Agile approach in construction. An interview from François Muzard, co-founder of Bricks.

Agile approach in construction. An interview from François Muzard, co-founder of Bricks.

We reproduce here the first part of an interview conducted by Cécile GAUQUELIN for her Mémoire de Mise en Situation Professionnelle in June 2019.

François MUZARD is a DEA HMONP architect, IT & BIM manager at the enia Architects agency where he develops the agile approach, co-founder of the Bricks application and the AgileBIM methodological framework.

Hello François, can you tell us about your career path?

I am an architect by training and I have been working at enia architects for 10 years. It is an agency founded by three partners and has about fifty employees. We design and build buildings for a wide variety of programs, from data centers to worship buildings, gymnasiums, office buildings and more recently airports.

At the beginning I was a project assistant, I worked on different stages, competitions, building sites, and then I was quickly identified as the one to contact in case of IT problems so I gradually became an IT referent.

Also I had graduated with a data center project juxtaposed to a swimming pool and I had modeled everything in Revit. So I accompanied the beginnings of Revit at the agency in 2012 and then the BIM and I was able to do the master BIM degree at the École des Ponts ParisTech in 2016. This propelled me to BIM manager by continuing to manage projects according to the agency’s responsibilities.

After the master BIM degree I became interested in startups in the sector, I met Sébastien LUCAS who is also an architect but who turned to web application development. He had already developed projects for the architecture and construction sector and it was decided to launch Bricks. We have therefore been developing this collaborative online application and methods to try to apply the agile approach to construction for the past two years. We are currently in Beta phase and all user feedback is good!

What made you turn to agile?

During the BIM master I looked at the tools used in other sectors to support the digitisation processes. Obviously, it is in the world of software that the tools were most advanced with software forges : collaborative tools connected to each other to share and develop applications. Also this article “The Future of Issue Tracking for the AEC – How CASE Continues to Craft It” which really confirmed to me that there was something we could do with the software’s mode tools. The idea was to make tasks list with a slightly more intelligent tool that really manages tasks in the form of a ticket, that allows you to discuss inside the task, to say this task is done, it is in progress, finished or to validate : structure the conversation.

I had a tool approach, a little like we have too often in BIM, first it’s the tool, the software version, the technical part. And in fact I realized that behind them, these tools were underpinned by work practices that are these agile practices and that in fact, it is because of these practices that these tools became effective. I thought we should go in that direction and look at these practices and see how they could be applied in the building. To be closer to a tangible end product such as construction, we focused on the manufacturing industry where the agile approach had also emerged in recent years with eXtreme manufacturing for example. To have the objective of producing a real object is a big difference with software that is a product is more intangible. We wanted to apply the approach to BIM so we focused on design. For the construction phase, Lean methods are more appropriate. Lean methods are used to optimize flows, they are more suitable for production. Agile will be more effective for creative phases. Also with the digital model we have an object that allows us to get closer to the fluidity of the software.

How do you plan to adapt BIM to the agile approach?

We realize today, above all, that the first thing to change is the state of mind. First of all, there is a lot of work to do on culture, and therefore a lot of communication work. And also we are starting to write an « Agile BIM » manifesto, to ask ourselves, how could we use the digital model and BIM practices to be more effective with the support of Agile methods. It is precisely to ask the question of project management and therefore methods. At the school of architecture it was a subject absolutely not addressed, let alone theorized.

We can choose one tool over another, that’s not necessarily the problem, but having the best practices, that’s the most important thing. We are at the beginning of this reflection now. It will also be necessary to see how this approach can be taken to the level of a design team and probably with the client to bring added value to the customer. A specific problem in the building industry is teams of people split into different companies, who do not work full-time. This is in contradiction with what is required in the agile Scrum method where people must be full-time, co-located, 3 to 9 people. So you really have to think about adapting and then test with teams, find motivated people. It is necessary to adapt, to discover another way of doing things by successive trial and error. There are also structural organisational problems in the construction sector that will be more difficult to develop, the lack of fees in the upstream study phases, duplicate studies with construction companies, etc. There are agencies that integrate economists, design offices, in these boxes it would be much easier. As long as the way in which the design teams are organised does not evolve, it will certainly be more difficult. So we start internally first, level by level.

How did you implement this agile approach in the agency where you work?

It is a very progressive work, at the beginning we used a wall where we set up a simple Kanban board so that the project team could visualize the tasks to be done and organize itself by discussing in front of the wall. We set up this system for a few teams afterwards. There are also some teams that were not co-located that used Google Sheet or Trello, to start formalizing task management and have a collective follow-up that only the project manager had before.

The idea is to move on to something a little more structured where we would really have practices from agile methods like SCRUM: user stories, backlog, etc. It’s happening very gradually. There is really this cultural change to be made. For example, we are on a project where at first I tried to talk about SCRUM to the team and they were interested. But as the project is moving very fast, I am already losing them and they are returning to their habits. I probably didn’t manage to have the right arguments to convince them that it might be a good idea to work with iterations, in a sprint, to formalize the tasks to be done in advance so that everyone has a global vision of progress, use a table, etc. As they were in a hurry, they returned to their traditional methods.

Agile BIM Meetups at WOMA FABLAB Agile BIM Meetups at WOMA FABLAB

How do you intend to disseminate this approach in the project management?

It’s a long way, for each project, it doesn’t always work. You have to look at all the entry points. Recently, in a call for projects, we were able to think with engineer offices about how to adapt SCRUM for a project with a strong time constraint and complex engineering. We translated it into the context of the building and put it in the call for projects by telling the client that we would work with Scrum. We don’t fully know what it will be like if we win, but at least the project partners agreed that if we win we will implement this method. It is not easy to agree several companies on a common working method.

Then, to develop this approach and disseminate it, we do it, with Bricks, by organizing Meetups. We did one at enia and what is interesting is that we had different AEC profiles but we also had some agile coaches who came from the software world. They were intrigued to know how it would work in the building. A new opportunity and a new challenge for them too.

It happened to us once, on a tower project, to realize at the end that the project owner was working in Agile, he also had an internal Agile coach. They had made a special room for the project, with a Kanban board to follow the different tasks and followed the SCRUM ceremonies.

There are agile seeds starting to grow in many places now!