progressive elaboration

Due to the limited information available, it is frequently impossible to establish a thorough project plan. However, as the project progresses, it gets more detail, and so the project plan is updated to accommodate new information. The plan gets more complex with each iteration. Progressive elaboration is the term for this planning strategy.

Definition: Progressive elaboration is the continuous enhancement of a project plan based on new learnings and insights gained throughout the project lifecycle.

Progressive elaboration enables the project management team to fine-tune the project management plan as the scope of work is defined and tasks can be seen in greater depth as the project advances.

The project team can receive stakeholder comments throughout the project life cycle thanks to progressive elaboration. This causes project requirements to change frequently and gives the team the knowledge they need to finish the project.

Why is Progressive Elaboration Required?

Progressive elaboration is required for the following reasons:

Setting Effective Project Objectives

Clear and unambiguous project objectives increase the likelihood of success. With more detail, setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound Goals) targets becomes more manageable. The SMART objectives are established and improved through incremental elaboration, which also helps the project team finish the project on schedule and within budget.

Helps Communicate More Effectively

Progressive elaboration makes stakeholder management simpler. It enables project managers to keep cohesive teams together. The method can be used by the project management team to enlist the aid of organizational experts and collect feedback from front-line team members.

It is a more intuitive way of managing a project.

Helps in Project Risk Management

Progressive elaboration lets project managers identify project risks, and they can plan for such eventualities and develop a risk response plan to manage risk when it occurs.

Avoiding Overly Strict Planning

Fixed planning can become rigid and create a stressful work environment. Numerous product versions are created, prototyped, tested, and improved during an iterative cycle. Planning for progressive elaboration is adaptable and permits adjustments to consider more precise requirements.

Recognize Issues And Incorporate Feedback

It helps team members discover problems, gather stakeholders’ feedback, and develop a better plan. It is a more intuitive method of project management.

Types of Progressive Elaboration

The PMBOK Guide defines two types of progressive elaboration:

  1. Rolling Wave Planning
  2. Prototyping

Rolling Wave Planning

Project planning is carried out in waves in rolling wave planning. This indicates that the immediate work is meticulously prepared while the long-term work is planned at a higher level. As the project advances, the remote work is improved, and a thorough plan is created.

In order to address anticipated project changes, rolling wave planning is a strategic project management approach in which teams work in smaller waves or time frames.

Mid- to long-term work has high-level planning, whereas short-term work and deliverables are methodically scheduled. As the project moves to the next stage, the missing knowledge is integrated as it becomes evident.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) advises rolling wave planning for work packages, planning packages, release planning, and agile projects.

As the project progresses, the risks, assumptions, constraints, and milestones become more defined and reliable.

For instance, you estimate that a project will take eight months to complete, but you are clear on the first three. As a result, you will create a detailed plan for the next three months. Once the project is moving forward, you gain greater clarity and build the remaining details of the strategy.

The rolling wave technique makes advantage of advanced sequencing, which allows work packages to be handled in increasing depth over time.

The project manager is still required to create a list of important deadlines and expectations notwithstanding this planning strategy. In order for stakeholders to understand why the rolling wave method is being utilized and what to anticipate as the project moves forward, milestones and critical hypotheses are essential.

When Should the Rolling Wave Method be Used?

The project management team can use this approach in the following situations:

  1. When it is impossible to develop a complete project plan in a short time.
  2. When the deliverables are unclear.
  3. When it is impossible to organize the project’s many phases.
  4. The project team must complete the job within a certain amount of time.
  5. Project milestones, budgets, and timelines aren’t always clear. 
  6. Process-oriented or sequential tasks must be completed by a specific date.

For example:

A project manager decided to take the PMP certification.

She does not know the details of the PMP exam but has a goal to pass it. So she only planned the training and fixed the exam date.

Later she attended the training and got all the information about their PMP project, then she planned her study in detail.


Creating a small functioning model, testing it for performance, or showing the client a product in action is prototyping.

Numerous product versions are created, prototyped, tested, and improved over this iterative process cycle. The project team modifies the product incrementally in real-time rather than in stages. It enables the team to identify issues as they go along, collect input from stakeholders, and create fresh concepts.

A prototype speeds up the learning process by helping to clarify the needs and modify the plan as necessary. The prototypes support progressive elaboration because they:

  1. Are used in the repetitive cycles of mock-up creation
  2. Are applied during prototype revision
  3. Allow feedback generation
  4. Facilitate user experimentation.

Change Requests as a Result of Progressive Elaboration

The project management team must deal with changes when they occur through change requests as part of the change control process. Identifying a need to change the program and the subsequent amendment to the project plan are examples of progressive elaboration throughout the project.

The approved and recommended change request may be a corrective action, a preventive action, or a defect repair, as explained below.

Corrective Actions

Corrective actions are process changes that realign current performance with the plan.

Preventive Actions

Preventive actions are process improvements that focus on future performance.

Defect Repair Actions

Defect repair actions modify a nonconforming product or component.

Although they are mentioned in the PMBOK, change requests are not the most effective way to include progressive elaboration in a project because they take longer and use more resources.

Planning a project to include new information into the plan by adding to existing planning items is preferable than processing updates as formal revisions.

As long as it supports the project’s goals, you should proceed. However, you must use the change control system and submit the change request if progressive elaboration results in a modification to the plan.

Regular Re-planning of Project Activities

It is impossible to build a thorough strategy and establish project baselines at the outset of complicated and protracted waterfall-style projects.

Such initiatives include significant IT, infrastructural, research and development, and construction projects. For example, it is impossible to plan extensively from the beginning when building an airport, establishing a new ERP or Core Banking System, or developing a new medication.

Backlog Maintenance in Agile Projects

Progressive elaboration is “built-in” to agile projects because the Agile Manifesto includes the idea of “embracing change.” The project is sensitive to new demands thanks to short iterations, quick production timelines, and a backlog of sorted product needs that is updated often.

Delivering increments, soliciting feedback, and frequently altering the backlog are all examples of progressive elaborations in agile projects.

This approach enables teams to make changes mid-project to accommodate client needs or address problems. It works best for tasks that don’t have a defined due date or a comprehensive list of prerequisites. It is less expensive and perfect for test applications.


Progressive elaboration is a method of project planning that entails updating the project plan with new information as it becomes available.

Progressive elaboration makes sure that the project team is not overburdened with work and can successfully concentrate on the task at hand.