openminded. Ask questions and listen with an open mind. Try and understand what led to the current situation, what it means for you and your organization, and how to support the change.  

Next, think about the situation from multiple perspectives. Talk with your team members and colleagues. Get their take on the situation. Apply that curiosity we talked about above. When you can see a situation from multiple perspectives, you are more effective in dealing with the challenges it can bring.  

Which brings us to the next aspect of cultivating adaptability – approach the situation as a problem-solving opportunity. There are plenty of problem-solving frameworks you can apply to provide some structure to the process. Most of them have these common elements: 

Define the problem → identify the solution criteria →  generate options →  consider risks associated with the options  →  evaluate the options using the criteria  →  choose the best option.  

To strengthen your adaptability mindset when you are generating options, look for innovative solutions, foster creative thinking, and stretch your imagination. Don’t settle for the easiest or even the safest response. Think bigger, thing differently. You may end up with the easiest or safest response, but don’t lose the opportunity for innovation. 

Given that a change in the environment or conditions is often accompanied by a change in job roles and responsibilities – develop your skill set. This may mean developing new technical skills, or it may mean acquiring or brushing up on leadership and interpersonal skills. Afterall, it has been said that it isn’t the strongest or most intelligent that survive, but the most adaptable.  

Cultivating Resilience 

Another key quality we can all benefit from is resilience. Resilience is the ability to adjust to or recover readily from adversity, crisis, setbacks, change, and other significant sources of stress. We don’t have the luxury of evolutionary change. We must adapt quickly and recover quickly.  

Here are four ways you can cultivate resilience in your work and personal life. 

  1. Keep things in perspective. While a disruption or change may seem like a major concern, if you can step back and look at it from a wider lens, you will often find it is not as monumental as you first thought. Keeping things in perspective can include asking yourself, in the overall scheme of things, is this going to be a big deal in my life? Or does it just seem that way now? 
  1. Maintain a positive outlook. Thinking of all the things that could go wrong, or how awful the situation is, is counterproductive. No matter what the situation, endeavor to find a way to maintain a positive attitude. Your ability to recover from adversity is directly influenced by your attitude. Pay attention to both your internal words and your external words. The things you tell yourself are just as important as what you say out loud. Keep both conversations positive. 
  1. Accept change. Accepting change is a part of building resilience as well as adaptability. We can’t recover and move on if we are still holding onto the past or wishing things were different. People who are resilient acknowledge what is and keep moving forward.  
  1. Learn. The most resilient people are always learning. You can learn from positive as well as negative outcomes. You can learn from peers, mentors, and friends. Spend time reflecting to see what behaviors or actions you can carry forward, and which you should adjust in the future.  

The only thing certain these days is change! Thus, one of the best things you can do for yourself, both personally and professionally, is develop your ability to be flexible and adapt, and to recover quickly and learn from your experience.  

To learn more about the principles of the PMBOK® Guide, watch my IPM Day Presentation, "Putting the PMBOK® Guide – Seventh Edition to Work", on November 4. You can learn more about the presentation and register here using the code DIONISO for $10 OFF.

Cyndi Adaptability and ResilienceAbout the Author

Cynthia (Cyndi) Snyder Dionisio is a professional project management author, consultant, and instructor. Ms. Dionisio provides consulting and training services for LinkedIn Learning, academia, government and private industry. An accomplished author and facilitator, she has written a dozen books on project management and trained thousands of project managers. Cyndi has been the Chair for three editions of the PMBOK® Guide. In 2009 she was awarded PMI’s Distinguished Contribution Award and in 2018 she was presented with the PMI Fellow Award.

How Project Managers Can Survive in an Agile World

By Lisa Hodges on behalf of AXELOS   |   Owner/principal consultant, Cornerstone Service Management

Any discussion of project management demands the question: “How well are we doing?”

In my view, while project managers are putting so much emphasis on the elements of time and cost, we are losing something in scope and quality. This doesn’t apply to all projects or project managers, but it remains a real phenomenon.

But how has this happened?

In the past decade, project managers have been struggling to balance cost, time, scope and quality with focusing on the benefits to the customer. Customer requirements change over the life of a project and many projects are not delivering what the customer needs.

Also, the popularity of agile and Scrum approaches reflects an underlying malaise in project management. The Agile Manifesto itself shows an active hostility to traditional project management – especially in the US – in which the role of the project manager doesn’t exist.

This brings us to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)-based project management. The Project Management Institute (PMI)® Global Standard offers a vast body of knowledge to project managers, but lacks the specific guidance to turn knowledge into practical and actionable methods tailored to different situations. This has resulted in failures, and practitioners spending too much time translating the knowledge and not enough time executing and delivering it.

Some organizations have developed their own methods but with a variety of different customized templates, methods, and processes it becomes difficult to collaborate and communicate.

The project management community needs to figure out a mechanism to get the best out of the PMBOK® Guide and make it actionable. And I think PRINCE2® is the solution to the problem of taking PMBOK® Guide knowledge and making it practical. Why do I think that?

  • PRINCE2 is complementary to the PMBOK® Guide by providing what the latter doesn’t: a prescriptive. Having been through the PRINCE2 training, it doesn’t conflict with what I already know from the PMBOK® Guide, is a solution to the problem, and helps my project management.
  • PRINCE2 is not a substitute for the PMBOK® Guide and it can address the agile challenge facing the project management world.
  • Rather than trying to handle traditional and agile projects differently, using different methods, project managers can use a method like PRINCE2 to run traditional projects while using it to wrap around agile projects. If Project Management Professionals (PMPs)® are looking for how they fit into a Scrum world, this is it.

But what’s the payback of investing in another approach for project management professionals and the organizations that hire them?

  • With PRINCE2, an organization’s Project Management Office is able to capitalize on its existing investment in the PMBOK® Guide Global Standard. Many less experienced project managers flounder because they have some project management knowledge, but little experience and no method to apply it. Sitting the PMP requires between 4,500 and 7,500 hours leading and directing projects, so project managers have a tendency not to study the PMBOK® Guide until they have the necessary hours, right before sitting for the exam! As a result, they spend the early part of their careers figuring out project management on their own and learning bad habits.
  • Adopting the same method of applying project management knowledge will heighten efficiency, effectiveness, and help project managers produce more consistent results at every level of experience. For individuals advancing in their careers, an understanding of the PMBOK® Guide and PRINCE2 gives them a practical method to bring knowledge and solutions as soon as they’re hired.

Yes, we know that project managers are under a lot of pressure, already working at more than capacity and with little spare time to examine the value of something new. But this is a solution to project managers’ problems, complementing and improving what they already have, freeing them up to do a better job and to spend more time on projects’ scope, quality and value.

With both PRINCE2 and the PMBOK® Guide, you speak the language of project management across the entire world, regardless of who you’re doing business with.

More insights await at the virtual Agile and Scrum conference, going live on May 4th. 5 keynotes and 20 sessions to choose from, plus networking and PDUs/SEU®s.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”inherit”]hodges

About the Author

Lisa Hodges is a PRINCE2® Practitioner, PMP®, ITIL Expert™, and CPDE® – Certified Process Design Engineer. She is a process improvement evangelist with 20+ years of experience in project and service management, in technical and managerial roles, working with organizations in higher education, government, manufacturing, financial services, and others.[/trx_infobox]

PMBOK and PMI are marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc. PRINCE2® is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited.

What’s the Difference Between a Risk Audit and a Risk Review?

By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

Don’t answer that. I already know. Not a darn thing, or at least there shouldn’t be.

In my experience, both have been used, are currently being used, and will probably always be used to mean the same thing by the many companies I’ve worked with in my forty plus years in project management. Some companies use “review” rather than “audit” because the latter scares folks.

Who really wants to be audited? No one of sound mind that I know, and I should know.

I worked for the Federal Government for almost seventeen years on some very controversial programs in Indian Country which were constantly being subjected to audits. These programs were audited by the Government Accountability Office or GAO (formerly named the Government Accounting Office), the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, Congressional audit staff (then-current investigators from the FBI on-loan to Congress), and a host of other “interested parties.”

Their job was to ferret out “waste, fraud, and abuse” and they did their best to find all three. In all programs on which I was working, they just found “waste,” meaning we didn’t do things as perfectly as they thought they should have been done. While you could argue (in writing), it didn’t do much good. They always had the final opportunity to write their rebuttals. After all, they published the reports.

Audits in the corporate world may not be as scary, but no one likes them there either. Why put people on the defensive when all they’re trying to do is a good job under difficult circumstances? That’s why I noticed early on in corporate life, that the word review was much more popular than audit, and not just here in the United States where I live and work.

Review wasn’t just a euphemism employed by companies to hide a more unpleasant activity. PMOs and others used it to create a culture of collaboration and to show they were just trying to be helpful to the project managers they oversaw or had some accountability for.

This is why I have mixed feelings about the Monitor Risks: Tools and Techniques (formerly Control Risk) section in the Project Risk Management knowledge area in the Exposure Draft of the PMBOK® Guide—6th Edition (I know I’m getting a bit geeky on you here). I was very glad to see that the authors included a new T&T called Risk Review, but less glad to see that they retained the term Risk Audit from the 5th and current edition of the PMBOK® Guide. 

Let me explain. Essentially, they took the definition of Risk Audits from the 5th edition, took out the part about reviewing individual risk responses and placed it under Risk Reviews, and left the part about whether the project team was following the risk process under Risk Audits.

Personally, I would have left the current definition and just changed the title from Risk Audits to Risk Reviews.

What’s your view?

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-info”]Related Courses from IIL:

Browse the full course catalogue here. 


LeRoy Ward
J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.