While at a recent Project Management Institute (PMI) event, the question came up of whether you could use agile techniques in Construction Project Management (after all, not all PMI members are IT Project Managers). Earlier in my career I worked for some electrical contractors, and thus have some first-hand experience in the Construction industry.
My first inclination was that agile would not be a good fit; but after doing some research, it turns out there are some examples of the application of agile and Lean principles to Construction (see also sources below). After all, software development is often contrasted with construction.
In general, agile is more applicable to the execution portion of a construction project, as there still has to be some fairly serious upfront planning. Major changes late in a construction project are generally hard to do efficiently. Also, the key principle of incremental delivery of value in the form of working software does not translate well to construction. However, agile concepts such as customer collaboration and responsiveness to change have a place in a construction project. Lean methods applied to construction are beneficial in regards to creating material and information flows, maximizing value generation, and the use of plan-execute-and-control paradigms.
Once the overall design and master schedule for the project has been created, then a method known as the Last Planner System can take that master schedule and provide a process for breaking work down into smaller units that can be executed more iteratively:
At a more tactical level, here is one way that typical Agile terms could be translated for use in Construction:
In his post, “An Agile Construction Project,” Chris Klein has some ideas on how agile roles would be represented on a construction site. For instance, the Superintendent could be the ScrumMaster, as s/he would be responsible for running the various meetings and coordinating work on the site. The Project Engineer or Project Manager could fulfill the Product Owner role, as s/he would be responsible for maintaining various project artifacts, make decisions on various questions around interpreting design specifications, and could represent other stakeholders to the project team similar to a Scrum Product Owner or Product Manager.
Chris also talks about how the various meetings and ceremonies of agile and Scrum might look in a construction setting. The Daily Standup would be more of a Daily Status Meeting where the various trades would coordinate their efforts and the Superintendent coordinates to remove impediments. Once an iteration cadence is established (how Sprints would work in a construction setting would vary project to project) there could be planning meetings and reviews associated with those iterations that would support collaboratively planning and reviewing work found in agile. There could even be sessions to review the processes being followed on the job site that would look much like a Sprint Retrospective. After all, both agile and Lean are all about continuous improvement, and Agile Construction Management would want to reap the benefits of this practice as well.
This is still an emerging concept in application of agile methodologies, but may have more relevance as the prospect of large infrastructure projects such as an expansion of broadband Internet and the creation of a Smart Electrical Grid could stretch the capabilities for existing construction project management methods.
Below is a list of the key references that I used in putting together this post. These provide a good starting point if you would like to learn more about Agile Construction Management. There will also be a post in the VersionOne Product Blog that will give an example of how these concepts might be implemented in VersionOne.
Thanks for reading; please share with us your comments and questions below.
An Agile Construction Project by Chris Klein: http://chrisklein.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/an-agile-construction-project/
Agile and Lean Applied to Construction by Adrian Smith: http://ennova.com.au/blog/2011/09/agile-lean-compared-applied-construction
Agile Construction Projects by Brian Doll: http://emphaticsolutions.com/2011/04/23/agile-construction-projects.html
Lean Agile in Construction Projects – 9/11/11 – 10 Years Later (Agilescout): http://agilescout.com/lean-agile-in-construction-projects-91111-10-years-later