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”.

5 thoughts on “Rolling Wave Planning Technique

  1. Pingback: Aşamalı Olgunlaşma ve Yaklaşan Dalga Planlama

  2. I agree: This is a good post (pithy and readable). My recent experience with a self-proclaimed experienced PM seemed to me that rolling wave can be an excuse for not planning at all. This PM had a multi-year, multi-million dollar project. The PM would plan for 45-60 days in detail, but could not produce a higher-level schedule beyond that. The PM’s management knew that the project was supposed to go for several years, but the PM could provide no insight into the scope, schedule, or real budget. Neither the PM’s managers nor the project’s sponsors showed any curiosity about what was supposed to go on beyond sixty days out and demanded no accountability. As a senior consultant to the bigger organization, I asked the PM what was going on and the PM said that the project was on auto-pilot and that the approach was “rolling wave” planning and management. The PM finally go promoted (naturally) on the strength of the PM’s 60-day plans!!!

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