Using the notion of institutional interplay, which refers to situations where the operation or consequences of one regime influence another regime, the article explores the interplay between planned adaptation and farmer households’ autonomous adaptation. Drawing empirical data from two drought-prone districts in Northeastern Ethiopia (Kobo and Raya Azebo), this article deals with the differentiated effects of planned adaptation, exemplified by Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP). Two layers of differentiating effects are studied by looking at the differences between households that are and households that are not targeted by PSNP; and the more detailed differences are explored by zooming in on male and female-headed households, respectively, within the subset of households targeted by PSNP. We use semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with female and male household heads and key informant interviews with government officials. Our study indicates that the interplay has a differentiated effect following the participation of households in planned adaptation programs and gender lines. We show that the effect on building community assets can be positive at the community level and expands autonomous adaptation particularly for non-targeted households; however, targeted households in general and female-headed households in particular experience a negative effect of the interplay: planned adaptation constrains autonomous adaptation due to time and labor demands of public work, program restrictions and local gender norms.