Evolutionary Project Management: Understanding the Concept

Subject: Tech & Engineering
Pages: 8
Words: 2069
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: PhD


Such researchers as Saynisch (2010) and Gilb (2011) use the term ‘Evolutionary Project Management’ or ‘Evo’ while discussing the advantageous ways of improving the project management cycles when it is necessary to achieve the higher results using fewer resources. The concept of Evolutionary Project Management was proposed and applied in the 1970s, but the increased interest of project managers in this approach is observed only during recent decades (Whitty 2011, p. 524).

Although Evolutionary Project Management is often viewed as one of the main management concepts of the 21st century, there are still debates regarding its theoretical and practical aspects (Gilb 2011; Saynisch, 2010). Modern researchers in the area of the project management follow different perspectives in order to discuss the concept. As a result, according to the narrow perspective, Evolutionary Project Management is often viewed only as the software to organise the project management process efficiently (Shen et al. 2013).

The other researchers discuss Evolutionary Project Management in the context of Project Portfolio Management in spite of the fact that this concept means the realisation of several projects in contrast to the basic vision that the Evolutionary Project Management can use different paths to realise the single project (White 2011; Whitty 2011). Those researchers who focus on the wide context are inclined to discuss Evolutionary Project Management as the only effective approach in the area that can be applied to all projects in contrast to the traditional project management approaches that usually cannot address all the requirements set by managers in relation to deadlines, costs, and outcomes (Gilb 2011; Saynisch, 2010; Shen et al. 2013).

This paper aims to contribute to the understanding of Evolutionary Project Management in relation to the meaning of the concept in order to respond to the current debates in the field and explain the nature of the concept for its further effective application.

Definition of evolutionary project management

Tom Gilb is usually named as an author of the concept of Evolutionary Project Management (Wingate 2014, p. 62). According to Gilb (cited in Wernham 2012, p. xxviii), Evolutionary Project Management is “a technique for producing the appearance of stability”, and this “complex system will be most successful if it is implemented in small steps and if each step has a clear measure of successful achievement as well as a ‘retreat’ possibility to a previous successful step upon failure”. From this point, in its grounds, Evolutionary Project Management is similar to the idea of the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle (Wingate 2014, p. 62).

The principles of the PDSA cycle were formulated by W. Edwards Deming, and then, rethought by Gilb for his Evo concept (Wernham 2012, p. 68; Wingate 2014, p. 62). The focus is on completing the series or a cycle of deliveries successfully. The number of deliveries can be different, depending on the character of the project. According to Gilb (2011), all these deliveries lead to small but noticeable changes that are analysed and compared against the expected results in order to shift to the next step. Accordingly, the definition of Evolutionary Project Management allows paying more attention to the aspects covered by this concept.

From this point, the Evolutionary Project Management concept can be discussed as covering the specific set of methods utilised in the project management that allows the step-by-step realisation of the set goals to achieve the concrete results (Wingate 2014). In this context, the utilised software is only the part of the technique, and the whole concept is more complex.

What is usually meant under the concept of evolutionary project management

The complex Evolutionary Project Management concept is associated with such aspects as the PDSA cycle, the series of deliveries, and the concept of learning. While being based on the principles of the PDSA cycle, the Evolutionary Project Management approach applied its main specifics (Wingate 2014, p. 62). The system behind the PDSA cycle allows users of the Evolutionary Project Management concept to expand their understanding and assessment of how successfully different steps of the project can be realised and what actions need to be taken to improve the situation (Gilb 2011; Wingate 2014).

From this point, the concept of Evolutionary Project Management is used to explain the structured model based on the series of steps, deliveries, or releases that are small and numerous. These steps follow each other, have the concrete goal and specific deadlines, and they are assessed in terms of particular risks (Gilb 2011). The complex project can be based on the necessity to complete up to 50 steps that are assessed according to the PDSA cycle (Wingate 2014, p. 63). In this context, the concept of learning is also realised to provide a manager with more opportunities to identify and correct the mistake, and predict future problems (Gilb 2011; Wingate 2014).

The term ‘evolutionary’ means that the process develops leading to the concrete positive outcomes as a result of the manager’s learning through the process (Whitty 2011). Moreover, Evolutionary Project Management allows the completion of all tasks quicker and with the higher quality in comparison to the use of traditional project management methods (Whitty 2011). The successful results become achievable because of the utilisation of the effective software that is designed to address the key requirements during the process of completing the project steps.

Evolutionary Project Management is a promising technique to cope with complex projects because it is based on several key principles that guarantee rapid and positive results (Gilb 2011; Wingate 2014). There are ten principles that can be summarised in the following way:

  1. Results of steps are usually delivered comparably quickly.
  2. Steps are prioritised according to their value and stakeholders’ reactions.
  3. The sequence of steps is effectively thought over as the most complicated steps are chosen to perform before other ones to assess the risks.
  4. Requirements for the project are also examined during the process of completing deliveries.
  5. The focus should be on the open-ended architecture of the design in terms of using the efficient software.
  6. All the efforts of the project team are accumulated to complete the concrete delivery.
  7. The focus is on the fast learning from the observed experience and on the immediate reactions and feedbacks in order to avoid wasting the time and resources.
  8. The effective team working on the project needs to be motivated.
  9. The flexible technique allows the efficient work on the project.
  10. The evolution of the project steps starts from the first deliveries or releases of results to stakeholders when the most effective tools are applied and assessed for planning the future actions.

Nilsson and Wilson (2012) and Martinsuo (2013) state that these principles can also be viewed within the framework of Project Portfolio Management. The reason is that the theorists of Project Portfolio Management are inclined to discuss all techniques used to improve the realisation of complex projects in a unit, and Evolutionary Project Management is often viewed as one of such techniques (Martinsuo 2013; Nilsson & Wilson 2012).

However, to avoid mixing the concepts of Project Portfolio Management and Evolutionary Project Management, it is important to state that Evolutionary Project Management covers only specific tools used as the most optimal methods to complete the project. Evolutionary Project Management can propose the completion of several paths for different project tasks to achieve the expected outcomes; on the contrary, Project Portfolio Management proposes several methods to complete different projects in order to achieve one goal (Martinsuo 2013; Nilsson and Wilson 2012; Wingate 2014). From this point, Evolutionary Project Management covers only one aspect related to Project Portfolio Management. Therefore, the confusion in the use of these concepts and terms still exists.

There are situations when managers try to use the notion of ‘Evo’ instead of Project Portfolio Management in order to explain what they do to manage the time effectively, minimise costs, save resources, and address risks (Saynisch 2010). In this context, while focusing on the project discipline and schedule in terms of time and resources, managers choose to implement several parallel paths of Evolutionary Project Management in order to achieve the desired results.

Therefore, several parallel projects can be realised using this technique (Gilb 2011; Wingate 2014). This fact makes the process of distinguishing Project Portfolio Management and Evolutionary Project Management tools rather complicated, and there is no single idea regarding the use of these terms in relation to the issue of implementing several projects simultaneously.

Although the background of the Evolutionary Project Management concept is understandable and there are no questions about the situations in which this technique can be applied, researchers have different visions regarding the discussion of the concept within the particular framework. However, they agree that the principles of Evolutionary Project Management can combine the most effective features typical of different management tools (Gilb 2011; Saynisch 2010; Siang et al. 2012). As a result, this concept is most understood with references to the sphere of its application.

Advantages of evolutionary project management for practice

The main advantage of Evolutionary Project Management is that this concept covers many effective tools along with the software that can be applied for the realisation of any management task, including the complex project with the large scope or even the set of small projects. In addition, it is important to note that the concept of Evolutionary Project Management is discussed when it is necessary to apply the efficient technique for completing the project in the sphere of engineering, information systems and technologies, environmental management, and organisational development among other fields (Shen et al. 2013; Siang and Yih 2012; White 2011).

This concept is selected in those situations when the feedback needs to be frequent, the costs need to be minimal, and the outcomes need to be expected. From this point, the central advantage of this approach is the possibility to respond to the stakeholders’ needs.

Practitioners evaluate the effectiveness of Evolutionary Project Management while referring to the time during which the project task was realised and paying attention to the quality of observed outcomes. The use of this concept usually demonstrates higher results in comparison to the traditional methods because the application of the PDSA cycle and series of steps is important to prevent unexpected risks and problems, as well as save costs.

These costs are often associated with the use of resources that are not directly correlated with the specific requirements for each step. The other feature that allows distinguishing this concept among the variety of project management tools is the focus on addressing the requirements of the project strictly (Gilb 2011). The PDSA cycle that is implemented in the series of steps enables the manager to select the most effective tools in order to complete the step and address the set requirements in the most efficient manner (Wingate 2014).

The reason is that the requirements are checked at each stage, and the tools are selected accordingly while aiming to address the stakeholders’ expectations completely (Wingate 2014). Therefore, the application of the Evolutionary Project Management concept can be discussed as the least risky method to complete the complex project with concrete deadlines and stakeholders’ expectations.


In spite of being actively applied in practice in the sphere of information and communication technologies, software engineering, and organisational development among other ones, the concept of Evolutionary Project Management still provokes a lot of questions because researchers and practitioners are inclined to follow different perspectives while discussing the scope of this technique. The purpose of this paper was to add to the understanding of the concept and explain the place of Evolutionary Project Management among the other project management tools and strategies used today.

The analysis of the available discussions and evaluations regarding the concept of Evolutionary Project Management indicates that this term is used to demonstrate how the principles of the PDSA cycle and specific principles formulated by Tom Gilb in the 1980s and later can be applied to the sphere of project management in different fields and with references to various scopes (Wingate 2014).

Moreover, it is important to state that many researchers and practitioners refer to this concept when they are intended to choose the most advantageous approaches in the context of Project Portfolio Management in spite of the fact that the framework of Project Portfolio Management cannot cover all the aspects associated with Evolutionary Project Management. From this perspective, the deep understanding of the nature of the Evolutionary Project Management concept is important to guarantee the effective application of the discussed approach in practice.


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