Have you heard the one….

Have you heard the joke “What do you get when you build a house the Agile way?
A pile of rubble.
Why? Because you start with the most important thing first, the roof. Then you need to figure out how to get the walls up…”

This was told to me a few weeks ago by a sceptical colleague.

Well, a couple of weeks after that, I watched Mary Poppendieck’s “The Tyranny Of The Plan“. A transcript can be found here.

In this video, she talks about how todays planning is the wrong way to do things. Why? because things change. So your plan will have to change.

Anyway, during the talk, one of her examples was the Empire State building.

This building, built in the early 1930’s remained the tallest building in the world for 42 years.

Contracts were signed for the block in September 1929.  At the time, there was no building plan. They just knew that the building was going to be over 80 stories tall.

It was designed in 2 weeks by William F Lamb of Shreve, Lamb Harmon. The building was designed based on the constraints of the site. Not the other way around where a building is designed and a site found to accommodate. Everyone was involved in the design. Material suppliers, fabricators and sub contractors.

Excavation of the site started January 22 1930 where it was cleared and construction started St Patricks day, March 17 1930.

Construction started at a phenomenal pace. The workers were building 4 and a half floors per week at its peak! This was a city construction site, so nothing could be stored. Trucks would pull up with the required materials be it a part of the steel frame or other. These pieces would be taken off the truck and placed into position there and then. At its peak, there was over 500 trucks per day feeding the site. This takes high precision. Remember, this was 1930 – no computers.   This is flow at its finest. To do this, detailed planning wasn’t done up front. It would have been done for the weeks work based on the progress made to date and changed accordingly.

8 months later, November 13th 1930, the exterior of the Empire State building was complete. That’s right, it was pretty much built in 8 months! The interior was completed on April 11th 1931 – 12 days ahead of schedule. 1 Year and 45 days later, and opened on the 1st of May as this is when New York starts it’s leases.

These workers had a problem solving attitude. Every day over time, would cost the builders $10,000 1930’s dollars. So, whatever could be done to do something sooner, it was generally employed because it was cheaper than going overtime. For example, a miniature train like track system was built in the interior to save time carting materials from one end of the building to another.

No other building since has matched this rate of construction.

This to me seems to be Lean and Agile at its best in the construction industry.  Even better is that this was standard practice for the time.

So what happened? Well, WWII. All these techniques were lost and only now are we starting to re-learn them.

So, getting back to the original joke. “What do you get when you build a house the Agile way?” well… The Empire State Building!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.