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11 Simple Steps to Launch Your Scrum in Construction Pilot

how to agile scrum in consctructionScrum is a team framework that allows complex projects to be delivered with adaptation yet supports people to both productively and creatively produce work at the highest possible value for customers. In short, it is perfectly suited to meet the end-to-end demands of the design and construction industry. No matter the project, the challenge, or situation. 

This is not just my belief, it is observable fact based on my years of experience implementing Scrum, Lean, and Agile in countless construction projects.

As Director of Lean Construction for McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. I McCarthy’s Director of Lean Construction, I am fortunate to work with numerous design and construction Scrum teams from around the United States. 

As a partner with the Lean Construction Institute and Construction Industry Institute, I get to utilize Scrum with teams across the planet. Over my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of Scrum teams, thousands of Scrum practitioners, and helped coach people with a variety of experience.

Teams using the framework report results in increased capacity, quality, and customer satisfaction. They most often double their output in the first couple of Sprints. More importantly, those gains are not just sustained, they grow as the team continues to improve their coordination, alignment, and work product. 

Business Case For Scrum In Construction: Boosting Productivity by 200% or More

Watch the video above or click here to watch on YouTube

Accurate cost estimations are as crucial as they are complex in our industry. A small error can mean the difference between a profitable project with a happy client and a late, over-budget disaster. Therefore, construction estimation teams must be efficient and effective especially given current trends like fixed-bid projects. 

One such team at McCarthy decided to implement Scrum after attending one of my lunch-and-learns. When they started, they could successfully manage two or three projects simultaneously. In short order, they were using Scrum to successfully manage all the tasks on a large healthcare patient bed tower project while simultaneously managing up to six smaller projects ranging in size from half a million to several million dollars in value.

This team of seven saw their productivity and effectiveness more than double. 

Equally impressive was the positive client feedback about the project’s high quality, beneficial impact to their ongoing patient care operations, and project stakeholder collaboration among the hospital staff, designers, and frontline trade partners.

Now, just three years on, they continue to use Scrum and their productivity continues to improve. They now can successfully manage nine simultaneous projects. 

That’s a 200%-350% increase in productivity achieved with the same personnel. And they actually work fewer hours than before. 

But don’t take my word for it, take theirs. Recently they put together the above video explaining their use of Scrum. 

To be clear, I see these kinds of gains in all areas of design and construction, not just estimation. 

Set Yourself And Your Pilot Up For Success

Now that you have a better understanding of the business value of implementing Scrum in construction, I want to address the most common question I’m asked about implementing the framework, ‘how do I begin?’

The answer is to launch a pilot. Something small but that still delivers value to you and your clients. This allows you to learn Scrum as you use Scrum. 

In preparation, all you need to do is read the 19-page Scrum Guide, get some sticky notes and a marker, and create a Scrum Board by writing ‘To Do’, ‘Doing’, and ‘Done” on individual sticky notes and placing them in a horizontal column on a wall (or in my case the back of a door). 

Finally, pick the length of your Sprint. The Scrum Guide says they should be less than one month in length. I went with a five-day Sprint.

Now you’re ready to follow the 11-step process that I used to start with Scrum in Construction. In my case I applied these 11-steps and delivered 20 negotiated change orders in 10 workdays that were billable that same month while still doing all my other daily work, job walks, and being off-site for meetings a day a week. 

11 Simple Step To Start Your Scrum Pilot 

  1. Pick a Product: My pilot involved change orders on a hard-bid project. For a change order to be considered done meant it was negotiated, accepted by the owner, and billable.

  2. Pick a Team: In Scrum, teams need to have the competency to complete all the work in their backlog. Since this pilot focused on change orders, our team was comprised of one owner’s rep., numerous subcontractor project managers, trade managers, and one project accountant.

  3. Pick a Scrum Master: I was our Scrum Master since I had done the above prep-work on Scrum.

  4. Create and Prioritize Backlog Items: Each change order was written down on an individual sticky note and placed in our ‘To Do’ column on our Scrum Board. I ordered this list by placing the oldest to largest change orders on top followed by newer and smaller-sized change orders.

  5. Refine / Estimate the Backlog: I then reordered the change orders in the list by giving priority to what the customer/owner’s rep. wanted first since some changes required additional stakeholder review based on daily feedback from the owner.

  6. Conduct Sprint Planning: Spend 30-minutes to organize and communicate what was planned to the team. Our goal was to get one change order done per day (but we quickly increased to two to three per day ending with an average of two per day overall).

  7. Make Work Visible: Used a whiteboard and sticky notes on your construction office wall for all to see the post-it notes march along from one column to the other in order of ‘To Do’, ‘Doing’, and ‘Done’. This allowed the team and stakeholders to instantly know where we stood by simply looking at the board.

  8. Hold Daily Stand-Ups: Once each day the team would gather for 15 minutes to ‘walk the board’. Each team member would answer just three questions: 1)What did I do yesterday to finish the Sprint? 2) What will I do today to finish the Sprint? 3) Are there obstacles blocking the Sprint Goal? The answer to question three became a task and was finished next before moving onto other work.

  9. Conduct A Sprint Review: Hold a short team meeting at the end of your Sprint to evaluate what was accomplished and then refine the remaining backlog or tasks incorporating feedback from the team.

  10. Conduct A Sprint Retrospective: Ask just four questions, these focus the team and aid learning: 1) What went well? 2) What can be better? 3) What improvement can be made now? 4) What is our velocity? Our two-week average velocity measured in change orders was 10 per week

  11. Repeat: Spend any amount of time in conversation with me and it is impossible not to notice how easily excited I get about Lean Construction and Agile frameworks, especially Scrum. It all started with these 11-steps. Launch your pilot now. Don’t worry about finding the perfect project, or perfect time. As Dr. Jeff Sutherland says, “just start.” In my experience, you’ll be glad you did.

Felipe Engineer-Manriquez is the Director of Lean Construction at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. With over a decade of direct experience implementing Scrum and Lean with design and construction professionals, Felipe is a Credentialed Scrum Master that uses Scrum to onboard new practitioners via guided interactive learning - over 5,000 industry partners and counting.