Since work began on the new Elizabeth Line back in 2009, Crossrail has drawn its fair share of both supporters and critics. However, the project has served as a great demonstration for how agile – a methodology most commonly attributed to software developers – can be successfully adapted for use by other industries.
Although radically different to the projects Kaleida takes on, I can’t help but notice similarities in how Crossrail and our own team work. We’ve long been users of the agile methodology. It’s delivered untold success to our clients, and remains one of the most efficient ways of completing a project on time and under budget.
It’s far from surprising, then, that other industries have taken key parts of the agile methodology and applied them to their own work. To better highlight the universal appeal of agile, I’ve used Crossrail as an example, and brought together some areas in which agile has worked to their favour. There are, of course, still lessons to be learned, but Crossrail has provided a perfect demonstration of how other industries can use agile to their advantage.
1. Working in Iterations
The agile methodology is based on some specific foundations, one of which is the idea that software is built more successfully if work is undertaken in iterations across the life of the project, rather than all at once towards the end.
For developers, this means listing different user stories, ordering them by priority, and working in short cycles to contribute towards the project’s completion. One of the key benefits of iterations is that success can be measured using tangible results i.e. a simple, working version of software which develops at different stages.
The team behind Crossrail have deferred to logic on the unfolding of the project by using an iterative approach. Rather than make the public wait until full completion of the railway, Crossrail bosses have opted for opening the Elizabeth Line in stages.
Launching with the Liverpool Street – Shenfield line in June 2017 (delayed from its initial May estimate), Crossrail will continue to open in phases, allowing for the final touches to be completed on new and upgraded stations, as well as giving time for new trains to be rolled out. By December 2019, the entire Elizabeth Line will be available to passengers, with trains every two and a half minutes.
Much like in bespoke software development, this provides the client (i.e. the taxpayers) with tangible results against which the construction’s progression can be measured – and is an approach which everybody can adopt towards any task they’re attempting to tackle.
2. Communicate Frequently
Like iterations, communication also plays a huge role in the foundations of agile; developers will be familiar with the daily ten-minute stand-up. Not only does agile communication allow for better teamwork and productivity internally, it also supports a collaborative relationship with the client and ensures they’re getting what they’ve paid for.
Crossrail have taken this to heart, offering a great level of transparency and communication between themselves and the public. The Crossrail website is frequently updated with information on the project’s progression, the archaeology found on site, and of course, when each line will be open – but there’s something more to their method.
In communicating with the public, Crossrail have taken to releasing quarterly update videos, alongside their other regular updates. These videos provide key statistics and insights into where the project is heading next, in an accessible delivery.
This also reinforces my earlier point about tangible results. As you’ll see in August’s quarterly update, our host addresses us from the Whitechapel station as it wraps up its final stages. This puts otherwise hidden progress on display to the public; unlike the Liverpool – Shenfield line, work on some stations remains invisible to the average commuter.
3. Use the Cloud to Your Advantage
In the software development world, the Cloud has found its place within agile by allowing developers to carry out functions such as testing much more effectively. This in turn saves both time and money, and helps the project to better flow.
Within Crossrail, we’ve seen this in action on multiple occasions, with the most notable example being contractor management. In an effort to speed up the process of on- and off-boarding contractors – which had grown weighty and sluggish as more contractors came on board – Crossrail moved the process to a cloud-based system with ServiceNow. Using a combination of cloud software and automation, the entire process was simplified.
We can already see examples of cloud software and automation improving productivity in different industries, and it’s the most commonly adopted facet of the agile methodology – one which Crossrail has used to address a developing project, effectively maintaining the project’s agility in the process.
Upon its final launch in December 2019, Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line will have been one of those most fascinating projects in British transport history. For the construction industry and beyond, it will also be an example of how there are new ways to work.
Admittedly, there are still areas to improve on – such as overrunning budgets and delays – but Crossrail has nonetheless demonstrated that an agile approach to working is possible outside of software development. And with Crossrail 2 on the horizon, there’s a fresh opportunity for more key areas of agile to make their way into a new industry. Meanwhile, our team will continue to use agile to deliver on our promises to clients, serving as a prime example for anyone interested in undertaking the methodology.
Embracing an agile methodology, Kaleida’s bespoke software development team are well-practised in delivering complex projects on time and on budget. To find out more about what we offer, feel free to explore our website – or get in touch directly.