Dinosaurs of Development

We recently purchased an apartment in Auckland. I know right, MAJOR!

 

The apartment is still being built, we purchased ‘off the plans’, which means 10% down and the rest when it’s completed. The completion date was relatively far off, 18 months in the future, so we knew we had a fairly long wait ahead of us. And we looked forward to the updates about how it was going as the deconstruction of the office building and construction of the apartments progressed.

 

This is not a post about money or finances. This is a post about communication, stakeholder management, old school thinking, and the dinosaurs of industry.

 

It’s also a call for help.

 

apartment!

 

We signed up in June 2015, the apartment-to-be would be ours. So excited.

 

After a couple of months, people were asking “how’s the apartment coming along?”. We didn’t know, we had no idea. There was nothing visible from the outside on the existing building and we’d heard nothing. The only contact we had was with the agent who sold us the place. So we got in touch with him at the end of August. He replied:

 

“I have just heard from the developers after requesting an update. They are going to get a detailed update out to purchasers in the next couple of weeks.
It looks like there will be significant action starting onsite in October. We generally leave project updates to the developers unless instructed by them. This saves for anything lost in translation!”

 

OK, we could live with that. We waited. Three weeks later we did get an update – consents were in progress, construction would begin in 2016, and there was news about what was happening in the surrounding buildings. Happy with that.

 

A couple of months later we asked the agent for more news:

 

“We only send updates out when we are instructed to from the vendor. We had a meeting with them last week and something will be coming out at the end of this month.
I can tell you that everything is tracking along nicely. Deconstruction is taking place from the inside out. You should see the concrete from the exterior being removed soon.

The next update will have info on the builder and plans for the stage 2 etc. I do apologies [sic] that you feel you are not getting updates as regularly as you like. This is the case from pretty much all of our developers.”

It seems lack of communication is fairly standard in this industry. I replied and pointed out that this was a fairly archaic approach and given the level of investment we and other purchasers had made, it wasn’t unrealistic to ask for regular news about how things were going. In November I tracked down the contact details for the developers and wrote to them directly asking for an update and suggesting they could perhaps give us more regular news:

 

“Thanks Brenda – demolition is underway and we will write again once we have awarded the main construction contract (December / January). The construction contract is the next big milestone. We appreciate your enquiry but as you would appreciate we can only update you once important milestones are reached but progress to date is all on track.”

“… as you would appreciate …” That’s a fairly big assumption of what I would appreciate or not. In fact it’s totally counter to my suggestion to them, which was to send regular brief updates on progress to keep us all happy and informed.

 

And since then … nothing.

 

This feels like being a client on the extreme end of a classic waterfall project. Where the client gives a brief, sits back and waits for a year to be delivered something they may or may not still need.

 

Or when as a client you’re starting a new project and the vendor is all lovely and communicative and great to deal with. Then the project is done and suddenly you drop down the priority list and they stop responding quickly, being friendly or solving your problems.

 

I sincerely doubt (and hope) that we will be dissatisfied with the end result. I do have faith in the developers and architects – I’m sure they’ll get it done, and I’m sure it will be fabulous.

 

But what’s happening to us in the meantime?

 

  • we’re disconnected from the project – with a level of personal investment that well exceeds many software projects, we are almost completely in the dark
  • we’re increasingly nervous and wondering about when things will happen
  • we’re a bit embarrassed when people ask about progress and we have no idea – this makes us feel stupid
  • we’re a bit pissed off with the developers and the agent – their arrogance, assumptions and their attitude

 

We don’t want to feel stupid and annoyed. We want to be excited, proud, informed and involved.

 

A regular monthly email that says something like “we’re on track!” or “we’ve cleared all the floors and we’re underway” or “we hit a roadblock with xyz and here’s what we’re doing about it” would pretty much assuage all the issues outlined above.

 

Is the development / building industry the last bastion of communicationally-inept people, whose firm belief in their own right to exist and do what they do defies any of the current norms for communication with clients? Is this normal? Are my expectations unrealistic?

 

The software industry has done the hard yards in transitioning from an autocratic, inefficient and unrealistic way of working, to one that is largely agile-based, flexible, iterative and intensely communicative. It seems the development / building industry could learn from this.

 

What can we take from agile into an industry like this? What other agile principles aside from communicating more effectively and frequently would be relevant? Where else does this happen?

 

We can also ask what’s in it for them? They probably think that if they give us more information we’ll just ask more questions. Those assumptions again. Surely they want recommendations – or do they only look for awards on the final product? What are the triggers that would make these guys care?

 

Increasingly agile values and practices are moving out of the software realm and being integrated into marketing, management, HR, and transforming enterprise and business approaches. Taking them to whole new industries could make the world a better place.

 

What do you think?

 

[Update 26.1.16]

We received an update this afternoon! Maybe coincidence, maybe this blog helped push the developers a little further down the ‘hey we should tell people some things’ track. We’ll probably never know.

 

Good news is that we should start to see some serious construction happening from now – and progress will start to ramp up.

 

Bad news is that the delivery date is now pushed out to mid-2017. Kind of a bummer, and I have to say the news was delivered in a fairly ho-hum kind of way, although with the words:

 

We appreciate that this is later than our previously targeted practical completion date of December 2016 and apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause you.

Inconvenience indeed. Seems this industry has similar issues with time estimates as software development!

 

To their credit, the developers have said they welcome further enquiries about progress. So maybe something did trickle through :)

Brenda Leeuwenberg
4 Comments
  • Couldn’t agree more Sandy… It’s an industry sector that appears to be ripe for disruption.

    January 25, 2016 at 6:26 pm
    • Sandy Mamoli
      Reply

      Um, that was actually Brenda who wrote this ;-)

      On a different note: It’s great you agree with me. I always agree with you too ;-)

      January 25, 2016 at 6:38 pm
  • Kim Partridge
    Reply

    I bought off-plan in early 2013, the build was supposed to finish by the end of that year but it was delayed until July 2014. That was a bummer, but it was still a totally great choice, I got to make decisions at the planning stage so everything is set up exactly how I want it. Waiting is hard, but, once you get to move in, I hope you love your new place as much as I love mine :-)

    January 28, 2016 at 8:25 am
  • Fi
    Reply

    Really interesting post Brenda and so exciting about your new home! I hope that the communication continues to get better. I was interested in your mention of agile values and practices moving out of the software realm into HR, marketing etc…. My team uses agile values and practices for non-tech business work and we’re always looking for ways to improve the way we’re doing this. Are you able to share any examples, case studies, details that we can learn from?

    January 29, 2016 at 11:20 am

Post a Comment