Agile Development in the Bricks and Mortar World

It's a strange experience when you open the curtains in the morning to be faced by men in high visibility jackets and hard hats only a few yards away, and 30 feet above the ground. Mind you, the noise made by the assortment of cranes, diggers, and other plant they use - combined with regular hammering and occasional swearing - means you don't get to overlay in the mornings. I've even got to know most of them, and give them a cheery wave as I try and convert from half-asleep to some state of semi-awakeness. Though they do seem somewhat reticent about waving back to a zombie-like character with a dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards hairstyle, and still adorned in a bright blue check dressing gown.

What's interesting, though, is how they seem to build houses these days. In some ways, it's quite reminiscent of the agile process, which we follow here at p&p. OK, so they do have a detailed plan when they start, but you can see the way that this gradually morphs as they turn it into bricks and mortar. And even more so with some of the actual construction processes they follow. For example, the bricklayers leave slots in the wall for the scaffold poles as they build upwards, but obviously nobody told them how long a scaffold plank is - so they leave slots at seemingly random intervals. This means that the scaffold guy has to bodge together extra bits so the joints between the planks are properly supported. Maybe nobody thought of implementing an IScaffoldPlank interface.

And they leave nice neat holes in the wall for the pipes and stuff as they build, but they never seem to be in quite the right place. Though they do have metal frames they build into the wall for the windows, yet they tell me they don't order the windows until they've measured the holes after the brickwork in finished. So even if they do have specifications, they don't actually trust them. I suppose it's their equivalent of test driven development.

Agile development encourages completion of iteration tasks as chunks of a complete project, and the bricklayers obviously follow this technique. They even do paired development (funny how you never seem to see just one). And in an effort to complete their part of the process during the current iteration, they even build the extremely precarious "sticking out bits" on the corners that finish off the end of the fascia where walls, tiles, and gutters meet. And then, when the carpenters lift the roof trusses into place, they invariably knock these off. And even when they don't, the bricklayers seem to have to come back and alter them because they don't line up with the other bits.

After the roof trusses are in place, the roofers arrive and carry bundles of tiles up onto the roof and place them in nice equally-spaced heaps over the whole roof area. Yet when they come to lay the tiles onto the roof, they have to start at the bottom so that they overlap properly. By the time they are a third of the way up the slope, hammering in the fixing nails has the occasional interesting side effect of causing tiles to slide off the heaps above them and crash down onto the scaffolding - often narrowly missing them. Mind you, the experts seem to be able to catch these as they go past, like it's some kind of game. They rest end up in pieces in my garden.

You'd think that it would make sense to just carry them up onto the roof as they needed them. Yes, I know they have to build up equally on both sides of the slope (or the roof will fall off the walls with the unbalanced weight), but I reckon they do it so that they can see if the roof will actually take the weight of several hundred concrete tiles. The fact that they seem to put them all up there and then go away for a couple of days only reinforces this opinion. Probably it's their implementation of experimental spikes.

Still, it's going to seem very quiet here in a few weeks time when they've finished. I know you can buy CDs that just play the relaxing sounds of waves and birdsong. I wonder if I can get one that plays building noises...