Agile methodologies have become one of the leading and most popular approaches to project management today, particularly those that involve cooperation between multiple stakeholders and the customer / end user. Agile has been applied in a number of sectors and can usually be used in IT and software development, as well as in banking, marketing and advertisement. It is also gradually starting to become more popular in almost every project-related industry.

But what about the construction?   Can a construction project be managed using the Agile methodology? Can a project with high cost, such as skyscrapers, bridges or tunnels, which require multiple stakeholders and, in some cases , government bodies, and which has unique criteria, including the need to last a lifetime, literally depend on the management of the Agile project?

EVOLUTION OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Let’s take a step back to look at the evolution of current project management methodologies. The first form of modern project management came in the early 1900s with the development of Gantt charts; the 1950s saw the Critical Path Process (CPM); and later, the Program Assessment and Analysis Technique (PERT). In the 1960s, project management was primarily based on Waterfall methods, the precursor to Agile methodologies.

The Waterfall Approach is a breakdown of project requirements and activities into linear sequential phases. Each and every requirement is collected from the start of the project, with each subsequent phase depending on the deliverables of the previous phase and corresponding to the specification of the tasks. This technique originated in the manufacturing and construction industries, and before Agile appeared, the Waterfall was the most commonly recognized and used to manage projects in almost every industry, especially the software sector.

IS THE WATERFALL APPROACH GOOD ENOUGH?

As software projects became larger and more complicated, and certain specifications became more ambiguity, the industry started to have concerns about the Waterfall approach. It has come to be seen as one of the less iterative and versatile techniques, as it is difficult to switch back to make improvements in previous phases. The testing process will begin after the construction of the project is over and, if the specifications are not evident from the outset, this can lead to significant setbacks in deliverables, delays, cost overruns and even project failures. It also left no room for quality improvement or successful change management.

Taking into account the advancement of project management methodologies in the IT and software development field and the fact that the Waterfall method methodology is a sequential method close to that used in the construction industry, it could be argued that Agile will benefit from the management of construction projects or at least prove more effective in some construction projects.

KEY FEATURES OF AGILE

Here are a few main aspects of Agile Project Management, how they can be implemented and how they can impact the management of construction projects:

Project breakdown: The Agile project is often broken down into chunks that are observable, functional and add value. A chunk that is being created can be turned over to the client, which is not the case in the conventional work breakdown structure.

• Product approval: the customer / product owner is far more involved as Agile is applied and aligned in all stages, from design to construction to facility management. Plant approval, construction supervision and final acceptance are made simpler under this strategy.

• Customer involvement: because the customer is concerned with Agile, the clarity of the final product is assured. This participation brings more value to the product, decreases the workload and is required to satisfy consumer expectations and specifications.

Continuous Feedback: Agile is very flexible in such a way that all partners work together with continuous feedback that leads to continual progress, improved overall team efficiency and reduced errors.

Team building approach: continuous feedback and approval of the client or suggestions for improvement within a time schedule promote team development and eliminate unnecessary tension and workload.

• Fast project development: with consistent evaluations, preparation and feedback, Agile makes it possible to maximize productivity and minimize the number of revisions. This should mean a shorter timeframe for development, less mistakes or changes and greater client satisfaction.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AGILE ON CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

In the context of a construction project, a minor change in design can lead to a postponement of the development schedule and a massive increase in costs in its subsequent stages. Each task in a construction project is conducted one after the other or in a linear manner, and any adjustment will result in a rollback to the tasks already addressed and to the development process in general. This can mean catastrophe in terms of expense, time, etc. and even failure of the project.

As described above, Agile has been most effectively applied in software development projects, where improvements or rollbacks are made at every point of the project by coding and adjustment. The construction industry is more complex, and the implementation of Agile may not be as simple or as straightforward as some may assume. However, Agile can also be applied to many phases of the construction process:

Initiation and Planning phase:

• Involvement of the client / product owner in this phase will mean consistent and well-defined requirement and specifications and, ultimately, clarification of the final product.

• With each stakeholder taking part in this phase and via their continuous feedback, you ensure accountability between stakeholders, increased efficiency and fewer errors.

• This method facilitates team building, strengthens teamwork and reduces excessive tension and workload from the team.

• The combination of the above points would eventually lead to a quicker timeline for production, less error or changes and client satisfaction.

Execution phase:

This step is more challenging when it comes to implementing pure Agile, but some simple Agile principles will still help to progress consistently, make things easier to complete quicker and more effectively, and minimize costly mistakes.

Much research exists on how adjustments, errors and/or poor communication during construction can exponentially increase the cost of the project. For example , research has shown that quality failure can result in a construction cost of up to 20% of the original contract value (OCV) of the project. Another paper found that the lack of communication and technology costs the building industry $177 billion annually in the United States alone. This is almost 14 percent of the size of the US market.

With some simple Agile approaches to building project management, the team can prepare, execute, change and track decisions more easily and efficiently. It is not easy to incorporate pure Agile at this point, of course, but some simple principles can lead to reduced costs in terms of materials, resources and overtime, increased teamwork with minimal uncertainty, less project delays, and happier clients who are well informed and active in the process.

AGILE METHODOLOGY IN CONSTRUCTION | LIMITATIONS

The application of the Agile System in all phases of the construction project is not as simple as in the development of software, but can still yield substantial benefits where applicable. Any key issues / pitfalls need to be addressed in order for the Agile approach to be applied in each step of the construction project:

• A number of changes can not be implemented from the execution process and forward, or will result in a substantial rise in the cost of the project. — Suggested solution: Mindful and accurate work during the planning phase is important in order not to trigger changes in the execution phase.

• Meetings can not be minimized as in the case of software development programs. Integrated meetings with multiple stakeholders and at various phases of the project are required. — Suggested solution: more coordinated and centralized structures for all stakeholders are required for communication and data sharing in order to better interact and minimize the time spent in meetings.

• By definition, Agile deliverables for software development are not piece by piece, but incremental pieces that add value to the project and therefore to the customer / product owner. In the case of a construction project, an incremental piece can not be handed over to the customer. — Suggested solution: the deliverables must be clearly defined and clarified in such a way that the consumer can appreciate their importance without being handed over. fVisual representation and a summary dashboard will help for better understanding.

• Agile construction management needs an incredible organization, administration and proper implementation of the methodology, since construction projects are much more complex than other industries that use the methodology. Such complexity can cause delays that increase the cost of the project exponentially. — Suggested solution: Agile must be well executed or not at all.

It has become clear that the implementation of pure Agile in all phases of the construction process is not feasible due to the limitations listed above. However, an Agile approach can be applied during the initiation and preparation phase and can make this process more effective. It may also be beneficial to some degree in the subsequent phases of the project.

Agile may help to organize and schedule projects, track and monitor progress, and strengthen and reinforce collaboration, leading to continuous improvement. It helps an organization to perform more effectively by assigning well-defined tasks to staff, reducing excessive stress, promoting collaboration and preventing missed deadlines and unnecessary workload — all factors that can cause a project to fail or paralyze an organization. I hope you liked this article and, as always, I am open to discussing methodologies. You will find me on LinkedIn or by emailing me directly to gbenga@oakinterlink.com

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