What Is Rolling Wave Planning? Definition and Benefits

Rolling wave planning is a strategic project management technique where teams work within smaller waves or time periods to accommodate expected project changes. Teams start with the available information and define the work deliverables, tasks, and budgets per the project scope.

Rolling wave planning is an effective approach to project management that has been gaining traction in the business world. It is a great way to take a flexible and iterative approach to long-term project management, while still accounting for the risks associated with planning on a grand scale. In this blog post, we will explore what rolling wave planning is, its benefits and drawbacks, and how you can make the best use of it in your own projects. We will look at how it differs from more traditional project planning techniques; the role of technology in effective rolling wave planning; and some practical tips for getting started. Rolling wave planning is an incredibly useful tool for any project manager looking to achieve success in the long-term – this blog post will help you to get the most out of it.

What is Rolling Wave Planning? What is Progressive Elaboration?

Benefits of rolling wave planning

By consistently completing short-term tasks, the rolling wave planning framework assists teams in continuing to work toward project goals. This style of planning can have many benefits, such as:

What is rolling wave planning?

Project managers can plan projects in phases using rolling wave planning, which is an iterative framework that enables them to add more details to later phases as new information becomes available. It’s a form of strategic planning that places a focus on consistently achieving short-term objectives. The project manager first describes in detail the early project stages while taking a broad view of the later phases. The project manager keeps adding more specifics to the later project phases as the project team starts working on their immediate tasks.

While project managers are still making plans for later stages, a rolling wave framework aids teams in moving the project forward. As a project develops, this framework can assist project teams in quickly adapting to changes. When later project phases depend on the success of earlier phases, such as in product development, it is beneficial to use this planning method.

Rolling wave planning vs. agile methodology

There are many similarities between agile project management and rolling wave planning, especially the scrum framework. Teams use this agile methodology to complete tasks in a series of sprints, reviewing their work after each sprint to make sure they’re hitting important milestones and making progress toward project goals. Here are some points where agile methodologies and rolling wave planning are similar and different:

Iterative approach

Iterative project planning is supported by both the agile frameworks scrum and rolling wave planning. This means that teams continuously complete tasks to continue achieving successful project outcomes. Both frameworks emphasize having daily meetings to discuss the project. Teams participate in standups, or daily scrum meetings, as part of the scrum framework. Daily sessions, or meetings, are held by teams who use the rolling wave planning technique. Even in the early stages of a project, these meetings in both frameworks encourage team members to share their progress on tasks and assist teams in understanding the progress they’re making toward project goals.

Order of tasks

Teams must complete tasks in a specific order in rolling wave planning because later project phases may be dependent on the results of earlier phases, or dependencies. So that team members can complete those dependencies first, project managers set clear expectations for the initial tasks. The sequence in which a team completes its tasks is less crucial when using an agile methodology like scrum. A backlog of tasks is used by teams using the scrum framework to determine their next sprint. Typically, they are not required to finish earlier tasks before working on any backlog items.


Both frameworks place an emphasis on short-term tasks, but rolling wave planning may be more advantageous for projects with tighter deadlines. Normally, teams using this framework have between one and two weeks to complete their tasks. Team members can satisfy project dependencies for later phases by completing tasks quickly. Teams that use an agile methodology, like scrum, however, frequently have more time to complete their tasks. Team members could have up to a month to complete their sprint. If they are using a scrum framework, project managers may have more time to plan out future project phases.

How to set up rolling wave planning

You can implement rolling wave planning for your project team by following these steps:

1. Identify project requirements

To help you plan the project phases, it’s crucial to identify the project requirements at the outset of a new project, along with other crucial elements like the budget and timeline. Speak with important project participants, such as managers or clients, to learn what their priorities are for the undertaking. Ask them about their expectations for the project’s outcomes and how they intend to assess the project’s success. Identifying the project requirements can help you break the project up into phases, even though there may still be some uncertainties, such as unidentified risks, in this step.

2. Outline the project phases

Start by breaking the project up into phases, but be aware that some details, especially in later stages, may change as the project moves forward. Take into account the project milestones, which are finished tasks that show advancement toward the project’s requirements. For instance, if you’re working on a new product, finishing a prototype that you can present to stakeholders might be an important milestone. Divide the project into several phases based on these milestones so that the team can advance steadily toward the project objectives. Calculate the duration of each phase to aid in planning the anticipated project timeline.

3. Plan the first phase

Spend some time preparing for the first phase of a project after you’ve outlined its anticipated phases. Make a thorough list of the tasks that the team members must accomplish during this phase. Check the project specifications before assigning tasks that could be dependencies for later project stages. In order for team members to know how much time they have for their tasks, assign tasks to them and set clear deadlines. Distribute any resources that might be useful for the team to finish their initial tasks.

4. Manage initial phases

Manage team members’ work as they begin the initial phases of the project to make sure they’re adhering to the requirements. Discuss their progress and offer advice or suggestions to assist them with their tasks during daily planning sessions. Use these meetings to communicate any modifications to the project schedule, such as risks that have been found or new project specifications. Team members can modify their work to reflect those changes with the aid of this communication. Keep track of the team’s progress during these early stages and communicate it to managers or other stakeholders to demonstrate how the team is progressing toward the project goals.

5. Continue planning for future phases

As the team completes their immediate tasks, continue making plans for upcoming project phases as you gain more knowledge. As you create specific procedures for subsequent phases, take into account the project’s budget, schedule, and scope. To assist you with this long-term planning, use the progress your team has made on project dependencies. Continue doing this as teams complete additional phases until the project’s objectives are met.

6. Evaluate the project strategy

After finishing a project using a rolling wave planning framework, reflect on the approach. Ask the team what they liked about the process. You can also ask team members to respond anonymously to a survey to get their honest opinions. To assess the success of the planning strategy, contrast the project’s actual results with the anticipated project outcomes. You can continue guiding teams to successful project outcomes by evaluating the project strategy to understand where you were successful and where you can make improvements.


Which is an example of rolling wave planning?

If you expect to complete a project in eight months but have clarity for only the first three, that is a straightforward example of a rolling wave. In this case, the first three months are planned. The upcoming months can be planned as the project develops and more clarity is attained.

What is the rolling wave method of estimating?

The Rolling Wave method of project management proposes that the project planning effort “rolls out” specific plans for the near future and that, as the project changes, the completion dates and costs are periodically reevaluated.

Is rolling wave planning agile?

Other project managers prefer a more iterative process, like scrum. Others still favor agile software development methodologies that allow them to modify their project plans. The term rolling wave planning or wave planning is used to describe this type of agile project management.

What is rolling wave planning safe?

When progressive elaboration, or iterative development, is necessary for a project, rolling wave planning is used. This is typically due to constrained timeframes, which make it necessary to re-prioritize the work’s scope in order to meet deadlines.

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