5 Reasons the Agile method won’t work for construction & engineering projects

Plus the method that will work for you time and time agian
27 Mar 2019

5 Reasons the Agile method won’t work for construction & engineering projects

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Terms like Agile and SCRUM are all the rage right now…

By its very nature, it’s hard not to think that working ‘agile’ is not an ideal solution for projects, in any industry.

It sounds so good in theory, right?

But that’s the very thing… It sounds great in theory. When we put it into practice, it’s simply not suitable for all industries. Construction and engineering in particular.

In the next 4 minute-read, we’ll break down why agile does not work for large scale, high physical risk projects. Plus, a WAY more suitable way to add value to your next one. 

Firstly, let’s forget agile.

If you are involved in a large scale physical and labour intensive project like those found in construction, civil engineering or infrastructure – it’s not a method for you.

Despite its popularity, it’s fundamentally unsuited to these industries.

Here’s why:

1.    Agile was designed for software development

The Agile method was formalized through its Manifesto in 2001 – so it’s relatively new.

And whilst it’s been used successfully in other fields like entertainment and transport, its integrity exists within its authenticity. And this is specifically around the successful delivery of software (note Agile principle #7).

Thus, through its design origins, Agile is perfectly suited to tech and IT projects.

However, when we start to apply it to larger scale physical projects, it starts to lose relevance and we begin to compensate.

We sub in and out concepts, for example, the continuous delivery of software as the hallmark of Agile, becomes the delivery of a building or road.

This is risky as it quickly chips away at the fundamentals of using such a method in the first place.

2.    Agile values quick and continuous delivery

Sure, quick and continuous delivery is important for any project.

However, as we know, major projects like those in construction and engineering can’t be rushed. The risk is just too severe.

Furthermore, following this principle can jeopardize quality control – which is not an option.

Instead, we recommend using a structured timeline, together with traditional methods of monitoring and controlling your project. These form part of the traditional project management approach. More on that in a moment.

3.    Agile values self-organising teams

Self-organizing teams don’t require a chain of command and control.

However, in large scale, physical projects, command and control are needed to mitigate risk by ensuring that the many differentiated and specialized tasks are completed with accuracy and follow due diligence.

4.    Agile does not consider a pre-defined scope

Instead of a pre-defined scope found in traditional project management, the scope of an Agile project is defined by high-level requirements, in the form of User Stories.

By not prefixing a scope in larger physical projects, budgets and resources can quickly spiral out of control.

Soon, we’re left with an incomplete project, no money, and cranky investors! Within large scale physical and labour-intensive projects, this means project failure.

5.    Agile values development over planning

Agile is fantastic for projects where there is a high level of uncertainty. Its real-time responsiveness, as opposed to linear planning, can deal well with unknowns, especially when there is a lack of understanding of what the finished product should look like. Like an app perhaps?

However, within construction and engineering projects, we know what the finished product should and will look like and the sequence in which the stages of development need to take place.

We can use this to our advantage.

We can plan upfront and in detail to ensure the most efficient use of our resources and schedule.

Instead of using Agile, try this…

Whilst we definitely recommend remaining agile (as in the verb) to adapt to change and variations in ALL projects, a traditional approach to project management is way better suited to the projects we’re discussing in this post.

Why?

Well, because following this method allows you to have greater control of resources and to manage risk more effectively. Specifically, through:

  • A focus on the business case (project justification)
  • Defining a structure for the project team
  • Having a product-based planning approach and
  • Dividing the project into manageable and controllable stages

Conclusion

Agile principles of management are not suited to construction and engineering projects.

And although we think all projects should value the level of collaboration and communication that agile principles do, it’s simply not appropriate to use the entire values system that agile proposes in large scale projects such as those found in the infrastructure, civil and construction industries.

A traditional project management approach will work much more effectively for you. 

If you’d like to learn in depth how to apply this method of project management to your project, check out our BSB51415 Diploma of Project Management which includes formal training and certification in PMBoK-aligned methodologies, like our 10-Step-PM Methodology.

You can also find specialised content on traditional project management techniques on our e-learning platform Ecademy.

Annual subscriptions cost $99 AUD ($8.25 per month).