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Steel And Sticky Notes Part 3: How Stable Teams Dramatically Boost Productivity

Set of tools, pen, and sticky note over a wood background.No matter the trade, function, or job, stable teams will always be your most productive teams. 

This is not an opinion, it is fact that is backed up by decades of data from industries as varied as the military, medicine, manufacturing, and technology. Stable teams are simply faster, more creative, and deliver higher quality at a lower cost. 

But let’s be honest, sometimes data alone is not the most convincing element when you’re considering changing how you work. People have questions - fair ones - like will this really work in my context, my field, at my job site? 

The answer for the Design+Construction industry is yes. 

I’ve seen it myself. 

And not just with the clients we’ve partnered with to deliver better results. 

The Job Site

My family and I recently relocated to Austin, trading the never-ending Minnesota winters for some Texas sun. The wrap-around condominium unit we are leasing had plenty of natural light. So much so that we needed to replace all of the blinds with new, modern shades. 

Enter Cody and Dustin. They are tradespeople with a company that has been working in this building for some time now. 

Sometimes they work together. Sometimes they don’t because of scheduling issues beyond their control. 

I’ve seen this play out before. The belief that you do not need to keep people together on the same team. Or that you can mix and match folks on a 'team' and there is no cost in doing so.  

Well, that's not really how it works. 

Cody knows this to be true through experience (you probably do too). 

A 467% Boost In Productivity

If you’ve met me, you know I’m a bit of a talker. Or more like a curious listener. 

I love to ask questions and get other people’s perspectives. Especially when it comes to my passion for Design+Construction. 

So I started doing my thing while Cody and Dustin set to work. 

The day before, Cody tells me, this stable team of Cody and Dustin was changed. Cody worked with someone else to install 12 of these same new shades in another unit down the hall. 

The job took eight hours to complete. That’s an average of 1.5 hours per shade. Our unit needed 17 new shades installed. At that rate, it would take 25 and a half hours of continual work to get our job done. 

Together, Cody and Dustin finished installing all 17 of our shades in just two hours. Same window design, same model shades, same tools. Yet they averaged installing 8.5 shades per hour instead of one every hour-and-a-half. 

That’s an improvement of 467% Talk about a boost to productivity. 

For those of you who like math, here’s how that works out; if we assume total lead time is the same for both jobs (which seems reasonable since we are dealing with the same shades, same widow design, and same back end process), we end up with this equations:

          Team 1 (which is not a stable team): 12 shades installed in 8 hours = 1.5 shades per hour

          Team 2 (the stable team): 17 shades installed in 2 hours = 8.5 shades per hour. 

          8.5-1.5 = 7 

          7 / 1.5  =  4.67

          4.67 x 100 = 467% improvement

Obviously, I dug a little deeper and found that both the stable team and what amounts to an improvised bit of Scrum helped Cody and Dustin greatly increase their productivity.

Scrum In Design+Construction Example

Cody and Dustin have a bit of a morning ritual; they like to meet up for breakfast to talk through the day’s work orders. 

Neither man had heard of Scrum before meeting me. Yet they were intuitively incorporating elements of the framework to accomplish more. 

Each day was a Sprint. This breakfast served as a combined Sprint Planning session and Daily Scrum where they mapped out what needed to be done and how to complete all their work orders for the day - a defacto Sprint Goal. Cody facilitated these discussions and raised any impediments the team faced throughout the day to management - a defacto Scrum Master. 

Once the workday was done, Cody and Dustin would again meet up for coffee and take part in another intuitive Scrum event. The two would talk about what worked, what they might want to continue to do tomorrow, and what didn’t go well that day. 

A defacto Scrum Retrospective that focused on both product and process. The very heart of creating continuous improvement at the team level. 

The Value Of Stable Teams In Action

It was clear to me that Cody and Dustin were part of a stable team the moment they started working in our unit. It was clear they instinctively knew what the other was doing at any given moment. They trusted each other, helped each other, had confidence in the work they were doing both individually and as a team. 

That familiarity and trust take time to develop. That is the value of stable teams in every industry including Design+Construction.

The efficiency in which they were doing their work was almost like an orchestra. They knew what was happening now and could predict what needed to happen next. Since they knew each other so well, they could even predict how that work was going to get done and how long it would take. 

The consultant in me couldn’t help but see Lean principles like value stream mapping taking place in real-time - all without interrupting workflow to talk about what needed to be done or why. 

When Bruce Tuckman first described the phases in team formation he included performing as the final phase, writing, 

“With group norms and roles established, group members focus on achieving common goals, often reaching an unexpectedly high level of success."

Isn’t that what all Industries and organizations are after? 

That requires stable teams and a framework that allows for continuous improvement in both product and process. 


Earlier in this series I wrote, 

“Scrum stands on the shoulders of Lean to help companies and teams achieve more, innovate, deliver.”

It does more than just that. Scrum is the framework that best allows stable teams to flourish by giving them a focus on inspecting and adapting both product and process. Continually improving the way we work and what we build is always the goal. 

What would have happened if Cody and Dustin were satisfied with the status quo? If they indeed took 25.5 hours to install the 17 shades in my unit? What work would they have not completed that day? What are the costs of delay in both financial terms and customer satisfaction? What opportunities would have been lost? 

I know this is a very small project I'm talking about. However, look at this data from a different perspective. 

Take the costs of delay, they grow exponentially on larger, more complex projects. Cost overruns of hundreds of thousands of dollars can happen on a single project - or worse. What would happen if the Design and Construction industry stopped being satisfied with the status quo?

Scrum in Design+Construction is about approaching projects differently. We can always look at the work we’ve done in the past and improve our process.