Progressive Elaboration

Posted: March 12, 2009 in Project Management
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A project is defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. This definition explicitly states two of three characteristics of a project-Temporary (which means it has definitive start and end dates), and Unique (in the end product or service delivered out of the project). However, this definition implies a third important characteristic of a project which is Progressive Elaboration.

If you are reading a book discussing a topic that is new to you, you would start with the preface that gives you an overview about the book’s subject. This high-level synopsis about the book would be clearer to you in more details as you read more through the sequential chapters. At the end, you would find yourself having comprehensive and detailed knowledge elaborated as you progressed in your reading.

Managing a project resembles reading a book in the way knowledge and details are being built up as the project goes on. It means that a project is developing in steps and is continuing by increments. As more details become available as you progress in a project, you update your high-level initial plan and come up with more accurate estimates. For example, if you have a 2-phase project lifecycle (Concept and Design) your first iteration in planning will be some high-level or fairly detailed Concept phase with very few details on the Design phase. As the project progresses you will get more details about requirements that fit into the Concept phase and adds more details to the Design phase, and so on.

Progressive Elaboration characteristic in a project leads to what is called Iterative Processes. These processes result in outputs that feed into other previous processes to update the plan. For instance, when you create the Work Breakdown Structure in the Create WBS process you might end up with some necessary updates to the previously built Scope Statement (during the Scope Definition process). Hence, this output/input update phenomenon from one process to another builds up the progressive elaboration characteristic of projects.

As we can see this feature makes managing projects a flexible and an integrated endeavor. Project management processes work together in harmony to constitute one integrated vehicle that would lead project team to achieving project deliverables within set constraints. However, progressive elaboration should be used with care and according to the Change Management Plan so as to prevent what is known as “Scope Creep” that I will discuss in my coming blogs.

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