Building Pyramids is one of the most common examples and metaphors in project management, and should I also add, perhaps one that is almost always discussed about by people who have practically no knowledge of construction engineering, let alone experience inÂ building a pyramid (after all, I don’t know too many people who can claim to have built a pyramid). There is always a classic problem of what is the right way to build a pyramid: if you go by the much-maligned and clearly fallen out of favorÂ ‘waterfall’ way, what happens if the King dies midway and the Pyramid is still unusableÂ ? Worse, what if the King comes half-way down the project and sees bottom half of the pyramid and remains unimpressed with the sight and either wants to change the project specs, or worse, wants to stop the funding because he is not happy with what he is getting. OK, you want to build the top first. What if the King finds the explanation of building the Pyramid top-down funny (remember, there is no past precedence of your idea, and you might be ridiculed for your ideas – it is 2500 BC, after all) and all he sees on the ground is a miniature Pyramid ? What happens if a rival King starts constructing a bigger pyramid – can you now change the designs and make your pyramid bigger than the rival King’s ? Surely, there are obvious limiations of this model.
The other alternative is building it the ‘Agile’ way -Â starting with a miniature fully-functional pyramid and then incrementally building it inside-out. Theoretically, it sounds like the right thing to do – if and when King comes for inspection (and you can always count on that !), he always sees a ‘complete product’ albeit a miniature one. If he is impressed by the ‘plan’, he might release more funds and theoretically, the construction could go on perpetually, i.e., until when the King one days breathes his last. That day, right after the next ‘iteration’, his body could be laid in eternal peace in the majestic pyramid. However, there is a majorÂ problem with using Pyramid metaphor to justify Agile way of construction. Most of us who are simply ignorant about construction engineering treat the problem as building a Lego Pyramid – there is only the civil component of construction that is considered in any well-meaning debate. What about plumbing, what about electricity (ok, there was no electricity those days but you surely need air and light ducts to serve the purposes that electricity would have served otherwise), what about the state of technology that was available back then, what about stairways, what about interiors, and so on. Can all these be built inside-out ? Construction engineering might not entirely agree with building a Pyramid incrementally.
Well, there are critics on both sides of the thick and high wall that separates these two worldsÂ (with some of them, perhaps, perched atop the wall as well) and there seem to be strong emotional views about which is better and why. In this post, I will not add anymore fuel to fire, but share an interesting thing that I came across. Chances are, irrespective of what camp you belong to, you will find this simluation exercise interesting, and guess what, you actually get to build a pyramid ! There is thisÂ great game on BBC site that tests how good a project manager you are – by playing a game to build The Great Pyramid ! Here is what the text reads:
Journey back four and a half thousand years to Egypt’s Old Kingdom, to the Pyramid Age.
As the vizier, or head of state, you are about to undertake the most important project of your career – the building of the kingâ€™s pyramid.
To succeed in this task, you must be a good all-rounder. Not only should you be able to motivate your workforce, but you must have good observational skills and the ability to steer a barge up the Nile, avoiding hippos and crocodiles.
Have you got what it takes to be a pyramid builder?
What I specially liked about the project is that it places emphasis on just about everything you require as a project manager to complete you project successfully – domain skills, planning and scheduling, executing skills and the most important of them all – the people issues, like what type of people to hire (and how many) and how to determine the reward strategy. This is not just a drawing board game – you actually get to ‘execute’ project (at least I got to execute a part of it, and I guess the game might allow you to do more if you pass the first stage).
If this sounds like fun, click here to take the Pyramid Challenge.
PS: I took it once and lost the game. My ‘project’ failed miserably :(. Hmmmm….