The power of agile methodology in construction

Agile methodology in construction boosts customer satisfaction by emphasizing communication, flexibility, and continuous feedback. Discover its principles, benefits, and effective implementation tips.

A line of hammers in a construction job site

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When we really think about it, what’s the key to success in construction? It’s not the margins, sales, or backlog. It’s customer satisfaction. The more satisfied customers are, the better the company’s reputation, and the fat margins, easy sales, and full backlogs will follow. 

Most construction companies stick to the contract—after all, it was drawn up to outline the project and everyone’s expectations and responsibilities. Sadly though, this approach puts constraints on the company-customer relationship, potentially sacrificing satisfaction for documentation and risk management. 

What if there was a different approach? One that is designed to improve customer satisfaction before, during, and after the project is completed? Agile methodology in construction is that approach, and you can decide if it’s right for your company after this guide.

Agile methodology is a project management technique that originated in the software development industry. Its focus is on working on smaller parts of a larger project, delivering these segments, welcoming feedback, and then continuing to the next segments. Essentially, it’s about taking smaller bites of the bigger pie while involving customers and other stakeholders throughout the project. 

Key Principles of Agile Methodology in Construction

As a well-established PM method, there are specific principles that Agile methodology is built around. The following are the core facets of Agile methodology:

  • Communication and Collaboration: Compared to traditional project management, Agile requires almost constant communication with team members and stakeholders. Daily meetings to discuss where the project stands, who is working on what, and other details ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: With constant check-ins and project segmentation, Agile project management for construction is extremely flexible and adaptable. The project is rarely too far in one direction to make a change, and the schedule is flexible enough to accommodate them.
  • Software Implementation: Agile only works well when there is strong software to support it. Software can often simplify the manual processes, allowing team members to work more constructively and creatively. While this does apply to almost all project management methodologies, it’s especially important for Agile methodology due to the frequent changes and team input.
  • Welcoming Feedback: The amount of feedback and who it’s utilized is probably Agile’s biggest deviation from traditional project management. After smaller sections of the project are finished, the management team requests input from customers and other stakeholders. They can discuss design, size, and layout at length several times throughout the project. The construction team is then able to use this feedback to correct small issues before they become large problems and change the direction of the project moving forward without major implications to the contractors, subcontractors, materials suppliers, and other parties involved in the project. 

Agile construction and traditional project management are quite different. The way the project is approached, how the project moves forward, and how input is approached don’t resemble each other at all.

Traditional Project Management

With traditional construction project management, every aspect of the project is designed and planned from the beginning. The customer’s feedback is welcome during the planning phase, but once the project is underway, the plan is the plan. Any changes to that plan require a change order, a new contract, and typically lost time and money.

Also, traditional project management is very linear. One aspect of the project must be completed for the subsequent phases to move forward. In the software development world, this is referred to as Waterfall methodology. A delay anywhere along the way impacts the rest of the project.

Agile Construction Project Management

With Agile for construction methods, the idea is to come up with a general plan quickly, with help from the customer. But the plan doesn’t have to be completely refined to start. Agile construction management means completing smaller sections of the project (known as segmentation) and then asking for the customer’s feedback. Once the feedback is received, the team can develop a better plan moving forward while also fixing any small issues.

While taking smaller bites and then waiting for feedback might seem to be a slower approach, that’s not always the case. There is less time spent in development before construction starts, and smaller usable segments of the project are completed faster. On top of that, delays don’t have to impact the entire project, as many times, the team can pivot to another segment while the delay is handled. 

Agile project management isn’t ideal for every project. But, when it is a good approach, there are many benefits. 

Improved Collaboration

The biggest benefit of using Agile in construction industry projects is the volume of collaboration between everyone involved in the project. The customer, the contractors, the subcontractors, and every other party are in near-constant contact with each other. Questions are answered quickly, issues are expertly resolved, and the customer feels they’re in control of their project and the resources they’re putting into it.  

Better Risk Management

It might seem that sticking to the original, detailed contract is the best way to minimize risk. But with Agile in construction projects, management teams are constantly assessing risk at every segment of the project. The impacts that the major risks can have on the project are then minimized, as they’ll typically only impact that segment, not the whole project. 

Increased Transparency

One of the keys to customer satisfaction is allowing the customer to be involved, and Agile does just that. Not only is feedback welcome, but by opening the door to conversations throughout the project, the customer has a clear view of where the project stands, what’s left to be done, and how long it’s likely to take.

Contractors and subs also benefit from transparency. They understand their role at that time in the project and are given opportunities throughout the process to deliver, adapt, and prove their value to the construction firm and the customer. 

Enhanced Flexibility

Since Agile doesn’t follow the typical waterfall model, the flexibility is unmatched. A delay or change doesn’t have to impact the overall timeline as much as it would with a waterfall. If the delay is so severe that progress has to stop, the team can pivot to another segment of the project and continue forward, helping absorb some of the time that would be lost in a waterfall-type project. 

Better Quality Projects

Project management teams are constantly looking for feedback and stakeholder input during Agile projects. This allows cross-functional teams to adapt the process to better fit the customer’s ideal outcome. And, as challenges arise, the team can remain nimble and solve them before they become large detriments to the overall project. 

Faster Delivery Dates of Usable Project Segments

Agile construction allows customers to use parts of their projects sooner than traditional waterfall management. As the team is able to complete segments, spaces or portions of the project can be put to use, putting a small piece of the finished product in the customer’s hands rather than waiting for the entire project to wrap before handover. 

Even when Agile is a good fit, it can be hard to apply for companies that are new to it. The following are some helpful tips on utilizing Agile project management on applicable projects.

  • Establish goals: Agile is all about action, but teams still need a clear goal to start. The goal is to prioritize the customer’s requirements. 
  • Break the projects into sprints: Break the overall project down into smaller, easily accomplishable segments. Focus on completing these and getting feedback, but be ready to pivot in the event of a delay.
  • Develop cross-functional teams: Putting together experienced teams of pros with their own specific skill sets will help make Agile management easier. Assemble teams of contractors, designers, engineers, and specialist contractors.
  • Meet regularly: Be sure to meet frequently throughout the project. Plan sprints, meet daily (known as daily stand-ups), and be sure to review sprints to identify areas of success and areas where the teams can improve. 
  • Utilize visual tools: Kanban boards and Gantt charts can help make visual sense of priorities and the schedule.
  • Maintain open communication: Be sure to communicate with stakeholders frequently. Involve customers and clients in sprint reviews and sprint planning.
  • Provide value throughout the project: Deliver usable segments of the project when they’re ready throughout the project. These deliverables provide the customer with value sooner than waterfall projects can. 
  • Adapt quickly: Agile excels at embracing change. Be flexible, allow plans to change, and work with teams and stakeholders to implement new ideas and better designs. 
  • Prioritize quality: Quality and customer satisfaction are the key goals of Agile project management. Continuously improving to deliver better and better iterations is key.
  • Utilize software to streamline processes: Project management software and BIM design software will help streamline the manual processes and reduce errors. These programs allow teams to focus on iteration and creativity, ensuring they’re delivering the project the client wants. 

There are certainly a few challenges that accompany Agile project management as it applies to construction. Maintaining timelines and budgets with multiple iterations, compliance with local officials and documentation requirements, understanding how to create a sprint, and managing the associated risks are just some of the challenges. 

Most often, the solutions to these challenges are education, communication, and the right technology. Using software that can handle Agile planning, investing in training that truly explains these concepts, and ensuring that the channels of communication are always open and flowing will help teams address issues. 

Also, implementing these techniques gradually, such as testing sprint planning on a larger project before going full-swing is wise. Slowly rolling out these plans rather than jumping in headlong allows teams to understand sprints, how to utilize feedback, and how to make a cross-functional team work in the real world.

It makes sense that a technique used to create software programs would require technological support. To truly employ Agile methodology, construction teams will need project management software to facilitate document storage, communication, materials and resource procurement, and real-time updates. They’ll also need powerful BIM programs to provide clients with virtual walkthroughs of designs and execute changes.

For construction companies looking to implement Agile methodology for construction projects, be sure to invest in the right software, tools, and training to make the switch as seamless as possible. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Customer-Centric Approach: Agile methodology in construction prioritizes customer satisfaction through continuous feedback, communication, and flexibility. This approach enhances company reputation and ensures project success.
  2. Enhanced Project Management: Agile differs from traditional linear methods by allowing for adaptability and faster segment completion. Projects are broken into smaller sections, enabling quicker adjustments and efficient progress.
  3. Implementation and Benefits: Clear goals, cross-functional teams, regular meetings, and the use of visual tools and software are essential for Agile implementation. Benefits include improved collaboration, better risk management, increased transparency, enhanced flexibility, higher project quality, and faster delivery of usable segments.

Lee Evans
Tom Scalisi
Content Writer
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