Agile Project Management in the Construction Industry

Definition of Agile Project Management (APM) and the History of this Method in Construction Projects

When explaining the meaning of agile project management, it is important to begin by defining the word agile. Agile denotes any process that is accomplished in a quick manner and/or with ease. This definition may reflect the need for quick decision-making when handling particular situations in project management. Agile Project Management (APM) may be viewed as simply learning by doing.

From Freedman’s (2016) perspective, APM is the brainchild of theories and approaches, which software developers conceptualised by in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Therefore, APM is the structured and organised process, which allows continuous improvement of policies, methods, and decisions through learning from the results of previous actions. For nearly a decade, APM was synonymous with software management after having been conceived by software developers in 2001.

According to Freedman (2016), certain pillars are central to how APM works. Such pillars include decision-making, visual control, co-located high-performing teams, test-driven development, and adaptive control. However, Johansson (2012) identified the two key concepts of APM as adaptability and people involvement.

Freedman (2016) argues that the ideas that sustain APM are based on a background of academic history, as well as practical experiences. Therefore, understanding these concepts is of great importance in adding depth to any discussion regarding agile methods. Freedman (2016) begins by acknowledging that certain accepted issues exist regarding APM. Many projects often fail because they do not take into account such accepted modes of operations.

For instance, failure to fulfil schedule and cost estimates results in many aborted projects or failure to deliver the benefits predicted. These pertinent issues have been confirmed by organisations with vast experience in APM practice in software development, for instance, the Department of Defence (Freedman, 2016). The Department of Defence observed that of the $35.7 billion it had invested in software in1995, only 2 percent of the delivered software came out as usable.

Therefore, constant frustrations in software development challenged developers to think about systems that would promote the successful creation of usable software (Misra, Kumar, Kumar, Fantazy, & Akhter, 2012). In 1998, the Harvard Business School undertook a close examination of huge software projects to establish the underpinning philosophy. Researchers such as Misra et al. (2012) concluded that there were three common assumptions that informed developers of large software.

First, developers assumed that large software was possible to develop. Developers also assumed that it was possible to protect projects against delayed changes. Thirdly, developers believed it was sensible to lock these projects early during development. Watts Humphrey, a renowned researcher, based at IMB during the time, conducted a follow-up study. Humphrey then concluded that the requirements of new software could not be possibly known until after it had been put to use (Highsmith, 2010). HadarZiv also concluded afterward, “Uncertainty was inherent and inevitable in software development processes and products” (Freedman, 2016, p.208).

Freedman (2009) argues that the connection between the assertions by Freedman (2016) and Highsmith (2010) and the concepts of APM are rather straightforward. Hence, if software users are unable to foretell the kind of software they need until it is presented to them and that if planning and predicting software projects is impractical, it would be prudent for developers to adopt an incremental and prototype-based approach.

The obvious benefit is that this methodology enables developers to observe and correct errors in software as they go. Small-scale and distributed flaws are easier to note compared to the case of a large project with widespread flaws. This common understating is the underpinning philosophy of APM. A defining moment for APM came with the advent of increased internet use. Freedman (2009) observes that the internet made it possible to create and test IT projects on a large scale, thereby encouraging innovation.

APM has subsequently been adopted in industries outside software project management, owing to its initial success. Smith (2011) identifies challenges in the construction industry as the primary reason why construction engineers have been actively involved in trying to come up with working methodologies to contain these challenges. The hope is that such methodologies will help to minimise the risk of overproduction while also improving project outcomes.

Smith (2011) asserts that agile methods have been particularly favoured by constructors since they assist to improve project reliability, even in the increasingly complex setups. This advancement is made possible through reducing projects into small manageable components. The minute parts are then completed in a particular order, with the most valuable ones being completed first. In many ways, applying APM in construction resembles its application in the software industry. Projects are divided into small chunks that are then completed independently, thus allowing for an easier monitoring of the whole plan.

While construction projects are not essentially complex, the challenges that limit their execution complicate the entire construction process (Akintoye, Goulding, & Zawdie, 2012). Design alterations, the availability of construction resources, and access to information about the site are some of the compounding factors that make construction a less straightforward activity. The result is that maintaining of up-to-date work plans often becomes difficult.

Hence, the completed project does not always reflect the construction plans. The implication of this inconsistency is that many projects are then completed based on “tacit” knowledge, as well as improvisations made at the operations level. This situation has the impact of complicating the process of managing projects. Thus, agile projects assist project managers to stay on course by ensuring that the work plans are strictly adhered to with much ease.

Lu, Olofsson, and Stehn (2011) observe that while construction projects encompass an end-to-end developmental process, many practical situations require a strong focus on the initial [planning] stage. This stage is particularly crucial since it gives the whole project its bearing in terms of costs, materials, and techniques to be applied. Johansson (2012) supports this view by arguing that in the beginning of any project, the amount of money invested is the lowest while chances of modifying the project are the highest.

However, as shown in Figure 1, as the project expands and more money is invested, the possibility of initiating modifications reduces. Additionally, mistakes that may not have been observed during the initial stage only become evident much later when they are extremely hard to correct. Johansson (2012) argues that applying agile methods assists project managers to detect flaws early enough and/or make the necessary adjustments. Johansson (2012) also notes that adopting agile methods invites the clients to participate in the construction process, unlike in the traditional construction methods where clients have limited involvement.

The Relationship between money and managers’ influence on a project.
Figure 1: The Relationship between money and managers’ influence on a project.

Definition of Traditional Project Management

Project Management Institute (2013) describes traditional project management techniques as predictable lifecycles. In traditional methods, the entire planning is set up at the beginning of the project. Hence, the project’s scope, costs, and timelines are determined at the initial stage. These methodologies originated in the 20th century during the Cold War. At the time, constant efforts were put to outclass enemies in completing projects, resulting in short lead-times for project development.

Gustavsson (2011) observes that this haste was responsible for the growth in the popularity of traditional methodologies. More than one activity was being worked on simultaneously to beat deadlines. Bahceci and Karrbom (2014) presented the traditional methodology together with its different stages. It usually begins with initiation, followed by a feasibility study, then planning and execution, before the product is finally handed over to the client.

Vuurmans (2015) refers the traditional project management model as the Waterfall model, which is a sequential technique employed in development processes and where progress appears to be flowing downward [hence the name Waterfall]. According to Vuurmans (2015), the phases of this model are “conception, initiation, analysis, design, tendering, construction, operation, and maintenance” (p.27). Figure 2 is an illustration of the sequential nature of the Waterfall method.

Project phases in Waterfall project model.
Figure 2: Project phases in Waterfall project model.

Johansson (2012) describes the Waterfall model as comprising distinct phases that are distributed throughout its lifecycle. Disciplined planning and control techniques are an important factor for the success of the Waterfall model (Vuurmans, 2015). The implementation of this extensive planning relies on the presumption that failure can be predicted and that once a phase is finished, it should not be revisited (Vuurmnas, 2015).

One advantage of the Waterfall model is that its structured nature makes it easy to follow. However, it has the disadvantage of being inflexible. In a dynamic environment, change in conditions can render this type of project difficult to implement (Vuurmans, 2015).

Difference between Agile Project Management and the Traditional Project Management

APM and traditional methodologies bear many differences, which have been discussed in the various literature materials. For instance, Freedman (2010) observes that estimation techniques in traditional project management differ from those of agile processes. In traditional methods, estimation depends on tasks while it is feature-based in APM (Freedman, 2010). In the traditional setup, the project manager, assisted by the team, formulates a job breakdown structure, which is a list of tasks.

This process is followed by an estimation to determine the duration [in hours] that each task should take. In contrast, estimation in agile project management follows an in-depth strategy that encompasses all features instead of just the task (Freedman, 2010). Additionally, while the traditional task-oriented estimation attempts to predict the absolute amount of time necessary to complete each task, feature-based estimating is interested in the relative size of a feature(s), i.e., large, small, or medium (Smith, 2011).

According to Vuurmans (2015), agile processes use iterations while the traditional methods use stages in setting out work plans. An agile-based project advances in iterations. Upon completing the iteration, the deliverable is controlled and tried before being presented to the client and afterward incorporated into the final deliverable product. This incorporation is subject to being accepted by the client. Hence, feedback is sought and cultivated into the product before proceeding to the next iteration (Neagu, 2013).

In contrast, for the traditional methods, the input of the customer is only sought at the initial [planning] stage. The customer is not required to propose changes until the completion of the project. Therefore, while APM relies on the feedback of the client to advance to the next iteration, traditional methods do not allow for constructive interaction with the customer. Vuurmans (2015) observes that in the traditional approaches, sometimes the customer’s input during the construction process is treated as undesirable and unnecessary.

Neagu (2013) asserts that APM focuses on team empowerment while traditional methods are interested in processes and tools. For instance, in Scrum, how the project work is designed and work carried out depends on the team (Neagu, 2013). Team members are empowered to self-organise and solve problems as they occur. On the other hand, in the traditional methods, team members operate on strict instructions from project leaders to the extent that they may not exercise discretion (Neagu, 2013). Teamwork in traditional methods is not of consequence and may be compromised at times (Freedman, 2016).

In addition, in traditional project management, a team leader is on top of the command chain where he or she issues instructions to junior members (Johansson, 2012). It is not automatic that the project leader will be actively involved in the actual work. Freedman (2010) observes that sometimes, project leaders operate from their offices. This arrangement is different from APM where the leader [scrum master] is an active member of the team and that communication is primarily horizontal. Consultation is valued in APM. Here, members often assign tasks to themselves. A scrum master does not make decisions on behalf of the team members, but only facilitates their smooth working (Johansson, 2012).

APM is flexible while the traditional methods are fixed. Vuurmans (2015) observes how the agile methodology is designed to promote adaptability by ensuring that changes can be integrated with minimal interruptions. Products are created through continuous testing and development of prototypes. Iterations exist as independent components of the project, allowing room for changes to be made at any level without necessarily affecting the other units (Ayed, Vanderose, & Habra, 2012).

In contrast, traditional projects exist as large undivided processes. Once the planning stage is completed, it is difficult to implement changes or variances to the original plan. Vuurmans (2015) also explains how traditional methods do not allow going back to a stage that has already been completed. In contrast, Scrum allows the retraction of actions where necessary.

Proof that Agile is better

Before proceeding further, it is prudent to note that Scrum is one of the most popular agile techniques, especially in the construction industry (Gustavsson, 2011). Companies often use the term to imply all agile methods. Vuurmnas (2015) observes that in Scrum, all project team members take part during the planning stage. The sprint-planning meeting involves creating a sprint backlog depending on the product build-up. The product backlog contains a prioritised list of all activities that must be performed during the project (Vuurmans, 2015). In addition, in the sprint backlog, all activities to be covered within one to four weeks are incorporated.

At this stage, tasks have not yet been assigned to members. Vuurmans (2015) also notes that the sequence of performance is not decided at the sprint backlog. The Daily Scrum Meetings involve doing a detailed planning where members assign themselves tasks to perform for the day. Self-assignment of tasks encourages commitment for the part of the team members. This situation is in line with Saravkumar’s argument (2012) that APM cuts the chances of having further “requirements added into the scope of the project” (p. 20). Self-assessment and reporting during the Daily Stand Up (DSU) also enforce member commitment (Vuurmans, 2015).

The self-organised nature of teams in APM means free flow of information among specialists (Ayed, Vanderose, & Habra, 2014). In addition, due to the daily meetings, which form a component of the agile principles, information sharing is enabled. Krasteva and Ilieva (2010) have found that early and uninterrupted value delivery that is common in APM encourages the exchange of feedback. This observation is different from the traditional methodology where feedback is only available upon the completion of the project. Wang, Conboy, and Cawley (2012) also note that the ‘Value Principle’ is promoted in APM in its second and tenth main beliefs.

In Scrum, the Product Backlog represents the value principle. The Product Back is the equivalent of a programme, which contains the instructions and views of the customer about the project (Johansson, 2012). Customers can fix all their requirements on the Product Backlog before prioritising them accordingly. However, Scrum appreciates that it is not practical that a client can identify and place all his or her needs at the onset of the project (Bhalerao & Ingle, 2012).

For this reason, Scrum leaves space for the client to make future adjustments as new ideas and insights arise. This outcome is a great advantage over the inflexible nature of the Waterfall. The Waterfall fails in foreseeing future changes. Thus, it does not allow the client to change his or her mind once the project has commenced (Vuurmans, 2015).

According to Vuurmans (2015), traditional management assumes that once the customer has set the project’s scope at the onset, he will not be interested in making changes during the construction process. Variances are treated as unwelcome and undesirable. Clearly, this situation is a recipe for chaos since clients may need to adjust the scope to fit the changing needs. It allows change regarding time and resources, but not the scope. In contrast, APM has the resources and time fixed.

The scope is made flexible. APM appreciates change. Here, change is seen as an opportunity to improve and/or increase the client’s value (Vuurmans, 2015). Another important advantage of APM is that progress is measured on a daily basis. According to Mahnic and Zabkar (2012), the daily measurement of progress enables team players to compare between what has been achieved against what should have been achieved. This way, discrepancies can be identified and efforts made to rectify them. Sutherland (2014) reveals that progress in the management is measured after completing each sprint during the sprint review meeting. Importantly, performance is monitored and regulated through the daily scrum meetings.

During the scrum meetings, members are expected to brief each other about the challenges encountered during project implementation. Vuurmans (2010) argues that constant reporting ensures an early detection of problems which avails an opportunity for them to be addressed early enough. For the Waterfall model, problems are only reported at the end of the project, when it is in effect, too late to address them. An additional benefit of using APM in construction is that all members actively take part in solving problems and making decisions. For instance, team members decide among themselves the activities that are to be performed the next day.

In fact, members have the freedom to choose their tasks. This case is different from the traditional methodologies where decisions are made from the top and communicated to the junior members (Kerzner, 2013). Team reflection is another important element of APM, which is not available in the traditional models. In Scrum, members take part in reflection to assess areas that need improvement before progressing to a new task.

Figure 3 illustrates a comparison of the two methodologies. This illustration clearly demonstrates the benefits that using APM has when compared to using the traditional techniques. Scrum involves periodic deliverables while the Waterfall technique has no feedback at any time before the final delivery is made.

Scrum vs. Traditional methodologies.
Figure 3: Scrum vs. Traditional methodologies.

Layton (2012) has identified several advantages of using agile techniques in construction. APM focuses on people, the product, communications, and flexibility (Layton, 2012). While the same amount of work is done as would be using the traditional methods, APM enables constructors to identify requirements and design while integrating the product with other products as desired. Additionally, APM facilitates the testing of the product at every stage, thus minimising the possibility of grave flaws in the product.

Layton (2012) also identifies transparency as a benefit of the agile methodology. All members are allowed to observe and interrogate all processes and their progress. APM also encourages frequent inspection, which avails an early chance for the client to evaluate the project and/or determine whether it befits his or her needs. It is not exceptional for complex projects for clients to feel that the actual project has deviated from the agreed upon work plan (Kerzner, 2013).

Freedman (2016) reveals how agile processes focus on people as opposed to processes and tools. This situation is an advantage by itself because tools and processes “do not create results, or add value for the user: only skilled people can do this” (Freedman, 2016, p.6). Agile project managers appreciate the fact that people are responsible for the success of any project. People create value through meaningful interactions with clients. This unique focus on the value of team members is not found in traditional methods where the employees are treated as a means to achieve the product. Their input is not always solicited and/or appreciated (Freedman, 2016).

Agile advocates often blame the Business Processing Reengineering (BPR) movement of the 1990s as responsible for the trend that has processes being valued over people in project management. People’s skills became secondary to processes and tools. APM seeks to reverse this notion by asserting that processes can only guide and support people in developing the desired products.

The successful interaction of agile methods and lean strategies is yet another reason why constructors favour this technique over traditional methodologies. Smith (2011) describes lean construction as the adoption of lean practices in carrying out construction projects. Lean construction focuses on creating information and material flow, capitalising on value creation and using control paradigms (Smith, 2011).

Despite the fact that APM has its origin within the realms of the software industry, it has received a considerable influence from lean construction (Smith, 2011). As a result, the two approaches share a wide array of fundamental values by focusing on quality, empowered teams, and continuous improvement. A slight variation with the two approaches is that while agile is used primarily to counter the risks associated with complex projects, lean aims at minimising change (Inman, Sale, Green, & Whitten, 2011).

Freedman (2010) argues that the use of feature-based estimation techniques make agile a better technique compared to the Waterfall. Waterfall and most traditional methodologies rely on task-based estimations where the allocation of resources and time depends on the nature of the task. On the other hand, the feature -based task is more comprehensive since it encompasses all features within any iteration. According to Freedman (2010), features are used to make structured estimations depending on the size of the feature, i.e., large, small, medium.

Case Study to Prove that Agile Project Management Works Successfully in Construction Projects

The Public Transport Division of Stockholm County Council offers an excellent case study to prove that agile project management is indeed successful in the construction sector. Although the sector is riddled with several complexities compared to other industries, the Public Transport Division of Stockholm County Council was able to integrate APM in the reconstruction of the subway trains depot in Stockholm.

The main objective of the project was to make more room for the new subway trains whose bodies were larger compared to the existing ones. The expected date of delivering the subway trains was 2016. At the time when Bahceci and Karrbom (2014) were preparing their report, the contractors were in the design phase.

The greatest hurdle that prompted the adoption of APM was the coordination of all depots in Stockholm because various stations were being constructed anew while others were only being reconstructed. This situation brought forth numerous complexities that would make coordination difficult and hence the need for APM (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). Agile is ideal in managing increasingly complex projects since it allows the subdivision of the entire projects into iterations that are easier to manage. An additional challenge arose since the ongoing project was to be carried out in a manner that it would not disrupt the entire transport sector (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). These complexities in the project, coupled with the short time span within which the project was to be completed, necessitated the use of APM.

The project managers (PM) explained that the reconstruction was dependent on the new subway trains that were still at the design stage (Bahceci &Karrbom, 2014). This situation would allow the designing and reconstruction to run concurrently, hence giving room for ideas that would be conceived as the project progressed. This aspect coincides with the concept of continuous improvement (Freedman, 2016). As such, teams were able to engage in a continuous improvement of the project by integrating new ideas as they occurred. The Client Design Managers (CDM) interviewed argued that iterations assisted teams to move speedily, hence avoiding slow progress, which often riddles complex projects (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014).

The project also attracted stakeholders with various interests that were hard to meet and balance at the same time (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). The PMs felt that if they had applied traditional methods, it would have been extremely difficult to integrate most of the views and suggestions brought forth by stakeholders. The view by the PMs is true since traditional methods do not specifically focus on client input (Saravkumar, 2012). Additionally, once a project commences, client input can no longer be incorporated into the project. On the contrary, agile would allow the PMs to consider changes long after the design phase had been completed.

In outlining the various study aspects, seven PMs and CDMs were interviewed. The aspects of concern were project planning, communication, documentation, time-cost and quality, and the specific success factors. The aspects are in line with Saravkumar’s argument (2012), “Agile Project Managers plan at multiple levels because each level has a different planning horizon and the shorter the horizon the greater the detail” (p. 19).

These factors were capable of being analysed with the concept of agile project management. Project planning was a topic of interest because in any construction, it is important for the intricate details involved in planning to be examined. In the examination process, loopholes might be identified. The planners may work on improving them before the project starts or as it progresses (Matt, Dallasega, & Rauch, 2014). The PM expounded on the need to plan for construction activities. The reason advanced was that the clients often needed the cost of the entire project to enable them to plan. In addition, the clients often wanted to pay low-interest rates for the money they would lend. By informing them of the costs involved, they could look for moneylenders with low-interest rates (Nowotarski & Paslawski, 2015).

The PM did not trash the idea of planning when the project was at later stages. This situation was an expression of their willingness to accept to adjust their initial plans and adopt new ones. It is not strange to have new ideas popping up midway the project. The advantage would be that more information regarding the project would be known. However, by so doing, they would not exercise control over the costs to facilitate the new ideas. Because they are competing with time, the PM suggests that the designs of the depot and subway trains must run concurrently (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014).

The PM did not downplay the importance of documentation in construction. Proper documentation enhances accountability and proper utilisation of resources. He gave an example of how they were forced to reconstruct a building because of poor documentation at its initial stages. This situation made the whole construction challenging because information of the previous construction was scanty. It made the construction technical since it was trying to seal errors that could have been detected early.

The CDM knows that sometimes the client changes the specifications during the last stages of the project. It is for this reason that the manager set earlier deadlines to avoid such inconveniences. The project designers also needed an earlier deadline to prevent the last minute rush (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). The setting of earlier deadlines also aids in the coordination of the various disciplines involved in construction work. Specific disciplines are required to start working earlier using written descriptions to save time.

For information purposes, the study also interviewed PM’s who were not involved in the project. They all agreed over the existence of a general work plan that gave details of all the work to be done. The general plan would serve a persuasive function while at the same time acting as a reference point for any future changes. It is fundamental to provide the clients with estimates of cost and time. It also aids in scouting for contractors. According to the PM, the programme stage involved getting the client’s requirements while the system stage involved getting the means of fulfilling the client’s requirements. To gauge the project’s success, the PMs and CDMs were interviewed. Their opinions were also taken into consideration.

Bahceci and Karrbom (2014) identified the frequent deadlines set by the PMs as an aspect of agile project management. These shorter cycles are effective in promoting the corporation of all disciplines involved. They also help in detecting defects in the whole planning at the programme or system stage. It saves cost and time involved in coming up with a new plan. The PMs who were not involved in the project mentioned the existence of parallel planning (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014).

This parallel planning occurs when the system stage and detail phase take place concurrently. It aids in making abrupt changes to the programme documents. The aspect of running parallel processes is an aspect of agile project management. As a project progresses, the players gain more insight into the whole process, thus seeking to make changes to the original plan. It makes it easier to beat deadlines to reduce costs. However, the aspect of altering plans creates uncertainties due to the starting of new projects while others are still in progress.

To counter the challenges brought by short cycles, frequent deadlines were set by the managers (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). The effect is that the team members would be working throughout the cycle. Resources would be utilised more efficiently. As an aspect of agile methodology, the managers are flexible to any changes that may occur while the project is undergoing because there is still no decided design that the subway trains should take (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). Thus, the PMs were welcoming any changes. However, they were not distracted from continuing with the work. Instead, they could make plans that were subject to changes.

Various constructions have performed dismally due to lack of short iterative cycles (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). The errors could be avoided if the managers produced design documents while factoring in the importance of short cycles. This plan always led to re-starting the construction, thus wasting time and resources. The remedy would be reconciliation among all managers. The reconciliations give a chance to rectify errors detected while the construction is in progress. Consequently, the relevant authorities would have ample time of dealing with the errors.

In the Public Transport Division of Stockholm County Council, this goal was achieved by sharing same objectives and working together towards their achievement. The PMs and CDMs shared the same sentiments concerning cooperation. It was the PM’s duty to brief the project team on the goals. Their collaboration endeared them towards the ultimate success of the project (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). The three factors that influence successful collaboration are a self-driven team, goal-focus, and trust.

Self-drive avoids unnecessary waste of resources. In turn, it helps in delivering products of high quality. A team that is focused on achieving shared goals always delivers positive results (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). Trust is an important aspect of collaboration cultivated through teamwork. One of the interviewed PMs further cemented the essence of trust in teamwork. He was of the opinion that workers can work independently through teamwork for the success of the whole project.

According to one of the PMs interviewed, agile calls for a relation form of working, rather than work that is guided by communication. Construction is guided by communication because of the many disciplines involved. For a construction project to be successful, it is imperative for those involved to cultivate a culture of constant communication (Bahceci & Karrbom, 2014). The agile methodology also requires collaboration among the managers. Such cooperation led to the success of the adopted agile methodology and hence the reason why almost all project managers are advocating its application in the construction sector.

Why is Agile Methodology Better for Building a Restaurant?

In agile setups, the iteration offers the opportunity to revisit the plan and make adjustments for the next operation (Marques, Gourc, & Lauras, 2011). According to Freedman (2010), the emphasis is on a good plan now instead of a perfect one tomorrow. Through creating a workable plan, the project is ready to be commenced. This procedure is different from a scenario where project managers spend endless hours trying to come up with a perfect and predictive plan at the expense of the project’s time. The restaurant business is subject to a dynamic environment. For this reason, APM would be the ideal approach to constructing a restaurant because it would allow for changes as market needs arise or as the clients’ preferences change to suit the dynamic environment (Rubin, 2012; Tetreault, 2016).

Cohn (2011) argues that agile is ideal for projects that have aggressive deadlines, are complex, and/or require a high level of uniqueness. This description suits the restaurant business. According to Cohn (2011), project managers often find agile quite suitable when building something new to the team involved in the building work. Where a team has done something over and over before, there is no particular need to adopt agile because a degree of predictability already exists.

Hence, team members become better at building that particular object because of repetition. However, when faced with the need to guarantee novelty, the team may have to adopt agile techniques (Cohn, 2011). Indeed, restaurants require uniqueness to set them apart from their competitors’ businesses. According to Horng, Liu, Chou, and Tsai (2013), uniqueness in the context of the restaurant business may take different forms. For instance, a customer may order a food item that is not present in the menu.

To serve this customer, the restaurant must go out of its traditional manner of preparing meals. Cohn (2011) then introduces urgency as another important element that necessitates the use of APM in restaurants. In the example of the customer who orders an exotic meal, the particular order brings with it an urgency of some kind. Arguably, a customer would not be pleased to have to wait a whole hour for their order. Cohn’s (2011) illustration serves to show how agile may be needed in responding to the daily needs of running a restaurant.

Schwartz (2015) argues that the ability to rapidly capture data and/or make quick decisions has become a defining attribute of successful businesses. This trend is emphasised in the limited-service restaurant industry where investors are increasingly blending established research practices with new techniques to grasp actionable consumer insights (Schwartz, 2015). Schwartz (2015) identifies young people as the main driving factor for these changes.

Millenials possess entirely new expectations and requirements regarding food choices. When compounded by their increasing spending power, this generation of young people commands about $200 billion worth of the food market value (Shwartz, 2015). Clearly, this figure is a fraction of the market that any serious investor would want to tap into. The young people will be the shaping force for Quick Restaurant Service (QSR) shortly. According to Schwartz (2015), agile insights allow investors to foster menu innovation without incurring unnecessary costs.

Menu innovation has increasingly become a central aspect of the QSR as restaurants compete for market share. Simultaneously, customers are also increasingly adopting eat-out-of-the box attitudes where many customer orders nowadays do not reflect what is stated on the menu (Schwartz, 2015). Menu changes can be costly for QSRs when coupled with the expenses incurred in developing and testing these new ideas and products. According to Schwartz (2015), restaurant owners can mitigate these expenses by testing concepts early through the social media and web-based tools. Agile methodologies enable restaurant owners to gather customer feedback in a rapid manner. This feedback can then be implemented in creating products that suit customer tastes.

Agile insights can also be used by restaurants to deliberate on market decisions before they are launched (Zubizarreta, 2013). Companies have always engaged in testing advertising concepts, albeit, relying on traditional methods. However, based on the increasing demand for marketing content, the ability to obtain feedback in real time will become a necessity (Conboy, Coyle, Wang, & Pikkarainen, 2011). Activities such as creative ideation and pre-launch validation could benefit immensely from agile processes.

Using APM to develop and validate decisions before launching can help restaurants to make valuable yet calculated risks, thus preventing unnecessary losses (Conboy et al., 2011). Companies in the restaurant business are now making bold moves aimed at reinventing the classic mascots. For instance, McDonald’s recently reintroduced its Hamburger in an upgraded form. The move by MacDonald’s is a practical application of agile insights into the restaurant business.

According to Nzama and Mbhele (2015), APM assists restaurants to keep up with the fast-evolving consumer preferences. A proper illustration is the case of Taco Bell. The company has reinvented its menu using agile techniques to catch the attention of millennials (Shwartz, 2015). APM can help a restaurant to keep up with the tastes of consumers, thus avoiding fallout. Chipotle has also employed agile insights to maintain its clientele. The company recently increased transparency regarding the origin of its ingredients. Efforts such as those made by Chipotle and Taco Bell are only possible with a flexible methodology that allows for continuous improvement and the making of changes as the need arises.

In contrast, a traditional approach is too rigid to the extent that it cannot allow rapid changes to adapt to the changing customer needs. While acknowledging the importance of adopting agile processes in QSR, Taco Bell’s vice president in charge of marketing, Mellissa Friebe stated, “[millenials are] constantly trying something, seeing if it works and making small changes” (Schwartz, 2015, para. 10).

Blank (2013) argues that agile methods are the most suitable for business start-ups. The agile methodology allows investors to make mistakes and/or try again until they get it right. This strategy may be a blessing for a restaurant business because of the dynamic nature of the industry. In contrast, Waterfall methods define the business needs extensively up front. They strictly rely on those requirements to make estimates of resources required [time and money] (Blank, 2013).

Following the Waterfall methods in starting a business is like lying to oneself that it is possible to set scope, budgets, and dates for a project. In other words, a start-up that is built based on the traditional methodology has a higher chance of failing compared to one that is built based on agile methods. On the other hand, agile methods allow start-up owners to streamline the business to meet market needs in real time. The modular nature means that focus can be directed to the most important or urgent tasks first.

Blank (2013) explains that quick decision-making is central to the success of start-ups. First, the market is new to the restaurant and that there is no concrete information how it will be received (Blank, 2013). A rigid [traditional] method implies completing the whole process before testing the possibility of market success. It may be too late by the time the owner of a restaurant realises his business is not causing enough impact on the market.

On the other hand, APM allows constant testing of products to determine their suitability. For instance, a restaurant would wish to understand the impact that its new menu will have on customer tastes before launching and subsequently printing in large numbers (Mironov, 2011). While traditional methods would work by having the menu completed first before it is tested, APM calls for testing at all iterations of the process. The difference is that agile methods encourage the cultivating of client feedback in developing a product, as opposed to nose-diving into it without making appropriate considerations.

Cost, Quality, Time, Risk Assessment that might affect Agile Project Management


According to Purvis, Gosling, and Naim (2014), the aspect of cost plays a key role in shaping a firm’s successful adoption of APM. In fact, many businesses adopt agile methods as a way of managing costs by negating material wastes and mitigating the risk of future changes. However, agile is not primarily a direct money saver (Curran, 2014). Instead, this methodology provides project managers with the advantage of cost-benefit savings that accrue because of increased stakeholder involvement and timely product delivery (Curran, 2014).

According to Curran (2014), every project has to make considerations regarding costs with respect to other key variables such as scope and time. Fewer resources mean that the project will take longer. Thus, more time should be allocated for completion. The opposite is also true where compressing the timeline for a project means increasing costs (Curran, 2014).

Another key consideration is the cost of transition from Waterfall to agile (Curran, 2014). Many businesses often underestimate the cost implication of this change, resulting in frustration. Curran (2014) argues that agile projects may require more resources because of their compressed timeline that has more than one task being performed simultaneously. In addition, because agile projects often need more team players, labour costs may be variably high.

One way of navigating this challenge is for the business to anticipate a reasonable increase in operation costs during the transitional period. Turk, France, and Rumpe (2014) have observed that one of the underlying assumptions that a business makes before adopting APM is that the cost of change will not increase too rapidly. While this assumption may help project managers to maintain an overall positive attitude, it may not do a lot to change the fact that sometimes an increase in costs may be observed during the transition. However, Curran (2014) asserts that agile techniques may reduce project-related costs by way of increasing delivery speed, hence obtaining the benefits faster.

Turk et al. (2011) describe cost as the budget of setting up and completing a project. It is a major consideration [variable] throughout a project’s lifecycle. According to Turk et al. (2014), the first consideration occurs at the formative stage of the project. Here, the client proposes a figure depending on what he or she deems suitable to get the project on its feet. Sometimes, the client’s estimation could be close to the actual cost required for the project, but at times underestimation does occur. Either way, cost stands out as a major consideration in APM.


Curran (2014) identifies two types of quality that are pertinent for all projects: product and process quality. Product quality refers to the state of the deliverable while process excellence focuses on the superiority of the management process. However, in project management, the focus is on the latter, with key considerations being how the project works and identifying ways in which it can be improved.

Quality improvement is an essential aspect of a project as it the defining element that indicates its probability of success. Project managers who wish to switch to APM are after a quality process that will ensure tasks are performed and that products are delivered efficiently. Continuous improvement of quality and process quality management are the mechanisms used to determine process quality. Bhasin (2012) argues that agile models are believed to have higher quality outcomes due to the increased teamwork and testing of products throughout the lifecycle. Testing is of great importance in maintaining quality, both of the process and product. A sound process quality should result in excellent results.

Therefore, the adoption of a model is influenced by quality since the ultimate goal is to come up with an efficient process (Bhasin, 2012). While process quality is not of special interest in traditional methods, the case is different in APM where the primary focus is on efficiency and flexibility. A project is influenced by how much quality the project managers have attached to it. Process quality is an influential perception or value. Bhasin (2012) argues that agile methods pay great importance to quality, observing the fitness-for-use approach employed. Indeed, the priority in agile is to attain customer satisfaction by ensuring early and progressive delivery of quality products (Bhasin, 2012).

Marques et al. (2011) argue that project quality involves the proper management of cost, resources, time, and, communication. It covers managing changes efficiently within the project. However, sometimes, agile methods may suffer because people often confuse the poor implementation of methodology with a limitation of the method itself. According to Freedman (2016), quality is not limited to the cumulative defects of a deliverable but includes all aspects that combine to meet the customer’s needs. The first step in improving quality is to increase the client involvement. The client is an authority on how the product ought to be like.


Bhasin (2012) reveals that time is part of the scope of the agile process management. It has an inverse relationship with cost. For instance, trying to reduce the time of the project can lead to increased costs. Unlike costs, time is a resource that cannot be created. Time is consumed, regardless of whether project managers make use of it or not. Therefore, the project managers’ objective is to make the most out of the time allotted for that particular project. In project management, future time serves as a resource that can be traded with, either within or even between projects. Thus, time becomes increasingly important once a project commences because the project manager realises it is the resource that will determine whether the project is completed within the agreed upon duration.

Purvis et al. (2014) observe that time has become an indispensable element of competitiveness in the agile world. Today, customers are unwilling to accept lead times that are long for their products. Bhasin (2012) argues that the need for speed and responsiveness almost blurs other related concepts such as agility and lean thinking. Therefore, customers are likely to favour projects that promise to be delivered within a short duration, provided costs are manageable (Purvis et al., 2014). Time also affects flexibility since the possibility of changes must be assessed with time in mind. Thus, a good flexibility strategy will consider duration to guarantee minimal time debt.

Aronsson, Abrahamsson, and Spens (2011) assert that time plays an important role in ensuring that health care projects are effective and successful. The industry relies on timely schedules and short lead-times, which are just as important as quality care. In fact, it would almost be impossible to separate time and quality in health care (Aronsson et al., 2011). The pressure caused by time has an impact on the design of the patient processes. Time may also create the need to merge lean and agile strategies (Inman et al., 2011). Dingsøyr, Nerur, Balijepally, and Moe (2012) have shown that companies usually combine lean and agile methods in project management to reduce the overall time spent on a project.

Risk Assessment

According to Veethil (2013), no consensus has been established on whether risk management is needed in APM. For this reason, many project managers view risk assessment as irrelevant in iterative models (Veethil, 2013). Some project managers are usually tempted to overlook risks until they turn into full-blown issues, and then resolve them by way of the natural sprint progression. Nevertheless, it is important to manage risks proactively within the agile model. Risks occur without being anticipated. Veethil (2013) maintains that it is important to observe that a risk can result in a positive or negative outcome. A positive effect is essentially an opportunity whereas a negative effect is a threat to the project.

Risk management is emphasised in traditional project management while it takes a back role in APM mainly because the short iterations and emphasis on prototypes reduce the chances of risk occurrence. Traditional project management methods would advocate for keeping a risk register. Veethil (2013) argues that some agile projects could also benefit from risk management. According to Veethil (2013), John Brothers proposed the Risk Burn-down Chart for the assessment of risks (See Figure 4). Fields contained in this chart include a description of the risk, the probability of occurrence, the size of the loss, and exposure. The register should be evaluated during each sprint meeting before its values are adjusted according to the assessment of the current and previous risks


APM is a relatively recent system of managing projects, having begun its use in 2001. In APM, project managers divide the entire projects into small manageable divisions. Agile methods originated in the system industry. However, due to their success, they have been widely adopted in different industries. The emphasis in agile is continuous improvement and frequent testing to ensure quality is produced.

Other important characteristics of APM include flexibility, enhanced teamwork, customer involvement, and fast delivery. On the other hand, traditional project management is a sequence process in which activities are divided into stages. Here, performance is sequential. A common technique in traditional project management is the Waterfall method. Traditional methods have limited flexibility. They do not encourage customer involvement once the project has commenced.

The construction industry is one of the industries that have adopted agile methods in managing projects. While construction projects are not complicated, the interaction of the key elements of time, costs, and scope can often result in complications. For this reason, agile methods come in handy in developing successful projects that can guarantee timely delivery of quality products. Agile methods lead to higher quality products when compared to traditional techniques. While there may not be adequate evidence to support this argument, it is clear that process quality is encouraged in APM, as opposed to traditional methods, which focus solely on the delivery of the final product.

One of the main differences between APM and traditional methods is that APM divides projects into iterations while traditional methods perform projects in stages. APM also encourages teamwork while traditional methods do not pay keen interest in team collaboration. Agile methods are designed to make small and quick deliveries while traditional project management delivers one final product. More firms are adopting agile insights to maximise process quality and fast delivery.

Restaurant businesses are among these industries. Due to the high risk caused by the changing customer needs, restaurants are adopting agile methods in key areas such as menu development. By employing constant testing based on feedback obtained from customers, restaurateurs ensure that they only launch products that have been received well by customers.

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