A decade ago, when I first started studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam, I thought they had taken the PMBOK’s content out of any civil engineering projects. The triple constraint, which includes the scope, budget, and schedule, was something I learned on my first day of work in a civil engineering firm. And yet, throughout the years, most of my consulting and training clients have come from other fields, such as pharmaceuticals, fiancé, manufacturing, etc. In addition, my initial years of analyzing risk on construction projects; dealing with numerous stakeholders, such as permitting agencies, community members, and even politicians, has helped me understand the intricacies and advantages of effective project management.
Civil engineering provides a good basis for best project management practices; however, the experience working in other non-AEC (architecture-engineering-construction) industries generate a greater understanding of what efficient project management can accomplish and how to adjust the approach for the benefit of the project. For example, most engineering and construction projects have traditionally followed the “waterfall” or predictive methodology since you need to know what you are constructing to design and build foundations, footings, etc. Other industries, such as IT, have followed a more “agile” approach, which is more appropriate. However, when working with clients on the basics of project management, I have learned how some engineering projects can work and benefit from an “agile” or “hybrid” approach.
Over the years, some of my projects were designed and built using a more agile concept because the client needed the flexibility to make changes as the work progressed. This was due in part because they were not sure what they wanted until they saw at least part of the work designed and even constructed; or because financial constraints warranted the need to stage the work, reduce the scope in the middle of the project, and eliminate some components or features of the project. And I found that one of the greatest challenges in working with “agile” on AEC projects was not the design, construction, or permitting process but rather AEC professionals’ reluctance to follow an adaptive methodology. Decades ago, when I attended college and started my first job, we were trained to think of engineering and construction as rigid work efforts needed for safety, budget and schedule constraints, and crucial for preparing calculations, specifications, and construction plans. However, we have learned the need to be more adaptive and flexible throughout the years.
For example, I am currently working on a community-based project where the budget is driving the scope from the start. This is because the budget depends on grant funding, fundraising, in-kind services, and donations. Therefore, as more funds become available, the scope increases and are modified. However, if some in-kind services and donations are not obtained as planned, the design needs to be adjusted accordingly. We are therefore designing in a very collaborative way with the client (community), public agencies, donors, and other key stakeholders to create a new park in the middle of an old neighborhood. And although the administrative part is challenging, the design process and testing of different project management tools is a great experience for the designers and project managers.