Development Projects – A Confusion of Terminology

I was recently reading some project management articles for inspiration when I came across one about project management in a development environment. Naturally, having an IT and a project management background I just assumed the article would be about software development. After all what other type of development is there?

Well it didn’t take me long to realise the article was actually about building housing developments and the particular skills and experience a project manager needs for those types of project. But that got me thinking about the similarities and, perhaps more importantly the dis-similarities between IT development projects and any other type of project.

Fans of the Agile method of running software development projects (and I count myself one of them) like to assert that the method is suitable for many other types of projects but let’s take building a housing as one example for comparison.

Certainly with software you can plan a bit then produce something to show to the stakeholders – it may be a prototype or one small component of the overall software package. Often these prototypes or stage products in an IT project can look quite impressive (note the word look as they are often not very substantial when put to the test). And the feedback they generate can then be used to make modifications and improvements to the next stage of development and delivery.

But how in practise would this approach work when building a house – I have images in my mind of a cardboard house painted to look like brick but somehow don’t think it would look that impressive. Or maybe build just one room with proper construction materials – somehow I am not convinced. The arguments for the Agile method would still hold true – the client could see the bricks, windows and internal finishes of the single room but in practise (to have delivered it rapidly) it probably would need to be demolished and rebuilt with solid foundations and a proper roof. That might not be too bad if the one and only next stage was the whole house but that isn’t quite how Agile projects work – they are iterative – and the analogy of building first one room, then two, then three and so on, demolishing each in between is laughable.

So I am a fan of Agile but only for IT projects – when it comes to the majority of other projects the good old traditional, linear methods still studied on most project management training courses are here to stay.