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Agile Business Design Case Studies

Agile Capital and Infrastructure Projects are Possible and Brilliant.

Authored by Greg Skinner
Consultant Project Lead, ADAPTOVATE

Three approaches have brought significant results to large, heavy-industry capital projects: 

  • Using and adjusting an agile framework according to the phase of the project 
  • Ensuring a focus on quality through detail and execution 
  • Using transparency to mitigate dependency and maximise team alignment 

Agile has emerged as the framework for digital and related fields to deliver, then continuously improve, new products.  

The reason agile hasn’t made its way far beyond IT is that it’s been difficult to map to the design-detail-deliver project management approach of other industries. And where change is relatively cheap in digital, it’s expensive in heavy industries like mining, oil & gas, construction, infrastructure and transport. So every effort is made to withstand it.  

However, we can gain many of the abilities that benefited the digital world by using the different versions of agile at different points along the delivery of a project: 

Change your process to suit the phase of your project delivery 

What does this look like?  

At the early parts of a project, you’re not building anything, you’re agreeing what’s realistic based on the requirements given to you by the person paying for it.  

Start with Scrum 

Lots of unknown stuff to get through, lots of ambiguity. Scrum is great for that. The predictability and ruthless prioritisation that comes as part of the Scrum package blows all but the most valuable bits away. Leaving you with insight on how the thing stays together.  

Soon, because your cross-functional team has been talking to each other daily, and perhaps once a week to the person paying for it ensuring you’re heading in the right direction, they say, “Yep! That’s what I want, at the right cost, and in the right timeline!” The project has passed its first hurdle – the design phase is complete.  

At ADAPTOVATE and with some of its valued clients in industry, we’ve seen this early phase – for projects valued between $10m and $4bn – finish in as little as four weeks. That’s an epic change to the months and years usually spent in this phase.  

One of our clients was able to cut an eighteen-month concept selection phase down to a repeatable four-week scrum, a time saving of around 90%.  

But that’s only the concept phase. What about the detail and deliver phases? 

We change our process and ditch Scrum and move to Kanban 

We know what we want, know the budget, know how much time we have, and we know who we need to call to get it done. Then we need to detail it up and build it.  

For these two phases, we change our agile process to Kanban. 

Kanban borrows much more from manufacturing – it’s where it came from. It enables high specialisms to run in parallel on timelines that suit the specialism. This creates an environment where team members can focus on their craft, and push the quality of their work up, albeit gradually.  

We don’t sprint – we don’t have time-boxed intervals in which to get through ambiguous work as there is no or little ambiguity. In fact, we want to take it steady.

The likes of Taiichi Ohno and W. Edwards Deming – the people who revolutionised the postwar Japanese manufacturing economy.  They proved several times over that concentrating on quality (including taking one’s time) results in a shorter project duration. As well as reduced total costs and a more robust outcome.  

Taiichi Ohno, src: Wikipedia 
W. Edwards Deming, src: Wikipedia 
Transparency increases collaboration 

Kanban is transparent: every team member can see every piece of work. If you’re trying to figure out whether the plumbing is going to get in the way of your load-bearing columns, you can see who is doing that drawing and ask them about it.  

Kanban works for delivery 

Kanban works for detailed design, and works for delivery/construction, for all the same reasons. Our client achieved a higher quality outcome in its engineering package development. This was in a quarter of the time through using a Kanban approach. Another was able to completely avoid re-work and defects in packages. And meet a tight deadline – a feat in an industry used to dealing with costly change orders.  

There you have it. 


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