By Sayjel Vijay Patel
Recently, a key player in the AEC (architecture-engineering-construction) software game, came under attack from a coalition of major customers 1. Legitimate concerns were voiced such as slow development cycles, the suppression of innovation through market monopolization, and predatory pricing schemes. This news, provides an opportunity to call into question how software is implemented in the AEC industry — An industry which lags behind virtually all other major industry in terms of digitization, according to a recent McKinsey study 2.
At Digital Blue Foam, we have embraced ‘Agile’ — a framework applied in the world of Software that focuses on delivering products through flexibility, rather than implementing a fixed plan 3. While this concept is common to software developers in other fields, in the context of the AEC software market, it represents a radical approach — where the status quo is releasing software on annual or bi-annual releases, with only some minor updates in-between.
We have come up with four rules from Agile in our product development: to differentiate our product, and, as a young AEC startup, ensure our survival. These rules allow us to work hand-in-hand with our customers to be flexible to understand and be responsive users’ needs and requirements.
We have come up with four rules from Agile in our product development to differentiate our product, and, as a young AEC startup, ensure our survival.
In short, they are:
- Sprints, not timelines.
- Have a road map.
- Build a Platform.
- Daily Rituals are important.
In expanded form, they are:
- Sprints, not timelines. Sprints are a nuanced process, but the general ideas is to operate in short-cycles of 1–2 weeks. This allows us to validate new features and get immediate customer feedback. Using sprints provides transparency whether a feature or concept is valuable, allowing us to quickly to move on from failures and to focus on only the most valuable features for our customers.
- Have a road map. It may seem counter-intuitive to have a product road map when working with Agile, where you willing to change your development plan on a weekly basis. However, we disagree with this notion. A road-map is a statement or over arching vision of what you wish to achieve, rather than a literal road map with fixed deadlines. Instead, our road map is an incremental plan that openly embraces change. As plans will change and, as a result, so does our road map.
- Build a Platform. Before launching our product, our company spent almost a 2 years in stealth mode. At this time, we spent a lot of time, not only figuring out prototypes, and also building up an extensive code base. Even now, when there are many things to do, we set aside time every week to experiment with new bits of technology. This is because, when we are under pressure to address new requirements from our customers, we can reuse and recombine this past work. Even code developed for another purpose, can be repurposed to create new features and solutions in front of our users. (This is exactly what we did to develop Covid Space Planner)
- Daily Rituals are Important. We have embraced remote work as a core part of running an agile team. Presently, we have customers and team-members spread across the world. Coordinating and aligning our efforts are a constant effort. However, we have been able to over come these challenges through ritual of standing meetings; short 15-minute daily meetings where we focus on questions like “what did you do yesterday?”, “What is blocking you?”, “What are you doing today?”. The simple task of refocusing and realigning each day, keeps the team motivated and aligned toward our collective goals.
The simple task of refocusing and realigning each day, keeps the team motivated and aligned toward our collective goals.
Rather than focusing purely on technological-driven innovation, our startup draws inspiration from agile methodologies to define four simple rules which promote flexibility and adaptation. While these rules are already common to established companies in other fields, we believe the need to be adopted in our industry in order to remove the bottlenecks imposed by anachronistic practices in AEC software development.
N O T E S
1 This is in reference to the article article: "AutoDesk Criticised by 35 Named Architects” [http://extranetevolution.com/2020/07/autodesk-criticism-extends/]
2 This refers to the article “Imagining construction’s digital future” [https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/capital-projects-and-infrastructure/our-insights/imagining-constructions-digital-future]
3 The “Agile Manifesto” was written by seventeen software developers in Utah in 2001 [https://agilemanifesto.org/]