Can we use Agile “Methods” in construction project?

I have been reading some posts on Agile and its usage in construction and what a disaster.

The confusion

Most of the posts have significant errors in understanding project management. For example:

  1. Many posts confuse agility and agile mindset with Agile principles or Agile as product delivery methods.
  2. Other posts confuse a phase with a project – so they talk about construction phase as a construction project.
  3. Quite a few posts talk about Agile Practices (as in Agile invented them) but they are traditional, good old-fashioned traditional practices that have been used in the capital project industry for years.
  4. Some confuse IT, or software development as projects.

Definitions

Let us explain,

Technically, we must start with defining what is a project?

  1. Is it only about delivering an output or projects must deliver capabilities for realizing benefits?
  2. Are we talking about phases of projects that could be delivered by a service provider, or we talking about end-to-end product delivery projects?

What we mean here is that construction could be a project from the perspective of a construction company with benefits realized at completion per specs and getting paid by a client; hopefully profitably. However, from the project owner perspective, construction is only a phase.

Let us talk about IT or software development. Unless the project is driven by an IT department; i.e. ITD is the project owner, there are no IT projects; there are IT components of a business project. It is usually a finance department, HR department, etc. project that starts in those departments and ends with those departments.

Another key definition that would be good to include here is that the concept of Agile, Incremental, Iterative, etc. are about delivering workable products in sprints, increments, etc. Some methods talk about 2 to 4 weeks incremental development.

So is Agile, end-to-end methods?

Before we resume the discussion let us clarify that we know agile, as in agility is a mindset and not a method. What we are talking about here is Agile labeled methods, such as Scrum, Incremental, Iterative, etc.

Back to project and stages.

What we are saying is that, for these business projects (HR, Finance, etc.), organizations must follow a sequential or overlapping staged approach with stage gates, etc.  In other words, there would be something like ideation stage (concept stage), feasibility stage, business requirements stage, … then development stage. See image below

CAMMP Project Life Cycle incorporating Incremental Development

What this image shows, is end-to-end methodological approach following sequential/ overlapping stages until we reach development. The repetition is for emphasis. Sure, in the development of the IT solution or software, we can use the Agile Principles and Methods like Scrum and sisters.

Using these methods in a stage or phase of a project DOES NOT make the project an Agile Project, or Agile Project Management. Yes, the project is USING Agile Principles but only partially. The method to deliver the product is still traditional project management, staged approach.

The above is limited to IT, Software Development, and possibly in many industries. Again, and again, the use of these delivery methods is limited to phases or stages. Sure, some RARE projects could use Scrum or Agile end-to-end but I do not know how without taking huge risks. What we mean here is using the incremental, sprints approach end-to-end.

How about construction?

I think we made it clear, that from a project owner perspective, there are no construction projects (although this is a common name for capital projects). Construction is only a phase in a capital project. A capital project is a common term for projects in many industries that include building assets that deliver value – benefits. These include refineries, hospitals, power plants, etc.

Yes, these type of projects have construction but typically follow a project life cycle like the one shown below.

Sample project life cycle for a capital project

Notice, construction is only a stage near the end, right side.

So can Agile be used on these projects?

Once again, agile as in agility sure but agile / agility is NOT the Project Management Method.

However, Agile Labeled-Methods (as we defined earlier) cannot be used here; even in the construction stage. Let us take the smallest example of a “capital project”, a house. Let us also zoom in on the construction of a house. Can we use Agile Labeled Methods to construct a house?

How?

Remember, a key principle of Agile is a workable product delivered to the customer. Sure we can build the foundation in 2 to 4 weeks; maybe set up the columns for another 2 to 4 weeks; then the beams in 2 to 4 weeks, then the roof in 2 to 4 weeks … then the walls, the electrical, the plumbing, etc. You got the picture.

The only way that one can intelligently say that we can construct a house using Agile Principles is IF —- IF we do all of the work (foundation, structure, MEP, fit-out, interiors) for the house, room by room and in a few weeks.

So please, Agilists, stop insulting our intelligence and keep saying that Agile can be used in construction or capital projects. Of course, you can prove me wrong and the form below is a tool you can use to respond.

The images are from our book, Project Management beyond Waterfall and Agile.