The benefits of Agile Project Management…on my house

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Prior to my wife and I purchasing our first house, we talked extensively about our individual appetite for remodeling. If you rated us on a scale of 1-10, I would have been in the 1-2 area with her being closer to an 7-8. Whereas we both wanted to avoid it if all possible, I was hoping for a nice paint refresh, maybe an easy floor wax or other seemingly minimal effort. Against our better judgement, we found a house we really, really liked…with the potential for a lovely bathroom remodel.  We both knew what it might entail, but we really liked this house. And since we were already 45 houses into our search…that’s 45 we actually went to and physically examined…we decided to take the plunge. I mean, how bad could it get, right? Famous last words.

Now that our remodel is over, I can easily tell why everyone warned me about the slippery slope that is a house remodel. I had heard horror stories and was familiar with the 80’s classic Money Pit with Tom Hanks where two weeks becomes not only a familiar refrain from the contractor, but also brings the protagonist in the movie closer to insanity. Two weeks at a time. But through this process, I was reminded of the benefits that I typically remind my client’s about during software development methodology projects.  

Two specific areas that resonated as similar to my frequent software project management role were 1) financial and 2) scope management.  These areas of concern for software projects managers can often be a source of great pain.  In a typical Waterfall style software project, these tasks include initial budgeting and scope definition, ongoing cost management, change requests and tracking tasks to completion. In each of these, a more traditional Waterfall approach prevents complete visibility into what’s complete, what’s in flight, and what are the real consequences of adding a “third light sconce” to the bathroom.  There’s a distance that project managers start to feel as their insight and knowledge is only as strong as the data provided by the actual doers of the work.  Project plans, time tracking systems, status reports, etc. 

But by staying close to the project in a more Agile approach on my house and through incremental reveals of actual progress, I was able to guide my contractors along the way.  I could track the budget in more discrete chunks and understand from a scope perspective, where we needed to adjust or change tact.  As in a more Agile software engagement, I could make quick decisions and re-prioritize in conjunction with my wife, the de facto customer in this analogy.  Finally, I was able to iteratively facilitate such discussions with the contractors, and manage at a level of detail that benefited the whole process and increased the level of trust amongst all of the stakeholders.  These are benefits that any software project manager who is used to a Waterfall approach can definitely appreciate. 

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