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How to apply agile management concepts to a construction company

The agile project management methodology was created to handle the complexity and constantly evolving requirements of the software industry. It is now commonplace in both development of new websites and new software releases. However, the rapid problem-solving and customer-focused approach has spread to many other industries. The agile project management methodology promises to maintain discipline and schedules without stifling creativity, innovation, and customer feedback. Let’s learn how to apply agile management concepts to a construction company.

Engage the customer in pre-design and design phases

The sheer cost of construction means you can’t delay design decisions until the last stages of the design process. However, you can and should involve the customer in the early stages of the design process.

The earlier you’re able to get your customer involved, the more money you’ll be able to save on future modifications. Changes early in the design process cost a tenth as much as altering finalised drawings, and changes during the design process cost a tenth or less than those of altering a physical structure. So, make sure that you get input as often and early as you can.

There are plenty of ways that you can do this. You can hold customer meetings when you’re assessing potential designs. Ask them what they want so that the architects and engineers can come back with revised drawings you can be sure the customer will like. The design process should be broken down into workflows and not enter the design and planning stage until everything is made clear.


Break things up into subprojects

Agile project management breaks up complex projects into easier-to-manage pieces. Smaller projects are simpler to manage, and there is less chance of uncertainty. Furthermore, the narrow scope of each individual project allows for more accurate cost and schedule estimates, which is critical when it comes to construction.

While most agile methodologies will allow you to manage subprojects, none do it better than Kanban. Kanban is one of the best tools for construction for a wide number of reasons. One of the strengths of Kanban is how easy it is to organise workflows through enhanced visualisation. It also allows for both transparency and independence. Managers don’t have to micro-manage, and yet they can keep an eye on every process from beginning to end, intervening on work blocks when needed.

If you want to learn more about the basics of agile construction, you can check out this piece from Kanbanize. One of the things it discusses is what is referred to as the “Last Planner System”, which is an approach that shifts the construction project from local optimisation methods to a systemic approach that helps everyone see the big picture. It also breaks down the many benefits of using Kanban in construction and real-life examples of how it was implemented.


Increase collaboration at all levels

Agile management allows you to improve collaboration at every single level. For example, you can use agile techniques when meeting with the customer, discussing the status of work, and getting their feedback. Furthermore, you can hold sprints to solve problems like a material that doesn’t meet your quality standards or even structural problems.

Agile management gives you better communication with the customer, while relative transparency makes it easier to find out what is going on at any given moment. Briefing stakeholders on the progress of complex workflows can be done simply by showing them a Kanban board.

You can also hold regular meetings with subcontractors and project leads. By bringing in contractors, subcontractors, and architects, problems are flowed up to those who can solve them and hashed out as quickly as possible. There is little room for someone to hide a problem until the customer discovers it in the completed building, which will save you time and money.


Apply standardisation and reuse principles to construction

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel and reuse code models and structures that are proven to work. By using existing designs, you might only need to make changes based on customer input, such as installing a half-wall between the kitchen and dining area to open up the space, or turn a third bedroom into a home office, for instance. You also don’t have to waste time laying out the bathroom drains or electrical wiring.

Another variation of agile construction methods is making use of prefabricated elements wherever possible. This reduces the risks that come with custom work and saves time. You can reuse prefabricated assemblies like shower inserts, garages, or kitchens, for instance. This will also allow you to build consistency in your designs, and make it your signature.

The construction industry is known for cost and schedule overruns, which is why agile techniques should be applied to it. Agile management and construction really should go hand in hand, and the more you master it, the more efficient and transparent your operation will be.


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