Sometimes I discover that one of my great ideas has already been discovered by other people I first wrote about rolling wave planning in 1997. For those of you who can’t stomach the paper (it was one of my earliest pieces of writing), here’s an updated description of rolling wave planning:
- Plan what you know for the next few weeks (I use a 3-4 week rolling wave). If you’re managing a traditionally planned project, make this as detailed a WBS as you like. If you’re managing an agile project, you may not have to do any more planning than what you already have done.
- As each week goes by, use the knowledge you’ve gained about the project to replan the already-planned weeks and plan the next week at the end of the current schedule.
As the project proceeds, you’ll replan frequently, but you won’t replan a lot of the work.
The idea behind rolling wave planning is that you can’t know everything about the project in advance, so don’t bother trying to plan a lot in detail. Plan the next few weeks in detail, always staying about 3-4 weeks ahead of the project. Of course, if you know you have hard dates like end of quarter or a trade show, put those events in the schedule. But rolling wave planning is much more likely to help you achieve any of those hard dates.
I incorporate adaptive planning into my rolling waves, by using the knowledge I’ve gained about the project to (re)organize the work as necessary.
If you haven’t tried rolling wave planning, give it a shot. I find it especially helpful when I want to timebox to meet a specific date and I want early warning if the date is impossible.