A macro plan is a high-level description of a project. About 50 activities or less that define the overall work that needs to be done to achieve an objective.
The macro plan represents the "systems architecture" of how you and your team view the work content. Like how a Systems Architect defines the high level interface points of a complex system, so does a macro plan define the critical touch-points between major phases of work. Without a macro plan you can't "see the forest for the trees."
A macro plan provides a quick feasibility assessment of schedule, cost, and resource requirements for a program. The gap between the target date and "real" schedule can be assessed. Macro plans take 3-4 hours to build with core teams.
The macro plan also defines the structure under which you can break work down into detail. Since it starts from the top-down, the detail flows logically. When schedules are developed from the bottom-up they tend not to fit together at the upper level since the information was never designed with the larger view in perspective. Same is true of complex system that are designed "bottom-up" -- they usually have interface problems when the pieces come together.
The animation above illustrates the macro to micro planning process which involves creating the high-level macro plan with the cross-functional core team and then decomposing the near-term schedule into 1-5 day durations. It is a waste of time to expand the detail break-down window (beyond a few weeks) since most of that information will change, so why spend time refining it.
This is followed by Refresh Planning; which is the continuous process (with the core team again along with selected extended team leaders) of updating the schedule with actual performance data (what really happened) and then continuing to break-down the long duration tasks into finer granularity. This process continues through to the end of the project, so in effect, the planning process never ends until the project does.
Done right, this process takes 20-30 minutes a day with a core team. Not a big time investment in order to get a realistic driving project schedule.
Short interval scheduling through incremental work-breakdown has the following characteristics:
Your schedule is, at best, an approximation of reality and must evolve as more is known
The macro plan sets the overall “architecture” of how you want the project organized
A macro plan approximates the overall, while the near-term schedule provides the basis for pull-in
Why waste time planning in detail out into the future when it will surely change
Near term historical data will help to improve the going forward near-term estimates