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How to Apply Agile Principles in Construction Projects

How to Apply Agile Principles in Construction Projects

April 12, 2020

Traditionally, construction is a slow-moving industry with stagnant productivity growth and poor cost outcomes. Despite the advancement of construction technology, such as BIM for design and engineering, most companies are still struggling to keep their projects on time and on budget.

Especially with turnkey projects, any mistake-related contingency will result in high compensation, aka profit loss. To protect your profit margins, it’s high time you reengineered the way your company manages construction projects.

In a plan-driven environment of construction project management (CPM), any slight change in the process can introduce scope creep.

For instance, your crew requests to use different materials because the ones specified by the architect are unavailable. They either end up waiting for hours, even days, to get approval or find a temporary solution that doesn’t meet the design requirements. On the other hand, the finance department isn’t aware of the change order, leading to discrepancies in the customer invoice.

These problems often appear due to the lack of periodic planning, on-field risk management, and inefficient workflows. Plus, inadequate communication from pre-construction to closeout also causes misunderstanding between architectural designs and field operations. As a project manager, you’ll need to maintain regular communication to:

– Increase transparency into the project.

– Involve stakeholders in the decision-making process.

– Improve collaboration on field execution.

This calls for a new breed of construction project management.

To achieve delivery success, project managers are breaking away from disparate processes, those that are restricted on paper, email, and spreadsheet. And the pinnacle of construction transformation is organizational agility.

Construction agility is demonstrated through the ability to resolve problems quickly, enabled by speedy information processing and frictionless workflow management. You can leverage agile methodologies to augment waterfall practices.

Want to learn more about agile principles and how you can apply them to execute successful construction projects every time? Keep reading!

What Does It Mean to Be Agile?

Agile methodologies, created in 2001, consist of a set of guiding principles for software development. Rather than a framework, agile is a mindset anchored by four core values:

1. Individual and team interactions over processes and tools

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

4. Responding to change over following a plan

In an agile environment, teams deliberately leave out long-term planning and, instead, invite frequent customer feedback to ensure continuous improvements of the product. This minimizes risks and allows the project to adapt to changes quickly. The project is broken into smaller increments to be completed in a (typically) 2-week period. Agile development focuses on delivering working software in a shorter time frame, as compared to the conventional waterfall method.

You may ask, with its sequential nature, how can a construction project be agile? Upfront planning is crucial to detail a bid permit, as well as to submit regulatory documents. Plus, the nature of the design-bid-build contract means the client has less interaction during the pre-design and execution phases.

Well, if the conventional waterfall project works like clockwork, why change?

The key benefit of agile is the ability to pivot when problems occur – and problems happen in (almost) every phase of construction project management.

Now, let’s visualize the project deliverables, perfectly laid out on a work breakdown structure. As you break each deliverable down into further sub-tasks or tangible project outcomes, you’d have functional work packages – architects to create design and technical specifications, estimators to quantify the project requirements, and so on. The completion of a work package can be a dependency for other work packages. With this work breakdown structure, you can anticipate what needs to be done over the entire course of the project.

However, as each of these work packages involves a series of activities, you tend to miss out on the risks that crop up on the job due to lack of incremental planning.

Furthermore, the lack of transparency between owner and construction team invites even more frequent changes to the project.

Adopting agile means encouraging periodic planning across trades, making sure all stakeholders are aware of the project progress. Then, comes cross-trade collaboration along the project lifecycle– which isn’t feasible in traditional waterfall methods where individual teams work in a cascading sequence.

Ready to learn more about agile construction management? Here’s a simple 4-step guide to applying agile methodologies in your project.

Four Steps to Construction Agility

Agile project development is presented as below:

construction agility

Each cycle represents a sprint, where you focus on early delivery of functional systems. Translating an agile sprint into a construction sprint looks like this:

construction sprint

A backlog is a repository of all the work that needs to be completed. And teams prioritize and select the tasks to deliver according to the project timeline. Instead of having tasks assigned to them, each team plans and executes their work package autonomously through every sprint. You can organize tasks that are in-development into a sprint board for real-time tracking.

Construction Roadmap

First, outline the construction execution plan on a roadmap, including the typical sequence: pre-bidding, planning stage, execution stage, implementation, and handover stage.

With a high-level roadmap, you can clearly define the scope requirements, task dependencies, as well as the timeline for all deliverables. From here, you can decompose them into work packages and the teams involved in coordinating the project execution.

Now, visualize your project plan on the Gantt chart for scheduling and monitoring. Keep in mind that, while the roadmap is generally fixed, the construction timeline may require adjustments due to several issues, such as material delays or construction priorities shift. This is where agile practices really shine.

Tip: Utilize modern project management software to create a Gantt-based project plan instantly and more efficiently. (see step 4)

Stakeholder Communication

A key principle of agile project management is on-going communication. Especially in CPM, where there are several stakeholders:

stakeholder communication

As part of the sprint cycle, you can organize status meetings to report on the project progress, minimize silos and address potential issues before they creep up. These meetings should involve all stakeholders to review the work and get inputs on the project health and team performance. You can easily identify problems before they surface and quickly come up with solutions.

In that sense, agile enables teams to respond to changes and problems that occur frequently in construction operations. The communication can take place anytime and anywhere, from virtual collaboration platforms to on-site visits.

Work Package Delivery

During sprint planning, the entire crew will review the project roadmap and identify higher order work packages. Each functional team can further dissect their work into smaller deliverables. That way, you can effectively coordinate work at the team-level, e.g.: budget, capacity, and equipment requirements. Meanwhile, managing multiple work packages independently also makes cost and duration estimation easier.

In practice, a work package will be broken down into granular tasks. All deliverables within a construction package are then recorded in the backlog. As the sprint begins, you will get input from the owner regarding the development priorities based on the original roadmap and communicate new design requirements (when applicable). Then, the team plans and commits to achieving the work assigned to them in each sprint.

Agile Software Implementation

There’s no room for legacy systems in an agile environment. To successfully drive construction agility, consider modern project management software like Atlassian Jira or Smartsheet. With cloud solutions, you can enjoy these benefits:

– Robust Gantt chart and roadmap tools that can reflect real-time changes

– Cross-functional collaboration from back office to on-site execution

– Instant data accessibility to ensure everyone gets the right information when needed

– Automate workflows and processes to reduce downtime

In conclusion, construction agility brings forth project accountability across teams as they get to manage and plan their portion of work packages. At the same time, agile planning allows you to get involved and engaged in the process, which fosters transparency and closed communication between teams as well as other stakeholders. As such, it’s easier to incorporate changes into the project plan, particularly in design or material lists, throughout the project life cycle without creating any roadblocks.

This guest post is from Ricksoft, an Atlassian Enterprise Partner and Top Vendor. The company provides agile project management solutions with advanced Gantt Charts capabilities.

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