In the project management world, the term “progressive elaboration” involves continuously adding to, improving and detailing a plan as more specific information and more accurate estimates become available. Progressive elaboration allows a project management team to define work and manage it to a greater level of detail as the project evolves (PMBOK® Guide).
Let’s review the concept of progressive elaboration as it relates to vendor driven software implementations. Since many software vendors offer services to configure their proprietary software to meet an organization’s specific needs, working closely with the vendor directly for your implementation is often required. In fact, often times it may seem that it is necessary for the vendor’s project manager to lead this implementation, at least in the early phases of the implementation life cycle and as your organization’s requirements are fully defined.
But two very different project management strategies are required for this project. The vendor’s project objectives are distinct from the organizations objectives.
The vendor typically leads off the project by working with project stakeholders to define configuration needs. As the information about how the organization will use the application unfolds, details about the internal side of the project emerge which will require the internal project manager along with the project team to iteratively define the implementation process within the organization. The internal project manager and project team must manage project risks and benefits and also have a keen awareness of the changes that the organization will experience throughout the process. This includes changes that rise up during the actual implementation as well as changes needed to internal processes as a result of the implementation. These different perspectives affect the expectations, goals and approaches taken by each party during the engagement.
Rolling wave planning is another iterative planning technique in which the work to be accomplished in the near term is planned in detail, while the work in the future is planned at a higher level. Rolling wave planning is a form of progressive elaboration. Therefore, work can exist at various levels of detail depending on where it is in the project life cycle. During early planning, when information is less defined, work packages may be decomposed to the known level of detail. As more is known about the upcoming events in the near term, work packages can be decomposed into specific activities.
Progressive elaboration is a recommended practice in project management and also a necessary component of the project’s related change management strategy.