Skip to content

Rolling Wave Planningλ︎

Rolling Wave Planning concept

Rolling wave planning is an incremental project management technique for planning successive projects or successive features over time. This planning technique works well when critical deadlines are required or imposed on delivery.

A project plan is frequently updated, gaining more detail over time as more is learned about the project needs and constraints. This information is regularly communicated to stakeholders to ensure expectaions continue to be met.


Features (or projects) are planned in waves and at increasing levels of details

  • features due soon have been defined in great detail over several iterations as undertanding was gained
  • features due much further away are initially defined at a very high level, raising awareness of longer term work

On a larger scale, projects can be priorities by agreeing acrosss all stakeholders the value of each project to the business and the timeliness in which they should be delivered.

On a smaller scale, features from one or more projects can be priorities by value (and technical neccessity), again agreeing with all stakeholders.

Agreed deadlines should not change by stakeholders without concequences

When priorities and deadlines are agreed or imposed then they should remain fixed for all stakeholders, unless significant justification from stakeholders can be provided.

Project managers should communicate the risks and delays inherent when stakeholders attempt to change priorities of work, shorten deadlines or extend the scope of work within an agreed deadline.

Pragmatic plansλ︎

Realistic plans should be devised around value-based or imposed deadlines, ensuring there are sufficient resources available.

Slack time should be included in plans to allow for unexpected challenges and to ensure engineering teams are not pushed into unsustainable workloads, e.g. avoid burnout.

Prevent Burnout by having a long-term view

One cause of Engineer burnout is continous sequence of deadlines, espcially when there are less than realistic time-frames involved.

Establishing a longer-term view of project work allows managers to realistically plan the work at realistic schedules for the engineering teams.

Engineers gain an appreciation of the longer term work and consider designs that are more likely to optomise the amout of work required to deliver successive projects over time.

Iterative planλ︎

For each iteration the plan should identify enough details to progress the project or feature in the immedate term. Those details should be communicate effectively to all people involved to provide a clear picture of the work and an indication of who is responsible for each work item.

Planning should be kept as short as possible, but no shorter.

Establish scopeλ︎

Agree with stakeholders the scope of the work and identify the value it will bring to the buisiness.

Undefined value should be de-prioritised

Where a stakeholder cannot communicate why a piece of work is of value to the business, then the work should be de-prioritised. This is essential where there are multiple stakeholders or one stakeholder with many requests.

Clarify with the stakeholder that value should be provided in an understandable context for the engineering team

Where there is a single or dominant stakeholder that cannot communicte value, they must take sole and full responsibility of delivery (or lack of).


Engeering management and teams identify risks and constraints within the scope of the work and plan to reduce potential impact.

Discuss the requirements and identify the most critical work and percieved gaps in knowledge or understanding.

Create an initial break down work into managable pieces of work (e.g. 1 day to 1 week time frame),starting with the most critical work or areas of greatest uncertanty (risk).

Highlight deadlines and interconnected work and devise a specific assignment of work where neccessary.

When forming a new team, identify roles and responsibilities for individuals in the team and as well as the team overall.


Quickly review the plan for the current iteration (wave).

Feedback on assumptions as more is learned about the work whilst doing the work.

As the team commences work, the manager starts to plan the next wave and updates the relevant stakeholders.

Teams work on their tasks and the manager monitors and tracks progress and performance.

The manager will also work towards reducing uncertainties in the later stages of the project.


Continue this process of iteration until you’ve reached the end of the project.

When the project or feature has been delivered, conduct a post mortem retrospective to discuss

  • what worked well
  • what did not work so well
  • what to do more of
  • what to do less of

Run a retrospective

Managing Uncertantyλ︎

Rolling wave plan is an effective way to manage high levels of uncertainty and risk.

Taking an incremental approach provides regular analysis and feedback into the project plans, allowing timely changes and supporting considerable piviots in direction.

Progress of the plan should be monitored and challenges identified quickly so that enough time is available to make considered changes to the plan, with the conseus and understanding from the wider team.