Rolling Wave Planning

Posted on April 24, 2009 by

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Surfs up!  Well not quite.

A common type of Progressive Elaboration is Rolling Wave Planning. Progressive Elaboration means to continuously improve and refine planning. Rolling Wave Planning is a technique of the PMBOK®’s Define Activities process and it also describes how the Project Management Plan evolves. The planning is on-going during the project—not completed beforehand. Rolling Wave Planning means that the work to be done in the near-term is detailed; work in the more distant future is not yet detailed. As work is being performed during a stage that had already been planned in detail, the upcoming work is broken down into more detail.

For example, a family is on vacation. On Monday, they decide that on Tuesday they will go to the Dizzying Fun Rides amusement park at 9:00am and will make dinner reservations at 6:00 for an Italian restaurant. They know that they want to go to a zoo on Wednesday, but they don’t have any details worked out. On Tuesday, they go to the amusement park and Italian restaurant as planned, as well as refine their plans for Wednesday’s trip to the zoo. They find a map and directions to the zoo and decide that they’ll arrive at the zoo at 10:00, and bring a picnic lunch to eat at the zoo grounds. They decide that on Thursday they’ll see a national monument, but they won’t decide which one until tomorrow. In this way, the near future of the next day is planned in detail, but the planning of further than one day into the future is still at a high-level.