Rolling wave planning is a technique that assists managers in concentrating on short-term objectives and creating adjustments while keeping the overall picture in mind. It's an iterative approach to work, with the planning and execution taking place in specified, scheduled waves. Each wave occurs every week or more, depending on how quickly things move, with daily standups in the morning to allocate tasks and ensure everybody knows what they will work on for the day.

What is Rolling Wave Planning?

Rolling wave planning is a strategic project management method in which teams operate in smaller waves or over shorter periods to handle anticipated project changes. Teams first define the project scope and establish the deliverables, budgets, and tasks. They operate iteratively, setting milestones and objectives as they progress or gain clarity.

Agile's rolling wave planning allows teams to focus on short-term goals while keeping the overall picture in mind. The project continues to go forward in short phases while planning for the subsequent wave in the background.

Benefits of Rolling Wave Planning

Project managers should be adaptable and have a procedure that gives structure and allows for change when obstacles arise. It ensures consistency, flexibility, and control, which the rolling wave technique offers.

The advantages of rolling wave planning include

  • Making sure the manager can see all of the project's essential tasks, goals, and dependencies 
  • Keeps team members up to date on their short-term project milestones.
  • Assisting managers in changing course as new information emerges and unexpected problems emerge
  • Accelerates the fulfillment of long-term objectives
  • It also improves team responsibility and stakeholder support

Project managers can greatly reduce project uncertainty through rolling wave planning. It enables very flexible project planning while fostering creativity at every stage.

Which Industries Benefit From Using Rolling Wave Planning?

The rolling wave planning method is ideal for projects where project execution might be risky since complete project planning information is not readily available such as software development.

Other projects and industries, however, are well suited to wave planning and its iterative approach to project planning. For instance, consider research and development programs. These projects are not designed to end with a measurable output. They are researching and expecting to find new services or products.

High-tech projects, too, take the help of rolling wave planning. Any project oriented to innovation will continually change to capitalize on opportunities since they do not follow a linear path. They need the flexibility to adjust as features change while maintaining the control required to complete any project successfully.

Rolling Wave Planning vs. Agile Sprints

Agile sprints are periods in which tasks are completed. Both Agile and rolling wave planning are highly iterative methods of working. They both include holding daily standup meetings before beginning work on the allocated assignments. 

There are several parallels between the two methods of project management. They are, however, not interchangeable. Rolling wave planning is preferred when working with scheduled tasks on a tight project timeline. Although rolling wave planning is short-term, the deadlines are set, and the tasks are sequential.

Sprints are a method of working in an agile project setting that is less concerned with task sequences, deadlines, or the critical path. As a result, while rolling wave planning and scrum agile sprints have some similar characteristics, they are distinct and should not be used interchangeably. Project managers should choose the one that works best with the scope of their project plan.

When To Use Rolling Wave Planning in Project Management

Rolling wave planning is suitable for certain projects. Here are some situations which would help you identify if this project management method is for your project.

Uncertain Project Goals

The rolling wave plan is ideal for projects with unclear goals or deadlines. With rolling wave planning, the project's risk management becomes simple. It enables companies to adapt if an issue develops into a potential threat. Teams can immediately fix those problems with rolling wave planning before jeopardizing the project.

Projects Where Planning Data is Unavailable

Rolling wave project planning is best suited for projects where project planning data is unavailable or not clearly defined and execution is difficult. Software development projects, for example, are perfect for rolling wave planning implementation.

Research and Development Projects

Other sectors and projects can also benefit from the rolling wave technique's iterative project planning. Most complex R&D projects, for example, are not designed to produce clear results. On the other hand, these projects are designed to research and develop new products or services.

Innovative Projects

Rolling wave planning should be used for projects involving extensive innovation. Teams must be prepared to adapt to profit from hidden opportunities. Control over the successful project delivery is not compromised due to greater flexibility. 

Rolling Wave Planning Steps

Rolling wave planning helps you to be creative while staying within the project's scope, budget, and schedule. It can be challenging for project managers to balance remaining creative and adhering to a project framework at times. But rolling wave planning allows project managers to try and achieve the best of both. These are the common steps to start rolling wave planning.

Step 1: Identify Risks

Begin by identifying project hazards and potential mitigation strategies.

Hold a team meeting to discuss project goals, deliverables, and deadlines. Assign defined roles, duties, and tasks to team members following the meeting.

Step 2: Outline Project Attributes

The project team develops a timeframe and budget and arranges the resources needed to complete the project. 

Teams utilize a work breakdown structure to identify project objectives and deliverables and to divide the overall project into smaller, manageable portions of tasks known as horizons. These horizons are displayed on a Gantt chart.

Step 3: Plan The Waves

The first wave of the project must be meticulously planned. Details are then incorporated into previously finished work in the earlier wave. Teams streamline the wave's budget, schedule, and required resources. Planning for the next wave begins while work on the prior one continues.

Step 4: Set Up Project Baseline

A baseline is created for the project's scope, cost, and schedule. This guarantees that project time and resources are used as efficiently as possible.

Step 5: Begin The First Wave

Teams begin working on their allocated tasks, while project managers closely monitor their performance and the project's overall progress. The emphasis is on reducing uncertainties in the project's subsequent stages.

Step 6: Continue The Waves Until Goals Are Achieved

These waves continue until the project's objectives are met. Following the completion of the project, teams do an in-depth study of what went well and what did not. This review will help them prepare for the next tasks.


Rolling wave planning helps remove ambiguity while creating a structure that allows flexibility and control. It enables project managers to respond to uncertainty and approach problems more carefully and slowly.

Managers can use project management tools to enhance the efficiency of rolling wave planning. Project management software simplifies the process by allowing the project managers to let the software track tasks, updates, and schedules rather than manually track them.

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