Application and Benefits of Agile in EPC Projects

During the last two decades Agile Project Management (APM) has matured in the Information technology projects. Now the time has come for other project disciplines to embrace the agile best practices to work efficiently remotely, which has become the norm of the day. Below are the benefits reported by the early adopters of agile in EPC projects;

  • Increased communication between members of the project team, as well as between the project team and relevant stakeholders.
  • The visibility and ability to follow what the team is doing is at a whole other level
  • The transparency to others outside the team is close to perfect
  • People only work on tasks that are on the task list, and these are in a prioritized order
  • When stakeholders see what tasks are on the task list and what priority their task has in relation to other tasks, they become more patient with waiting for their task to be finished
  • Builds better relations between the team and their internal customers
  • With the opportunity to bring forth problems in daily meetings, the transparency has increased a lot
  • Problems surface quite quickly, allowing them to be solved faster
  • The problems are often identified by the team
  • When a problem is brought to the team’s knowledge during the daily meetings, others can immediately help with the problem
  • If a change is in conflict with another change it can be spotted as soon as possible
  • If a problem then surfaces it is easy to find , since only one day’s work has to be gone through to find the problem and people still remember well what they have done during the day
  • A project can last for 1.5 years and previously feedback wasn’t gathered into a final report until the end of the project. This feedback could then be utilized to improve future projects. Today thanks to Scrum this cycle is much faster and they ask for and discuss feedback continuously
  • Process improvement activities have become part of the project
  • Unified the ways of working
  • Business development efforts are also accounted

Quick introduction to Agile Project Management (APM)

Agile is a family of frameworks like;

  • Scrum
  • XP
  • RUP
  • Test Driven Development (TDD)
  • Scaled Agile
  • Kan-ban etc

Of these ‘Scrum’ and ‘Kan-ban’ are the most popular ones and are domain independent, hence adoption to EPC projects is easier.

At the center of all agile frameworks is the iteration, which is a time box, with a maximum duration of 30 days. The team can decide on the duration of the iteration with the only stipulation that iteration duration cannot be more than 30 days. At the beginning of every iteration the multi-disciplinary team decides the work they will perform during the iteration, and then they go ahead and perform the work. Every day, the team conducts a ‘daily stand up’ meeting with a maximum duration of 20 minutes, where each team member get approximately 2 minutes to communicate three things (What did I do yesterday?, What am I doing today?, and what are the issues I am facing and need help to resolve). At the end of the iteration there is a formal review of the output of the iteration followed by a retrospective meeting to capture the lessons learned during the iteration.

Let us take a detailed view of the scrum framework.

Overview of Scrum framework

The Scrum framework was established by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland in the year 1993. This is a very simple framework based on the scrum values of;

  • Courage
  • Focus
  • Commitment
  • Respect
  • Openness
Picture Courtesy www.scrum.org
Product backlog (task list)

Is the pending task list towards a major milestone. When the product backlog gets exhausted, that is an indication that the associated milestone is about to get accomplished.

Sprint (Iteration) backlog

The scrum project progresses in sprints (iterations). Sprint is a time box not exceeding 30 days. Before the start of the sprint, the team sits together and decides what all things they can commit during the next sprint (time box). Once they agree on a set of tasks to be completed during the sprint, they prepare detailed plan for the sprint. The output of the sprint planning meeting is the sprint backlog which comprises of tasks and responsibilities.

Sprinting

During the sprint, the team carryout the work related to the sprint.

Daily stand-up meeting

Daily stand up meetings are 20 minute meetings (for 10 member teams) where each person explains three things to the rest of the team like;

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I doing today?
  • What are the issues I am facing and need help?

This helps the team to see the status of the sprint on a daily basis. This also increases collaboration among team members to resolve issues quickly.

Sprint review

On the last day of the sprint, the team along with other key stakeholders review the status of the output of the sprint. If all the planned activities are completed with the required quality, the sprint is considered as successful.

Sprint retrospective

After the Sprint review, sprint retrospectives are conducted. The lessons learned during the sprint are consolidated and incorporated into the subsequent sprint’s planning meeting.

Sprint board

Is tracking board where tasks are classified into ‘To be done’, ‘Being done’ and ‘Done’. Based on the progress made the tasks are moved across these columns. The sprint board provides absolute clarity about who is working on which task and the status of every task to the project’s stakeholders.

Burn down charts

The ‘X’ axis of the burn down chart always represent the duration of the iteration (sprint). The ‘Y’ axis represents either the number of tasks to be completed, or the equivalent cumulative value (size, effort) of the tasks to be completed. The cumulative value on the ‘Y’ axis is updated on a daily basis based on the actual progress made.

KanBan

Kanban is a sprint without start date and end date. That represents continuous flow with thresholds defined for every stage of the work. This works based on a pull system based on ‘Stop starting things, Start finishing things’.

As you can see scrum is simple to understand. All the ceremonies of scrum together creates the necessary peer pressure, discipline, transparency resulting in optimal productivity of the remote teams.

Opportunities to apply agile best practices within EPC projects
  • Development of prototypes / models
  • Engineering
  • Work packaging (AWP)
  • Look ahead planning & tracking
  • Snagging
  • Forensic analysis

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