Agile and Construction Project Management- 3 Reasons Why Construction PMs Should Get the PMI-ACP

Agile and Construction Project Management- 3 Reasons Why Construction PMs Should Get the PMI-ACP

Agile and Construction Project Management- 3 Reasons Why Construction PMs Should Get the PMI-ACP
 Agile and Construction Project Management: 3 Reasons Why Construction PMs Should Get the PMI-ACP

I am currently employed by Citizens Bank; the views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer. 


Agile is a buzzword I frequently heard at my organization but admittedly, knew little about. If you're like me and manage construction projects, there's a good chance you're not familiar with agile either. 
That's because agile is typically reserved for knowledge projects.  As a woman working in a non-traditional job, I have always been passionate that diversity is creativity; having diverse teams with different perspectives is the backbone of innovation. Likewise, I believe that diversity should extend beyond the traditional HR sense (gender, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) to include driving advancement through different ways of understanding and interpreting knowledge. In my case, that's construction project management. 

In order to view construction project management through a new lens, the first stop on my journey was to visit the Project Management Institute's (PMI) website to learn more about agile. According to PMI, "agile approaches to project management aim for early, measurable return on investment (ROI) through defined, iterative delivery of product increments". 
Although PMI's agile definition was in sharp contrast to the sequential nature of the construction projects that I managed, I continued searching PMI's website to learn more.  That's when I came across the Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) credential and my heart skipped a beat. There's nothing like having a looming exam deadline, like the PMI-ACP exam, to act as a motivator to delve into a new discipline.  
Knowing that PMI exams are notoriously difficult - I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP) credential in 2011 after a year-long marathon of practice exams, boot camps, and late-night studying sessions - part of my due diligence before committing to take the exam was googling whether or not construction project managers were using agile and pursuing the PMI-ACP credential.
My research turned up very little but left me intrigued. Why aren't construction project managers going for the PMI-ACP?  Seeing an opportunity to be innovative, I decided to challenge myself by applying an adaptive approach to my construction projects and taking a stab at the PMI-ACP exam. I purchased Mike Griffiths's book, spoke to project managers working on knowledge projects, and over the next several months, I started incorporating agile techniques into my projects.  
Once I had the appropriate number of agile hours under my belt, it took me about 11 months to prepare of the PMI-ACP exam. In May 2018, I took the exam and passed it on my first attempt.  Based on my experiences, here are three reasons why construction project managers should start an agile journey and go for the PMI-ACP.

Reason #1 - Understanding How to Build for Agile Teams

I currently work as a project manager responsible for the build-outs and renovations of corporate offices. Since so many companies are turning to agile, there is an opportunity from a construction standpoint to outfit these agile teams, which are made up of 12 folks or less. Ideally, agile teams are co-located in a barrier-free space no more than 33 feet apart from each other. They also require segregated space, which is referred to as a "cave", for private phone calls or one-on-one conversations.  
Understanding how agile teams work and collaborate is important for the project team tasked to build-out the space.  For example, sound masking is commonly installed in open office environments. However, a phenomenon called osmotic communication is one of the main benefits of co-locating agile teams. Osmotic communication happens when agile team members pick up relevant information from hearing the background conversations of their teammates. Interestingly, it's been found that team members located in the same room can easily switch from tuning in or tuning out these conversations, depending on if the material is relevant to them.

Since osmotic communication is so important in an agile work environment, sound masking techniques used in traditional open-office environments might not be appropriate for the build-out of an agile workspace.  In addition to sound masking, other aspects to take into consideration when building for agile teams include:
  • Installing demountable walls for the "caves" instead of traditional hard wall construction, for added versatility     
  • Incorporating the appropriate power and data requirements for video conferencing     Reducing the risk of trips and falls from laptop/phone cords with floor box receptacles     Protecting painted drywall surfaces from information radiators, which are large, graphical representations of project information that hang visible to the agile team, with the installation of cork boards or bulletin bars     
  • Using value engineering to provide cost-effective solutions (whiteboard paint, sticky notes, and mobile whiteboards) to replace more expensive collaboration tools such as SMART Boards 
It's also worth noting that the agile team occupying the space will be noisy but they shouldn't be too isolated from other colleagues within the organization. As such, common amenities such as toilet rooms, pantries, and printers should also be easily accessible from the agile space. Lastly, be sure to incorporate agile techniques before swinging hammers by including stakeholders from the agile team to collaborate on the design of the build-out.

Reason #2 - Incorporating Agile Techniques into Construction Projects  

Agile is an iterative approach that embraces change over following a plan. In contrast, construction projects are characteristically very linear in nature and used defined materials and building approaches. Likewise, as construction projects move further down the project life cycle, changes are very expensive to implement.  Despite the obvious challenges of applying agile to construction projects, certain phases of construction projects actually align well with an agile approach.  
For example, during the pre-design and design phases, having the project team come together early to identify and address issues of cost, schedule, and constructability does in fact follow an agile approach. It's during those early stages of the project that feedback and subsequently scope changes are least likely to disrupt the overall linear nature of a construction project. 

In addition to the pre-design and design phases, some of the other agile tools and techniques that I incorporated into all phases of the construction project life cycle include:      
  • Following a servant leadership model by recognizing the team members, as opposed to the project manager, as the industry leaders achieving value for the business.     Participating in active listening by talking less and listening more.     
  • Sharing project information and making it available to everyone that might want to consume it, such as in a shared folder on the network, through knowledge sharing and collaborative learning.     
  • Determining the highest value projects within a program by prioritization scheming.     Following the daily stand-up model during team meetings to keep the team engaged on the agreed-upon scope.
The "PMI-ACP Exam Prep" by Mike Griffiths highlights these techniques and many more, which can also be applied to construction projects with a little creativity.

Reason #3 - Networking with Project Managers Outside the Construction Industry  

The construction industry is underrepresented in agile; in order for me to learn more about the real world application of agile, I had to network with folks in different fields.  I'm fortunate to work at a company that employs hundreds of project managers in various disciplines; the vast majority of these project managers work on knowledge projects using agile approaches. Before preparing for the PMI-ACP exam, my interactions with project managers working at my company were limited to the 15 construction managers that worked in my department.
Embracing the collaborative nature of agile, I started introducing myself to project managers outside of my department and told them that I was preparing to take the PMI-ACP exam. Not only did I learn more about agile, which helped me immensely on my own projects and the exam, but I also learned more about my company and the types of projects that the other project managers were delivering. These new contacts provided interesting and useful perspectives; it was well worth going outside my silo to build these relationships. 
In addition to networking with project managers within my company, I also attended local PMI chapter meetings/forums and joined PMI-ACP groups on LinkedIn. From as career building perspective, I think I gained a lot of visibility at the PMI events by introducing myself as the construction project manager going for the PMI-ACP.  I also connected with a fellow Hamilton College alumnus, who was the founder of a successful software development company. 
Over coffee, he and I had an informal interview about his career trajectory, the value of agile, and how his project managers were using agile on their projects. I greatly enjoyed our conversation.  Without the PMI-ACP exam as an icebreaker, I don't think that I would have been as successful networking and building relationships with colleagues at my company, project managers outside my discipline, and an innovative leader in the software industry.

Final Thoughts  

Working to obtain a professional certification is a commitment of time and money. As such, going for the PMI-ACP credential shouldn't be done on a whim. However, it is my opinion that an impending exam deadline is the strongest motivator to prepare and immerse oneself in a discipline, such as agile.  For that reason, I think that construction project managers should go for the PMI-ACP to:
  1. Understand how to build for agile teams     
  2. Incorporate agile techniques into construction projects     
  3. Network with project managers outside the construction industry
Although a pure agile approach would be unrealistic on construction projects, developing an agile mindset will increase collaboration and help the project manager deliver a more streamlined project with an innovative spin. 
About the author: Emily Hamel, PMI-ACP, PMP is an award-winning project management professional with a passion for technical writing. Emily earned her B.A. from Hamilton College and her M.S. from the University of Connecticut.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post