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Plan for Progressive Elaboration
By Kevin L. Smith, MBA, PMP

A critical element of any project is understanding the business goals and objectives. Developing the solution to satisfy those goals is the responsibility of the project manager. While senior executives generally have a clear view of the business goal, they rarely have a clear understanding of how the solution impacts all stakeholders. Ideally, creating a complete set of requirements early in the project would enable better planning, more accurate cost estimates, and shorter delivery cycles. However, depending on the complexity of the solution, identifying the detail of the requirements upfront would be time consuming and would cause significant delay.

To overcome this stagnation, project managers should introduce the technique of progressive elaboration early in the project-planning phase. The progressive elaboration process allow projects to be initiated with a broadly defined scope and can continuously build upon the scope as more detailed and specific information becomes available throughout project execution. But for this process to be successful, senior executives must support it and be active participants for decision making and providing approvals. Below is how the progressive elaboration could be executed.

Obtain Executive Support

Senior executives have identified a need to implement a new solution. The business goals have been defined, project objectives have been determined, budget estimates have been allocated, and a fixed delivery date has been identified. Now, you have been called upon to lead the delivery of the project. You confidently accept the challenge and compile the information provided by the senior executives to prepare the Preliminary Scope Statement.

You obtain approval of the Preliminary Scope Statement, engage appropriate stakeholders, develop the project management plan (which includes the scope planning process, change management process, cost management process, etc.) and obtain required approvals of this documentation. Now what?

Develop Project Scope and Begin Execution

Because you have the support of senior executives, you are now able follow the scope management plan and begin the scope definition process. You use the Preliminary Scope Statement as the foundation to build upon the existing information. You engage your subject matter experts (SMEs) who perform a solution/product analysis, establish the critical success factors, define the product scope, and help develop the detailed Project Scope Statement.

There is now enough information to begin developing work breakdown structure, build the project schedule, and prepare a more detailed budget estimate. Once complete, you seek and obtain approvals for this set project management artifacts and set the project baseline. Now that the newly gathered scope information is “finalized,” you begin the execution phase and start fulfilling project deliverables.

As your team advances through the project schedule, new information is discovered that requires updates to the project scope. You document the new requirements and present how they impact the schedule and budget to the change control board. Once approved, you amend the appropriate project artifacts to reflect the changes. At a minimum, the project scope statement, the work breakdown structure, the project schedule, and the budget estimate is adjusted to reflect the newly approved requirements.

March Towards Project Success

Executing this process is part of your progressive elaboration plan, which is included in your project planning documentation. You have established this process and your change management process as a standard part of the project lifecycle. Your team has been educated that progressive elaboration is a project management technique that requires the project plan, scope, and budget to be continuously modified as newer and more improved information is discovered. You have set-forth the expectation that newly discovered requirements will likely require updates to project artifacts that will require stakeholder approval.

Because you have set the appropriate expectation regarding progressive elaboration, project stakeholders and your change control board will be available (according to your communication management plan) to respond appropriately to change requests. The project team understands that while the business goals of the project will be constant, the solution/requirements the meet those goals will be constantly developing.


Introducing progressive elaboration early in the project is a critical to clearly defining requirements to support project goals and objectives. For progressive elaboration to be effective, critical success factors must be defined and understood by project stakeholders. The goal of progressive elaboration is not to add “nice-to-haves,” to the project scope, but to enhance the existing requirements that support the business goals and objectives. This process is not Scope Creep. It is requirements gathering and for it be effective, it is necessary for senior leaders and other stakeholders to be actively engaged.

Kevin Smith, MBA, PMP is the Director of Project Management at Provident Enterprises, a Business Management Consulting firm specializing in process optimization utilizing Six Sigma Techniques. Provident Enterprises prides itself in assisting organizations in cutting cost and increasing productivity. Throughout his career, Kevin has been instrumental in leading global IT infrastructure initiatives as well as in-house re-engineering solutions. He enjoys great depth of experience and expertise in project team leadership, portfolio management, and earned value management.

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