Sunday, March 1, 2009

Agile methods and Design-Build

I was intrigued by a term in my Sunday paper this morning. There is a project underway to extend the light rail line from Dallas to the DFW airport. It passes within a few miles of my house, so I am quite interested in seeing how it is going to look. The Mayor of Irving (Herber gears) wrote an opinion piece in the paper. In it he stressed the Design-Build approach to the project.

Design-Build sounds to me (at least on the face of it) an awful lot like Agile Development for software solutions. Perhaps it is the concrete version. Off to Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design-build (among other places) where I found these gems...

"Design-build focuses on combining the design, permit, and construction schedules in order to streamline the traditional design-bid-build environment. This does not shorten the time it takes to complete the individual tasks of creating construction documents (working drawings and specifications), acquiring building and other permits, or actually constructing the building. Instead, a design-build firm will strive to bring together design and construction professionals in a collaborative environment to complete these tasks at the same time."

"Potential problems of the design-build process include:
Premature cost estimating,
A short-cut design process,
Decreased accountability by the service provider, and
Correction of work. "

"It is important to note that the design-build method, while not focused on saving the owner construction costs, nonetheless often saves the owner money on the overall project. The combined effects of carrying a construction loan (which typically carries a higher interest rate than permanent financing) and an earlier useful on-line date usually yields considerable overall profitability to the project and may make seemingly unfeasible projects into genuine opportunities.
The compression is an important aspect of the implementation of this system. Other attributes include:
Enhanced communication between the service provider and the client,
Increased accountability by the service provider,
Single source project delivery, and
A value based project feedback system"

Sound familiar? - It sure does to me.

This is in contrast (as the rather opinionated Wikipedia artice states) to

"For nearly the entire twentieth century, the concept of Design-Build was classified as a non-traditional construction method in the United States, which is the last country to still embrace the old standard of Design-Bid-Build"

So if we think this through, we see the following important ideas:
  • The documents that are produced during the project are for the benefit of moving the project along, not for preparing bid-packages. That alone would appear to have tremendous potential to save time and money
  • There had better be some kind of a major plan in place first (City Plan anyone?) to ensure that the design-build doesn't go off the rails.
  • There had better be standards/codes in place so that we don't end up with shanty towns - the guage of the railway lines should be the same throughout, the standards for connection to standard services should be standard (electricity voltage, connectors, phases, frequency)
  • The approach is "owner driven" not architect or contractor driven
  • There is opportunity to adjust for changing requirements - new materials/material standards, unexpected terrain or landscape needs, changes in aesthetics,...

Of course Design-Build as an approach is not an excuse for no requirements - just as Agile Software Development does not mean, "We will come into the project with a bunch of good ideas and figure out the real requirements as we go along."