Thursday, 7 January 2010

Rolling Wave Planning or the Sliding Planning Window

One of the techniques advocated by JISC infoNet is the Sliding Planning Window, often called Rolling or Moving Wave Planning.

This involves planning in detail only so far ahead as you can be reasonably certain how things will unfold. The horizon depends very much on your own circumstances – in some cases measured in months, in others weeks, in others perhaps even less. The approach is designed to save you wasting time doing things like planning a site visit on day 427 of the project before the project has even started. You cannot possibly know at that stage that day 427 would be appropriate or feasible.

However the technique is not an excuse not to plan. Some of the activities involved in the project will have fixed deadlines, so it is important to set out the project plan in terms of deadlines, milestones and a breakdown of tasks and their dependencies on each other. It’s necessary to know the extent of the resource and effort needed. The scheduling can wait until you can be certain that things have a chance of happening how you plan them.

As the name Sliding Planning Window suggests, as time moves onwards, so your horizon moves and things become clearer – each day, each week, each month, as appropriate you can schedule the next period and plan in detail.

You need to ensure that stakeholders, team members and contractors know when they are likely to be needed well in advance. How freely available the time of workers is will give you an indication as to how you need to deal with the activities leading up to their involvement. Some activities that the next activity depends on will require a firm fixed deadline. Some workers will be able to mobilise with more flexibility. Where dependencies or areas of risk come together you need to keep a tighter grip on the plan, seeking progress reports in greater detail or at shorter intervals. These reports can be as formal or informal as circumstances dictate.

Some managers can be challenged by such an approach, wanting to see a fully detailed and scheduled plan up front. This may be because they think you should be able to eliminate risk - an impossibility. It can lead to wasted resource spent planning, only for subsequent events to throw up the need to replan the small detail. In such cases it might help to think of this approach in terms of time-related tolerance.

The JISC infoNet Project Management infoKit was written for the UK Higher and Further Education sectors, but is generic in much of its nature and is available free of charge or site registration.