Rolling Wave Planning and Progressive Elaboration

03 Oct 2011 - 07:47 AM under PMP, Scope | Posted by PMStudent

Hi Josh,

I am reviewing the PM PrepCast for the second time. I am scheduled to take the exam [soon].

Right now I have an issue discerning the difference between Rolling Wave Planning and Progressive Elaboration. Not that this issue by itself is pass/fail but every question answered correctly helps. Can you provide a some definitions that might be able to clear this up? The PMBOK guide definitions are not helping.

An excellent question!

Rolling Wave Planning

Rolling wave planning is a type of progressive elaboration. So if I put it in a list with other examples:

Progressive Elaboration (examples)

  • Rolling wave planning (usually this term is used in a waterfall project environment)
  • Sprint planning (Agile)
  • Kanban task decomposition (start with larger deliverables or feature sets, decompose into smaller pieces as they exit the backlog and go into the active value stream)
  • Prototyping

Progressive Elaboration

Progressive Elaboration just means you keep things months out at a high level and don’t try to guess what the details will be yet. Scope is broadly defined, specific tasks are probably not yet defined, and estimates are ROM (Rough Order of Magnitude).

As you get closer in time, you go through a re-planning effort to break down that vague, high-level plan down into specific sub-deliverables, tasks, and updated estimates that you can actually go and have your teams execute on.

Planning Packages

In my organization, we use a concept called planning packages when work is too far out in the future and too undefined. There are ROM estimates attached to these planning packages and we know in general what they are about. We can even define the deliverables associated with a planning package, although when we get closer those deliverables may be implemented differently than what was initially guessed at.

Will you leave a comment below with questions or to chip in your own $0.02 ?


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