The construction industry has been revolutionized by adopting Agile and Lean project management ideas and processes like Scrum and Last Planner System®. Some traditional approaches to managing projects are often characterized by bureaucratic red tape or following non-collaborative schedules. Agile methodologies involve more customer collaboration and include built-in processes for adaptability as changes and unforeseen problems inevitably arise during a project's lifespan. So who is better suited to lead complex and changing projects: the experienced Agile project manager or someone with only project management experience and some theoretical understanding of the approach? The answer may not be as clear-cut as it seems.
What is Agile, a Certification, or Something Else?
Agile is essentially an adjective. It alone isn't a certification, but several organizations have unique credentials, but that is another topic entirely. In the context of management, Agile is the ability to make and respond to project changes and challenges. In 2001, a group of people working primarily in software development created the Agile Manifesto. They assigned the label "Agile" for this new idea. Scrum and XP predate the Agile Manifesto by many years, and since then, each has incorporated the spirit of the values and principles in subsequent framework updates. More Agile frameworks have emerged, but I'm biased towards Scrum. The excerpt below is just the value statements. Click here to read it all, including the 12 principles.
The Agile Manifesto
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software* over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. *In other industries like construction, "software" is replaced with product, where product means tangible goods, services, or combinations.
Agile Project Managers
An Agile project manager may be working without an official credential and still adhering to the Agile Manifesto or working within the Scrum framework. They can absolutely be self-taught or trained. These managers enable their teams to thrive. In my experience observing thousands of project teams, they must understand the design, construction, and delivery process to effectively facilitate communication between the teams and stakeholders. Additionally, they need to be capable of removing roadblocks and helping the team stay focused on their goals. In recent years, many of the high-performing teams I've witnessed include a Registered Scrum Master™️ in either the project manager or superintendent role.
Characteristics of High-Performing Scrum Teams
Teams include executives, project managers, superintendents, trade partners, and stakeholders. Design and construction projects are complex, but consider the construction industry's current state using schedule, budget, and communication to better understand typical performance versus high.
Schedule and Budget
- 3 out of 4 construction projects are delivered late
- Over 75% of projects are late, at least 40% of the construction phase
- 3 out of 4 projects are delivered over-budget
- Over 90% of construction projects finish with cost overruns over 30%
- 8 out of 10 owners cite the need for better collaboration with contractors
- Over 50% of project-related rework (defects/punch list items) is caused by poor project communication
- Nearly 10% increases to project schedules are caused by rework
- Communication channels increase exponentially for every team member added to design and construction projects
Sources: Dodge Data & Analytics, McKinsey, Deloitte, FMI, Navigant Construction Forum, and PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)
High-performing teams deliver projects using higher levels of collaboration to finish projects on time and on budget. They deliver easier, better, and faster. Check your project's current schedule, budget, and communication. Consider adopting Scrum if your current project lacks improvement or adaptation processes. Typical Scrum adoption results in:
- 20% Labor Cost Savings
- 25% Earlier project delivery
- 200% Efficiency gains
- 5 vs. 90 days for onboarding new hires
Experience as a trained Scrum Master is not essential for becoming an Agile project manager. However, it can be very beneficial to shorten the time to realize improved results. This is because Scrum Masters are responsible for ensuring that their team follows the Scrum process, enabling more effective project-wide communication. If an Agile project manager doesn't have this experience, they may need to rely on someone else on their team to fill this role or add an experienced coach.
Spotting An Agile Project Manager by Name Only
Agile frameworks like Scrum have visible artifacts and better results such as those noted above in contrast to the typical construction project statistics. Here are some signs to spot an Agile project manager by name only:
- They don't have experience implementing Agile values, principles, or frameworks such as Scrum.
- They haven't formed or worked in a Scrum team before.
- Their background doesn't include any project experience improving schedules, budgets, or communication.
- They don't understand change processes or how to influence team performance.
Being an Agile project manager requires more than doing the job description minimum responsibilities, but the extra effort benefits the individual, the team, and the project. I always look for someone who has a good understanding of Scrum processes, facilitation skills, project management experience, and emotional intelligence. If you are working on a project with non-ideal performance or high levels of frustration, there are several things you can do:
- Learn and adopt a personal Scrum.
- Talk to the team about the benefits of Scrum and how it can help team morale and productivity.
- Suggest resources or training that could help them learn more about Scrum.
- Visit a project team using Scrum so they can see how the process works firsthand.
If You Know, You Know What's Next
Agile project managers by name only will not enable high-performance or better project delivery results. Experiencing better project delivery is absolutely possible, and in my experience, Scrum teams deliver faster, less costly, and with better communication. If you are an aspiring Agile project manager or leader, take some time each week to learn by doing. Experiment with Scrum to understand how it works and how it can be adapted to suit your project needs. You don't have to use perfect implementation, and small changes can result in enormous benefits.
Are you working with Scrum to deliver more value with less effort and have more fun? Check out these Scrum training resources to help you and your team(s) achieve twice the work in half the time.