Progressive Elaboration

Progressive elaboration can be defined as continuously improving and detailing a plan as more detail and specific information and more accurate estimates become available as the project progresses, and thereby producing more accurate and complete plans that result from successive iterations of the planning process.

So, what does that really mean. In practice it basically means that we don’t have enough information when we first start to plan a project to be able to reliably plan it out in detail. There are too many unknowns. There are too many unanswered questions. And we won’t be able to answer them until we get to that point in the project.

Every project is progressively elaborated. Think about it. A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. It is a unique enterprise created to solve a problem or fulfill a need. By it’s very nature of having never been done before within the organization there will be many unknowns and unanswered questions.

Because of the uniqueness in every project, iteration becomes the rule. In my experience in software development projects, we knew from the get go that there would be lots of changes as we moved forward. Things change. In a nutshell: we had to be ready to accept change. What we initially thought would work one way turned out to be impractical. Something new would be created by an outside party that did a better job than what we had originally designed. In software or web development, change is the rule, not the exception.

So what do you do? Well here are some suggestions:

Be sure to communicate with all the team leaders and stakeholders if change becomes inevitable. Make them a part of process of determining what, how, where, and when that change will occur. Make sure they understand why it’s occurring.

Make sure you gather reactions to any change that needs to occur. Not gathering all feedback can be disastrous because that one piece of information you neglected to get could have been the deciding factor on whether change took affect.

Remember that change will not be readily accepted. Especially in companies where many of the employees have been doing the same thing for many years. They live by “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. They’re comfortable with the way things are. But most likely they’re really just afraid of the unknown, which is what your proposed change will bring, at least in their minds. Prepare for continual reporting of progress and delays so everyone knows how the change is advancing and what successes have been made. Be prepared to enforce these changes though, especially when some try to revert to old habits.

Be sure to create the means for people to express their thoughts and feelings. Be supportive, show empathy. By hearing people out and allowing them to participate in the development of the needed change you are allowing them ownership. You create buy in by the very people who are affected and need to accept this change. People who feel they have ownership in the process are more apt to want to see it succeed then those who don’t.

Most importantly, be sure to create a plan to handle this change using project management techniques, such as risk assessments, stakeholder analysis and progress measurements. But don’t be afraid of change, just be prepared for it.

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Author: Rich Garling

Successful results-driven experience in IT program/project management, focusing on collaborating with multiple businesses and IT workstreams to define detailed business process requirements into workable enterprise software solutions for retail, finance, pharmaceutical, and inventory processes. A successful proven track record in leading cross-functional international teams of project managers while managing expectations and delivering projects of greater than $10M within stakeholder expectations. Provided an in-depth knowledge of SDLC using Agile and Waterfall project management methodologies (Scrum Master (SMC)), MS IT Management/Project Management (AMU)), and a talent for developing business requirements delivering workable technology solutions. Rich holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Science in Information Technology/Project Management from American Military University. He is currently a Project Manager III for Bradford Hammacher Group in Niles, IL/