Construction projects are by definition waterfall projects, they are heavily process driven and sequential. Agile has its origins in the software industry, other industries have begun to adopt Agile, by modularising project and workflow components so they can be executed in parallel without dependencies.

Agile is an approach to develop assets under evolving requirements through the collaborative effort of self-organising and cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s). It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, empirical knowledge, and continual improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
Many of the focus areas addressed by Agile are critical pinpoints projects are plagued by. The design phase is especially subjective to changing requirements and can often cause significant delays. A prime example the UK’s HS2 mega project which continues to suffer from unforeseen delays and widely publicised design flaws.

Agile enables projects to react to change quickly

Organisations using agile split their teams up into very small ones, that own a specific functional aspect of an asset end-to-end, for example, the design of plumbing and water supply in a building. A squad (scrum team) will have a dedicated product owner who will feed them user stories which are modular components of the full requirements, to deliver. This is the pretty standard set up for any organisation doing Scrum. These squads sit together and have one long term mission. They have all the skills and tools needed to design, develop, test and release to production, being an autonomous, self-organising team who are experts in their product area. The power of these teams is that they are small and can quickly adapt to requirements.

Some organisations using Agile at scale, group their squads together in what they call ‘Tribes’. These are a collection of squads within the same business area, for example, there could be a tribe focusing on Interior Design. The squads within a tribe sit in the same area, and there are usually 100 or less per tribe.

Chapters are another way that promotes team collaboration and innovation. Chapters are a group or team members working within a special area. For example, a squad might be made up of architects, interior designers, electrical engineers, structural engineers and project managers. A chapter could be an ‘Architecture chapter’, where front Architects get together and exchange ideas, get help on challenges and discuss new approaches.

Agile in construction

Agile requires discipline and commitment, but the benefits are enormous

The idea is that by breaking projects up into small components and cross-functional teams that can deliver end-to-end during a construction phase (i.e. design), the increased level of collaboration and cross-functional expertise will result in higher quality deliverables. By enabling squads to take end-to-end ownership of a deliverable and removing dependencies, teams the project will become more productive. A backlog of work ensures work is accordingly prioritised and team members utilisation is maximised, should a backlog item be delayed it simply moves down in the backlogs priority and the squads focus shifts to higher priority work.

Contact us if you want to hear more about how Agile can work in construction projects