A Beginner’s Guide to Agile Construction

Take a look at your current operating procedures.  How long does it take your company to restructure and switch between design styles or projects? The construction industry as a whole isn’t generally the most agile, often remaining quite hidebound and set in their ways, content to let the rest of the world move on without them.  Agile construction and project management are beginning to emerge as a way to keep things moving forward as the world continues to advance.  What is agile construction, and why should you consider adopting it in your business?

Starting with Agile Development

Agile manufacturing and building methods emerged in the automotive and software development industries to cope with the continually changing and often turbulent environment. The creators chose the term agile as the best way to describe the need for adaptiveness within their sectors.  At its core, agile development is a series of principles and values designed to create self-organizing teams and foster collaboration.  The ultimate goal is to build a system that can adapt to anything that the ever-changing industry can throw at it.

This doesn’t eliminate the need for managers or supervisors to run the overall program, but instead of micromanaging every step of the process, in an agile development system, managers just provide the framework and step back, allowing and trusting their teams to figure out the best way to solve the problem and deliver the finished product.

Software is a very non-linear development process. You can build different pieces of a program out of order and have them easily slot together in the end into a functional program. Construction doesn’t work that way, which has led many to believe that it might be ill-suited for agile management techniques, but this is one of those rare cases where opposites attract.

Making Construction Agile

Typically, the construction industry is the antithesis of agile, but even industries steeped in tradition can benefit from the addition of a bit of agility.  These might seem like two opposed concepts, with agile development focusing on constantly checking and changing processes depending on what is needed at the moment and construction tending to stick to the same tried and true practices, but with a bit of tweaking, the two can work together.

Some rules in construction will never be agile, such as the order of construction.  You can’t start building the roof before you pour the foundation, for example. You also will not be able to put off major decisions until late in the construction process, which is a tenant of agile development that works with software development but is harder to apply in the real world where things like gravity exist. You can change how you approach each of these steps as you move through the construction process.

instead of sticking to the same inventory management plan you’ve always used, consider applying agility principles. Continually check and re-check your inventory management procedures to ensure they’re optimized. This will likely include but isn’t limited to keeping detailed records of your inventory and investing in new technology, such as project management software, to help fill in the gaps and keep things moving forward.

Agility in Project Management

Project management software is another tool beginning to emerge to streamline the construction industry as a whole, and construction management in particular,  and make it more agile. While delays and cost overruns aren’t always avoidable, planning and project management software can make it easier to prevent more of these problems and keep projects moving forward.

While the construction process is sequential out of necessity, since we currently can’t violate laws like physics and gravity to build houses and larger structures out of order, the planning and design process can significantly benefit from agility in management. Design problems are quick and inexpensive to fix, but once you start pouring concrete or building wood frames, fixing these same problems becomes infinitely more expensive.  Case studies have shown that companies that adopted agile construction and project management techniques and tenets were more successful in multiple examples, completing technical milestones and meeting performance indicators on the schedule.

The Future of Agile Construction

Agile development techniques might be well known in software development and automotive engineering circles, but it’s just beginning to make an appearance in other industries.  Construction, usually thought to be linear and inflexible, can benefit greatly from the tenants of agile development.

You can’t take the construction process and turn it on its head, but you can make the most of the information that you have available and use it to create an efficient and effective team for any project that might cross your desk. Take a closer look at your current operating procedures and see where you might be able to make the necessary changes or what aspects of your operation could benefit from being a little more flexible.

Author Bio

Rose Morrison is a construction industry writer and the managing editor of Renovated. Follow her on Twitter to see more of her work

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