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Agile Project Management for Architecture and Engineering: Traditional vs. Agile

Traditional A/E Project Management

Traditional project management takes a step-by-step approach to delivering Architecture and Engineering (A/E) projects. The project goes through initiation, planning, execution, and monitoring, then straight to closure in consecutive stages.

A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that illustrates a project schedule, named after its inventor, Henry Gantt, who designed the chart around the years 1910–1915. Modern Gantt charts also show the dependency relationships between activities and current schedule status. Great in it’s day.

Often called linear, this approach to A/E project delivery includes several sequential internal phases, executed in chronological order. This approach is most commonly applied within the construction or manufacturing industries, where little or no change is required at any given stage. I’ve spent over 25 years in Architecture and Engineering, and this sounds nothing like the projects I know.

Also known as the waterfall model.

Waterfall model for A/E project delivery has a strong emphasis on planning and specifications development, which takes up to 40 percent of the project’s time and budget. Another basic principle of this approach is the strict order of the project phases. A new project stage does not begin until the previous one is finished.

The method works well for clearly defined projects with a single deliverable and fixed deadline. The Waterfall approach requires thorough planning, extensive project documentation, and tight control over the development process. In theory, this should lead to on-time, on-budget delivery, low project risks, and predictable results.

However, when applied to the actual architectural and engineering process, Waterfall method tends to be slow, costly, and inflexible due to numerous restrictions. In many cases, its inability to adjust the product to the evolving market requirements results in wasted resources and potentially even project failure.

If you’re looking to not only avoid project failure, but deliver more successful and profitable projects, take a look at our easy-to-use, visual staffing and forecasting tools!

Agile A/E Project Management

On the other hand, the Agile method for A/E project delivery anticipates (and even embraces) change, which allows for more flexibility than traditional A/E project management. For example, Agile enables clients to make small objective changes without huge amendments to the budget or schedule, improving client satisfaction.

Agile project management involves breaking down each project into prioritized requirements, then delivering each individually within an iterative cycle. An iteration is the routine of developing small sections of a project at a time – such as pre-design, Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction. Each iteration is reviewed and assessed by both the development team and client, ensuring alignment and providing key insights along the way. The insights gained are then used to determine the next step in development. Clients attend pre-scheduled, regular meetings to review the previous iteration’s completed work, and to plan the next step. Detailed goals are set in each iteration meeting such as: expected changes, time estimates, priorities and budgets.

The Agile method places high priority to customer participation from the very beginning of the development cycle. This keeps the client involved at every step. Constant involvement and client engagement helps avoid major disruptions and ensures they are pleased with the final product. In the end, this approach saves money and time, and increases client satisfaction. If there are defects or challenges, then changes can be made proactively during production cycles to fix the issue. Traditional models of A/E project management would not find defects as early because they do not test as often. Typically (in traditional methods of production), defects are not always discovered and may find their way into the final product resulting in increased overhead and client dissatisfaction.

Architecture and Engineering project teams have proven this model of project management with increased client satisfaction rates. Additionally, Architecture and Engineering firms have reported significant improvements in moral, profitability, personnel utilization and schedule management!

A/E firms use this model of project management to ensure that, throughout the process, clients save time, money, and appreciate the flexibility to make changes and provide feedback.

The benefits to utilizing this model include:

  1. Lower costs and higher profits

  2. Happier clients, more repeat work

  3. More effective communication between project teams and clients

  4. A competitive advantage because your firm is catching defects and making changes throughout the development process

  5. Faster evaluations since each evaluation is only on a small part of the whole project.

  6. Quicker changes with less hassle

  7. More transparent projects with regular client meetings and feedback

Interested in learning how Planifi software can help your firm implement Agile project management? Improve client satisfaction, decrease overhead, and achieve higher profitability by scheduling a call today!

About the author: Don Archibeque is a Project Executive with Planifi, bringing more than 25 years of experience in construction and A/E (architecture and engineering) Project Management, as well as associated professional managerial services.


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