The benefits of agile methods for architecture & construction projects
Agile method is just starting to get more popular in the AEC industry. For some, it seems unusual since it does not conform to the traditional organization of architecture & construction projects. However, things change quickly that even big industrial groups like Renault have utilized this method in their projects. Although it is now a pretty common approach in software development, this has not always been the case. The advancement of the agile method took time to develop even in the IT industry.
But what are the benefits of agile methods? Hopefully, the infographic below can help explain the advantages of making the paradigm shift from the AEC traditional work organization.
12 principles of agile method
Agile methods have been used in many fields outside of the software industry.
To quickly understand the paradigm shift that agile method brings, let’s analyze the infographic, The 12 Agile Principles.
- Satisfy the customer – The ultimate goal of any project is to keep the customer happy and satisfied. The agile method ensures that results are delivered not only early on but regularly throughout the project.
- Welcome change – Sometimes, the client’s requirements change just as you have begun, but sometimes a new stipulation has been brought in late into the project. Fortunately, the agile method is designed to accommodate such changes anytime in the project’s implementation.
- Deliver frequently – Project stakeholders can provide feedback with frequent deliverables and the project team can come up with a more refined product as a result of these frequent reviews.
- Work together – Open communication and rapport can be established if everyone involved work together frequently, preferably on a daily basis.
- Trust and support – A motivated team is one that is provided with a healthy working environment and has been trusted to get the job done effectively and efficiently.
- Face-to-face conversation – Although web conferences are becoming the norm, nothing beats a personal conversation with the stakeholders. For some transnational projects, this may prove to be a challenge but flying over regularly can prove to be more than worth it.
- Working software – Progress of the project is measured by the remaining amount of work to be done in the sprint as agreed to by the team. The client will measure a working software or a completed project as the sign of progress by the team since they can get value from it.
- Sustainable development – Agile methods promote sustainable development with its short iterations, frequent feedback, and open communication among the stakeholders.
- Continuous attention – Choosing the right design and technology to use in your project is crucial to fast delivery and superior quality of results. Technical excellence and good design may prove to be better and more efficient than the latest, most cutting-edge technology.
- Maintain simplicity – Keep everything simple. Agile methods have short iterations with clear objectives that keep the team working only on what needs to be done now, thus reducing work wastage and increasing productivity.
- Self-organizing teams – The team must be allowed to handle all aspects of the project with the continued support of the client. They are in the best position to analyze setbacks, provide solutions, and come up with improved strategies.
- Reflect and adjust – Striving to be better is an integral part of the agile method. After each iteration or at regular intervals, the team takes a moment to evaluate what worked and what didn’t and make adjustments as needed.
The traditional organization of a project in Architecture
An architect gets commissioned by a client. This may be an initial sketch or preliminary design or a competition.
Then the team of architects develops the project in a linear way. The development is organized in stages following building and infrastructure laws. For example in France, we have APS, AVP, and DCE. that are abbreviations for standardized stages defined by law about Architecture.
Meanwhile, remuneration is based on the stage complexity and difficulty. For example, worksite supervision is paid better than preliminary design because the former generally takes more time.
However, this system is not very flexible. Whether or not the architect proposes an alternative or changes to the preliminary design, he will be paid the same amount.
The construction companies that will build the project are generally chosen after a call for tender at the end of the design process. During the building process itself, only a limited subset of changes are possible in order to stick to the project’s budget and these include:
- adaptations to worksite reality
- correction of wrong design
- fine-tuning of products/materials
The construction company is only involved with the design team when nearly all choices have been made. Its main objective from an economic perspective is to build the project inside budget estimate or with a little margin. They are generally diligent to make notes of every change that occurred since the call for tender to the request for extra payment. Indeed, operational margin is very low in the construction industry and the extra payments are a way for them to expand it in a significant way.
Both the architect and the construction company are working with a cultural mindset where changes are not welcome. The same is true for the other team members, like the civil engineer and the client.
What agile methods can bring to AEC
What are the benefits for the client
The client has a bigger influence on the choices made in the projects, instead of choosing an all or nothing project. He can participate in the early stages, starting at the design phase to bring his knowledge of the project program.
The client can fine-tune the program as his knowledge of the needs evolve. A project design can last months or even years, and in that time many changes can occur, and the client’s needs will also change.
The client will have a better perspective of what is going on in the design and the construction team. Lack of information along with the struggle to get the work status of each team member and get them in sync are major sources of frustration, errors, and costly inefficient workflows. Agile methods drive each one to adopt a more frequent and less formal form of communication to propose a concrete solution that has proved successful in many other industries.
What are the benefits for the architect
The architect has regular communication with the client for input and feedback, ensuring that the design ideas integrate with the current state of the demand.
The architect spends less time calling other team members to get updates and early feedback.
The architect has convenient dashboards that formalize the work progress in a clear way.
The method also requires other stakeholders like engineers or construction companies to be involved more in the early stages though it is not their culture.
There is a more motivated team that feels to be part of a collective project and more than just executing ideas from the senior architect.