Thursday, February 21, 2013

Emergent Planning

For speedy projects, “traditional project management is simply counterproductive; it creates self-inflicted problems that seriously undermine performance” Koskela and Howell (2002, p. 301).

The problem is that events arise at a higher rate than it is practical to re-plan. New unknowns are introduced at a rapid rate as the project progresses. One must resolve the unknowns at a faster rate than they appear, and in the limited time available, within the window of opportunity. A detailed up-front plan in a dynamic environment will often mislead the team, the sponsor, and yourself (Collyer and Warren 2009).

Work Categories - Collyer and Warren 2009
Work Type
Description of Unknowns

Operational Work

There are few unknowns.
It is guided by established management controls. There are ‘operational’ processes in place.

Classic Project

Project unknowns are largely resolved at the start.
It requires the creation of new and temporary management controls and processes (e.g. project plan) beyond what already exists or is possible operationally. It may have high levels of unknowns at the start but most are resolved early, and few new unknowns arise during execution.

Dynamic Project

Project unknowns are mostly resolved during execution.
It requires the creation of new management controls that are changed regularly during execution. It has high levels of unknowns at the start and a high rate of new unknowns throughout. Managers must resolve the unknowns at a faster rate than they appear, and in time for a limited window of opportunity.

The strategy of emergent planning is one way to combat dynamism. Emergent planning is different to the traditional waterfall approach, where most components are planned in detail up-front. Some may know the emergent approach as rolling wave, where the plan for each phase is only finalised at the end of the previous phase. The iterative version is one commonly used by software developers.

Here is a description by one of my study participants:

I like to lay out the major phases / deliverables / milestones at the outset, but only plan the detail for the phase I'm about to start.
Use a high-level framework plan initially, adding detail in rolling waves. For volatile components:
  • gather the missing information more quickly than the environment changes;
  • freeze the design as late as possible, close to execution, allowing the latest developments to be incorporated
Simon Collyer

Collyer, S., Warren, C., Hemsley, B., & Stevens, C. (2010). Aim Fire Aim - Project Planning Styles in Dynamic Environments, Project Management Journal, 41(4), 108-121.

Collyer, S., & Warren, C. M. J. (2009). Project Management Approaches for Dynamic Environments, International Journal of Project Management, 27(4), 355-364
Turner, J. R., & Cochrane, R. A. (1993). Goals-and-Methods Matrix: Coping with Projects with Ill Defined Goals and/or Methods of Achieving Them. International Journal of Project Management, 11(2), 93-102
Koskela, L., & Howell, G. (2002, August 2002). The theory of project management:
Explanation to novel methods. Paper presented at the 10th Annual Conference on Lean Construction, IGLC-10, Gramado, Brazil.