Rolling Wave Planning Technique


Have you ever done night trekking?

Few years back, I did night trekking along with my friends. It was a 5-km journey in a small hilly jungle. We started around 10 pm. It was a dark night. I had a torch with me. With the light, we could identify our way just about 10 steps. After moving that small distance, again we were able to get light for next few steps.

Why do I mention this sequence of events at the first place under this topic?

There is an analogy exists between above journey and rolling wave planning.

In trekking,

* there exists a route, but not completely visible at the start;

* the way is visible only for few steps;

* we need to wait for much information about rest of the path;

* after few steps, next few steps become visible

In projects,

* there exists high-level scope & scope granularity is not defined at the work package level;

* scope detailing of deliverables is done for certain short period (say 60 days) to the work package level;

* towards the end of each period, the detailing of scope is done for a corresponding amount of time

This is called as “Rolling Wave Planning”(shortly RWP).

RWP is a technique used in different processes of a project like project management planning, activity definition and WBS creation.

Rolling wave planning is a form of progressive elaboration planning where the work to be accomplished in the near term is planned in detail at a low level of the WBS. Future work is planned for WBS components that are at a relatively high level of the WBS.

So, in RWP, WBS components may exist in different level of detail in the structure. RWP is particularly useful in projects of high uncertainty like “High-tech” projects, R&D. It is an excellent project development approach for inventive work, where the project goal is known, but the exact deliverable is not. So, it is detailed in time-phased manner.

In some cases, decomposition may not be possible for a deliverable as it will be finished in future. This makes the Project Manager and its team to delay detailing other WBS components which depends on that earlier deliverable. This is also referred as “RWP”.

What is Decomposition technique in Project Management?


In 2004, during my PMP exam preparation, tutor told us that decomposition is a technique for WBS creation. Till that time, I have heard about decomposition when I was in school only in subjects like biology and chemistry.

Biology says – Decomposition refers to the reduction of organic materials into simpler forms of matter.

Chemistry says – Decomposition is the dividing a chemical compound into elements.

From above, we can generalize the definition of decomposition – it is dividing a large piece into smaller and simpler pieces.

Now, it is turn of Project Management on decomposition. Decomposition is an important technique used in WBS creation (Scope Management) and definition of activities (Time Management).

Decomposition in Project Management

In scope management, project deliverables are subdivided into smaller and more manageable components until the work and deliverables are defined to the work package level. This is called as decomposition.

Decomposition of project scope generally involves the following activities:

* Gather information on major project deliverables and analyze related tasks

* Start development of work breakdown structure(WBS) at the highest level

* Decompose the upper WBS levels into lower level detailed components

* Identify each work package & WBS components with unique code, and

* Verify if the degree of decomposition of the work is necessary and sufficient

* No. of Levels of WBS need not be same for all deliverables

But excessive decomposition may lead to more work without much value for the time spent. It can also leads to inefficient use of resources, and decreased work efficiency. So, knowing few basics about work package helps us in deciding the level of decomposition. Few of them are:

* Work package is the lowest level of WBS

* Usually, a work package is the quantum of work which is assigned to a single resource as a whole and produces a verifiable outcome

* Project’s cost and schedule estimation is done at work package level

* The accuracy of these estimations depends on the level of detailed work package that is defined

* The level to which work packages need to be detailed vary from project to project

In Time Management, each work package within the WBS is decomposed into the activities required to produce the work package deliverables.

Take this scenario:

You are a software developer. You need to solve a customer bug. What do you? You will:

First, identify the activities you need to execute to reproduce the customer issue.

Then, modify the software code to rectify the issue.

Lastly, deploy the fix at customer end.

Congrats! you have performed decomposition & activity sequencing successfully.

Your list may contain more activities than what I listed above. Here, we subdivided a work package into smaller and manageable components of activities. This is often performed by the project team members responsible for the work package. Activities are vital input in performing a work. Correct level of decomposition in time management can produce accurate estimate of schedule & timely completion of project.

Always remember, next level of decomposition is possible only when we have clear understanding of deliverables at a particular level.

A note on Product Scope & Project Scope


In Project Management context, clarification on Product Scope and Project Scope is important & it helps easy management of the project.

We discussed on terms Project , Product & relation between Project Life Cycle and Product Life cycle earlier. Just a recap here:

Project is the one which is executed to create a unique product or services; and

Product is the outcome of a Project.

With above definition in mind let us review their scope definition:

Product scope: The features and functions that characterize a product, service, or result

Project scope: The work that needs to be accomplished to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions. [1]

Product scope can remain constant at the same time that project scope expands which is called as Progressive elaboration. Progressive elaboration should not be confused with scope creep. Progressive elaboration is giving more details for the already defined scope and not increasing the project scope. And
Scope creep is adding features and functionality (project scope) without addressing the effects on time, costs, and resources, or without customer approval.

Example:

My building contractor estimated the work on my house construction. He thought that he will be using special type of cement for concreting. But that special cement was not available in our place. He explained me who was responsible for ordering and delivering the materials from his side. Taking on that responsibility doesn’t change the product scope (house construction), but now the activity (in project scope) & its responsibility was completely explained. (Progressive elaboration)

After contractor started the work with the plan & estimate, my wife suggested me to add a wall construction near the entrance. But this was different from what we agreed. So, contractor told me this was an extra work and he did it with extra money. (Scope creep)

References:
[1]. PMBOK® Guide – 3rd edition

More on Project Baselines


In the earlier post, I briefed about definition of baseline and what constitutes project baseline. Now, let us review elaborately on this topic.

A schedule baseline is a project schedule developed from the schedule network analysis used to verify lag and lead time of current project activities against approved deadlines (mainly used in schedule control).

The cost baseline is an authorized budget used to estimate, monitor, and control overall cost performance on the project. Generally, in any organization, a project budget authorization & approval happens in staggered manner(unless it is a small project). So, Cost baseline is developed as a summation of the approved budgets by time period & it is typically displayed in the form of an S-curve.

Scope baseline is used to compare current scope with actual approved scope and decide whether a change, corrective action or preventive action is required (mainly used in scope verification process). Typically, approved detailed scope statement, WBS and WBS dictionary are the scope baseline documents for the project.

The quality baseline records the quality objectives of the project. The quality baseline is the basis for measuring and reporting quality performance as part of the performance measurement baseline. All above 3 baselines are input in identifying quality standards to be followed in the project within the project constraints.

Variance is another term related to baseline. During project execution, variances will require re-baselining (of course update on plans too). These variances can include changes to activity timings, changes in availability of resource, and risks. Such variances may affect the project plan or project documents and may require detailed analysis and development of appropriate project management responses. The results of the analysis can trigger change requests that, if approved, may modify the project management plan or other project documents and possibly require establishing new baselines.

Stakeholders requirements should be clearly understood and need to be incorporated into different plans before these are base-lined.

What are Project Baselines?


A baseline is used to perform analysis to find current performance against to the expected level for a specific activity in established time-phase.

In Project Management, Baseline refers to the accepted and approved plans & their related documents. Project baselines are, generally, approved by project management team and those are used to measure and control of project activities.

Though baselines are outputs of planning stage, but they are referred and updated during executing & monitoring and controlling process groups.

Baselines give the project manager a best way to understand project progress (by analyzing baseline vs. actual) and forecast the project outcome.

Baselines are important input to number of project processes and outputs of many processes raise change request to these baselines.

Project baselines include, but are not limited to:

  • Schedule baseline
  • Cost baseline
  • Scope baseline
  • Quality baseline

Baselines are prepared on triple constraints – Scope, Time, Cost (and Quality) – management areas. All the above are considered as components Project management plan. Often the scope, schedule, and cost baseline will be combined into a performance measurement baseline that is used as an overall project baseline against which project performance can be measured. The performance measurement baseline is used for earned value measurements.

Benchmark, Standard, Guideline and Baseline are different words that are used interchangeably in Management.