On average, it is common for major construction projects to be completed a year after the initial deadline and also go over budget. Such projects often deal with unproductive setbacks due to a lack of communication and transparency, cost overruns and an absence of clear defined goals. This is where the implementation of Agile methodologies can boost the efficiency and productivity of the construction industry, as it has proven in the software and automotive industry.
The use of Agile in the construction projects is not yet widespread in the industry, due to the linear structure and complex environment that is involved.
Is Agile methodology suitable for the Construction Industry ?
Construction projects typically follow a sequential flow of steps including the initiation/planning phase, design phase, construction phase, testing phase, turnover to the use phase and the project closeout. The structure of construction projects is one reason why Agile approaches have not become popular in the industry. Projects are often subject to delays caused by issues such as supplier backlogs, labour shortages, weather conditions and legal issues. If a change is to be made during a construction project, the costs will be comparatively significant to a change made during the design phase in a software project.
But, that is not to say that Agile methodology cannot be beneficial to construction firms and teams.
Realistically, it would be most effective to apply Agile in the design and pre-construction phase of a construction project. In order to avoid significant delays and unexpectedly high costs, this will be beneficial in allowing teams to work with enhanced communication, transparent processes and better adaptability to emerging issues. Communication, in particular, is vital to construction projects as it deals with a wide range of stakeholders (for both private and public projects) and teams must be able to manage the differing needs and expectations.
How can Agile Methodology be used to benefit Construction Projects?
Agile teams can engage in daily meetings, such as stand ups, to sync progress and discuss any withstanding issues that need to be solved. This ensures that all team members are kept in the loop and identify when to assist each other.
To achieve a clearer and less chaotic environment of communication, Agile construction teams can integrate Kanban boards into their work process. This visualises the progress of the project and breaks down the distribution of work to the relevant teams.
Support Pivot To Change
As Agile teams plan in an iterative manner at the sprint (short iterations) level, teams are able to make changes or adjust in a more efficient way that has less impact on the budget and schedule of the project.
In an article published by PMI, an example of how Agile used in the construction industry was highlighted by Centrus Energy Corp Director, Glenn Strausser. Centrus energy is an American company that supplies uranium for commercial nuclear power plants. In cooperation with the US Department of Energy, Centrus worked on a $350 million USD research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program that would support the entire process of building and testing commercial plant support systems. Based on the Agile Manifesto and Principles, Centrus translated how they would be implemented in this specific project.
How Agile Was Implemented
- Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers: An integrated team was developed to test the process of the end result to ensure that it was functional and met the needs of the end users.
- Self organising teams: A trained and experienced workforce was maintained, with individuals having project and site specific knowledge to maximise the productivity and quality in construction.
- Simplicity (the art of maximising the amount of work not done): Efforts were made to simplify designs to reduce costs as it was determined that this is best for implementation and ensuring low risk.
- Team reflection at regular intervals: Weekly discussions were conducted to identify points of improvement and formal lessons learned sessions were performed at the end of each phase and the overall project.