Rolling Wave Project Planning

Introduction to Rolling Wave

Early stages of project planning are almost always top-down, naturally. Rolling Wave Project Planning (RWPP) employs a multi-pass approach to planning and scheduling where each pass, or planning cycle, builds further detail into the previous output. This approach enables a team to draft initial plans for distant-future work and facilitates further development and integration of the details as project scope, means, and methods are refined.

RWPP is a scalable methodology that supports all types and sizes of project delivery, from small, discrete projects to large, complex projects holding ambiguous scope.

Rolling Wave planning involves defined horizons from which teams will develop detailed plans for delivery. These horizons can be time-based or work based. For example, a team can define its planning horizon based on a six or twelve month time frame or it can define the horizon as completion of an upstream, dependent effort, such as completion of preliminary design prior to detailed planning of 30% PS&E. One of the fundamental advantages of RWPP is the ability to communicate what we “think” we’ll do in the long term and to commit to do what we “know” we’ll do in the near future.

Depending on the specific application of rolling wave methodology as well as the clarity of initial scope definition and level of complexity, a project may develop top-down plans to level 3, 4, or 5 and bottom-up plans below. In this case, we would employ a top-down planning approach to level 5 (Identification of WP’s contributing to a Planning Package or PP) and bottom-up plans at levels 6 and below (Work Package/WP Details, including resources, cost, risk, logic, duration, and any other incorporated topic). Small projects may elevate one or two levels, as necessary (lowest level WBS of PP with single activities describing full WPs). The following define planning cycles and scheduling levels for a typical project:

Level 1: Project
Level 2: Phase (PM, Planning, Execution, Procurement, Logistics, Construction, Commissioning, Close Out)
Level 3: Sub-Phase (System)
Level 4: Planning Package (Component)
Level 5: Work Package Identification and Timing

Level 6: Work Package Definition; Activities, responsibilities, and all estimates required to deliver Work Package
Levels 7-n: Further detail as needed by the Project

The top-down effort lays the tracks for project delivery. This does not mean committing to the specifics of delivery, rather a strategic plan of when the various parts of the project will be developed and delivered. It identifies the lifecycle of the project and facilitates reporting of overall project delivery within its lifecycle.

The bottom-up effort establishes the specific commitments to delivery such as who will do what, when, how, and for how much.

Work Packages are fundamental to Rolling Wave Project Planning. They are the mechanism that allows integration of ambiguity to discrete scope, top-down to bottom-up, and long-term to short-term planning efforts.

Teams should establish minimum horizons for WP and bottom-up planning cycles (passes 5-n). As the project approaches a horizon, planning sessions (or cycles) are held to define the WPs that contribute to a PP. These planning cycles should provide solid visibility into the near-future details of project delivery plans and must take place prior to performing the work. Combined, these cycles will provide the bottom-up detailed estimates against which performance will be measured by way of the Performance Management Baseline (PMB).

This Rolling Wave cradle to grave approach provides speed to market, long-range flexibility and requirements visibility to supporting organizations, accurate near-future reporting and analysis, improved coordination within and between Projects and supporting organizations.