Have you ever wondered why it seems so hard to apply agile methodologies to the construction industry? Why does work in construction seem so rigid and old-fashioned? Well, the easy answer to this question is: because you can’t build a wall twice and you can’t run a sprint to fix any mistakes to something as permanent as a wall.
This, or some variation of it, was always the answer I would hear when debating this topic with other project professionals. But if you think about this answer a bit, you realise that it actually only refers to the execution phase of a project. What happens during the other phases? Can agile be used successfully during the initiating, planning, controlling or closing phases?
Agile principles can be applied more widely
I first explored this topic while pursuing a master’s degree in project management, where I applied scrum principles to the planning process of a small photovoltaic installation. Interestingly, I found that not only can these principles be applied successfully, but they can also increase the probability of project success as they engage the customer throughout and increase the transparency of information.
This was, however, only a small change in a relatively small-scale project. In construction, you often find more complicated projects that require intensive planning and years of execution – can the same concepts be applied?
It is precisely because of this complexity that there is more space for the exploration of the application of different agile methodologies. If project professionals are not trying to incorporate agile into different areas of their projects, it can be as detrimental as when they are not aware of which tools and processes are used by teams that sit next to each other.
The adoption of these new methodologies has risen due to challenges that are felt universally in project management; and since they exist, why not explore them, as they can potentially help make things better?
Look to recruitment process to increase project success
We are always looking back and trying to identify what went wrong and why a project exceeded its initial estimation in terms of scope, budget, time etc – but instead we should try to embrace professional diversity a bit more. With this, I am not only talking about the construction industry and scrum, but any industry that seems to work in a more rigid and old-fashioned way. Organisations that have established a PMO structure and standardised a lot of their processes throughout projects should embrace these practices a bit more.
This lack of ‘cross-pollination’ across industries is in many ways due to deficiencies in recruitment processes that seem to look for quick wins. It is my experience that companies are mostly looking to bring in candidates who have backgrounds that are as closely aligned as possible to the position they are hiring for.
Internally, the company may be praising itself for talking about diversity and emphasising how it can create value, but it seems that when it comes to recruiting, professional diversity is not considered. In project management, in particular, the foundational skill sets are for the most part industry-agnostic. Yet in recruiting new talent, these transferable skill sets are not often considered.
Furthermore, project professionals tend to follow one methodology throughout the entirety of projects. Organisations also create standard operating procedures for projects that repeat the same methodology from start to finish. Engagement of different methodologies at different stages of a project should also be explored and potentially applied.
Designing is not the same as installation, and planning is not the same as execution. Applying one methodology consistently in all phases creates a feeling of regularity, but each phase has different requirements and adaptability prospects. And so, therefore, it should be considered whether they should be approached differently.
We can’t apply agile if we are not open to new ideas
If I were to summarise in one sentence all that has been mentioned above, it would be: bring people with different experiences and exposure to different industries to fill the roles within your team.
I am sure I am not the only person who has felt that I would be a great fit for a particular role, but then have been rejected because of a lack of relevant industry experience.
We cannot talk about applying agile methodologies to our projects when we are not flexible and open to new ideas, and diverse candidates are often the ones that bring this to our companies and teams.
Praise diversity, but make sure you apply it in many ways and you will see the benefits of it in many different aspects of the organisation.
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