Does this scenario sound familiar? A three-year project has entered year two of its implementation phase. In general, the project is going OK. The logic of the project intervention is still valid, and the deliverables are still viable. There is, however, a significant problem with the project plan. The field reality of year two implementation has little in common with what was predicted when the project plans were developed 20 months earlier. It is increasingly clear that certain budget estimates were significantly underestimated, while other line items are no longer needed because of changes to the roles of implementing partners.
While these challenges can be addressed through a combination of issues management and change requests, some projects have addressed it through a strategy of iterative project planning.
In an iterative planning model, an initial project plan is established when the project is approved. However, recognizing that the field reality of project implementation can/will vary over time, the details of the project plan are not set out until later. Instead of establishing a single detailed implementation plan, the projects subscribe to a planning model that includes periodic updates of implementation plans. In development projects, these periodic plans are usually made on a yearly basis and are called Annual Operating plans. In an emergency response project, this time frame for updated plans might be significantly shorter. ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection group, for example, permits an adjustment to project proposals once every three months, based on an understanding about who needs to authorize changes for each of the levels of the logical framework.
By adopting an iterative project planning approach, organizations have more flexibility to accommodate change. The project team is able to revisit the project implementation plan at the beginning of each project period to:
- Confirm the logic, risks, opportunities, assumptions and constraints.
- Update and revise the activities, timelines and resources of the project.
- Ensure that the project intervention activities are focused on addressing the risks and issues that pose the most immediate threats to project success.
PMD Pro Guide – page 73