Since I am a civil engineer, I look at my project work through a very predictive approach, which includes well-defined objectives, even if they are not always met, and a “waterfall” approach where you start with a concept, then design, then construction. The construction phases are also pretty sequential: you excavate, pour the foundations, lay out some utilities, and so on. However, not all projects run the same way, so sometimes an agile (i.e., more flexible) approach is needed, even for construction projects. And this approach is even more essential to project success when it comes to projects that affect a community or neighborhood on a large scale.
Of course, to a certain point, all projects can impact a community, neighborhood, and city. However, community projects tend to have more stakeholders and special interest groups involved. This can stem from politics, socio-economic concerns, or other factors, making decision-making more challenging. In private sector projects, where the client wants a home, building, or other structure, they usually can make decisions or are responsible for doing so. Still, in community-generated work, there are many more interested parties to engage and address their expectations.
I am currently involved in several projects at different stages of development, but since they are community-based, there are a few more challenges than usual. For one thing, for example, the actual design scope is not yet defined. And part of the reason this is so is because although the community members are smart and have strong feelings about what they want, they have not been in the position to create a scope for a construction project. Therefore, there is a learning curve, turnover at a higher rate than most companies, and the inability to think in three dimensions. In contrast, typical architects and developers, for example, are already trained and experienced in imagining how a design from construction drawings will look in the real world.
In this situation, even though some aspects of construction projects need to be well-defined from the start, such as maximum slopes, foundations, footings, utilities, etc. The actual final design is being done using more of a hybrid approach. For example, one project deals with the design of a new green space, but rather than defining it early on and locking it down; the design is being done in phases. Then each phase gets reviewed to see if it addresses stakeholders’ expectations; for example, the playground part is being designed so that upgrades can be made if more funds are collected through donations, grants, and so on. Therefore, the playground design includes the overall wish list items, but only the funded features will be constructed. Also, the schedule and design are flexible, so residents do not like how a portion looks once it is built in the real world. There will be an opportunity to change it. In other words, this project’s management approach is based not only on the type of project but also on the type of stakeholder and their involvement.