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5 Scrum Tools You Can Employ Today in Construction

The construction industry is often stereotyped as an industry with little room for change Recently, however, the industry has evolved into a diverse, innovative global giant worth trillions of dollars annually. Just last year in the U.S., construction grew to a massive 11.2 million workers and contributed nearly 4.1% to the national GDP. Such enormous growth requires adaptation, and the construction management field is no exception to this.

Construction management is known to be fast paced, client focused, budget oriented, and scope driven. Therefore, the need for project management frameworks like LEAN, Critical Chain, and Waterfall arose. Waterfall is generally the industry favored approach for project management. However, the very nature of the work often lends itself to a non-linear sequence of events. This non-linear sequence often leads teams to Agile frameworks like Scrum.

Scrum: Simplified and Defined

So, what exactly is Scrum? For some, it may be a simple rugby term, and for others, the word instantly triggers thoughts about the IT world. To keep it simple, Scrum is an Agile framework that is meant to help people work together, better. Scrum prompts team members to engage in collaborative problem solving and “lesson learning” to create high value solutions for what are often complex and expanding problems. The mission of Scrum is accomplished through a combination of structure, tool sets, meetings, and specialized roles. For more information about Scrum, head over to scrum.org. To view the official Scrum Guide, check out scrumguides.org.

Scrum.org. Scrum Values, 6 July 2016, scrumorg-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/drupal/inline-images/2019-06/ScrumValues-1000.png. Accessed 26 Dec. 2020.

Can You Actually Use Scrum in Construction?

Yes, absolutely! But how can we translate traditional Scrum roles into construction projects? The transition is actually quite simple. The Scrum Master role can fall under the duties of a project manager, as the main job of the Scrum Master is to facilitate the use of Agile. The Product Owner role falls to the responsibility of the Superintendent (as superintendents are out in the field and monitoring work progress) and the Development Team is the support system for the project, or the labor teams. 

Scrum is applicable to all phases of the construction management process, but research proves that it reaches its highest value when employed in the design phase. In fact, in a five-week study conducted by Streule et al. involving the implementation of Scrum in a new project showed that the Development Team was “convinced Scum was more efficient than their previous approaches and methods”. The study also suggested that the only real drawback to Scrum was the initial learning phase.

Practical Tools & Techniques to Use, Starting Today

Alright, so now we know that we can successfully implement Scrum into our projects, and we know that Scrum does work in construction. But how can you use it in your team? How can you begin to realize Agile frameworks without creating shock waves? Start with these five simple tools.

  1. Create and Facilitate Team Norms
    • Norms are shared behaviors that enhance performance. These could include things like: asking for help, keeping commitments to one another, considering external view points, and holding the team accountable. Norms also work in meetings and decisions, with voting rules and tiebreakers as notable examples. In construction, the most tenured team member has the final say, so establishing norms can alleviate tensions between team members during votes.
    • Consider laying down the baseline expectations of meetings and team collaboration when the whole team is gathered. This allows for all team members to have clear expectations and guidelines, which engages and empowers everyone to share their perspectives. Because it is common for construction teams to have defined hierarchy, explicitly setting collaboration expectations can help younger employees and subcontractors find inlets to share their views. 
  2. Daily Scrum Meetings
    • Daily Scrum meetings allow for the team to know exactly what is going on, and who is doing what. This creates a sense of security and inclusion for the entire team, which ultimately fosters a more comfortable work environment. Daily Scrum meetings can be implemented throughout the construction project life cycle to allow collaborative conversation between all team members, which ensures engagement and accountability.
    • Good examples of questions for each team member to answer during the daily scrum are:
      • What did I do yesterday to contribute to the current objective?
      • What will I do today to help contribute to the current objective?
      • What impediments do I have that block me from meeting my current objective?
  3. Set Up a Sprint Board
    • By setting up a sprint dashboard, the entire team is able to see an updated status of each cycle and thereby hold both each other, and themselves, more accountable. Sprint boards also provide a measured productivity goal, resulting in increased engagement within the team in order to reach these goals. Items can be broken down into ‘do’, ‘doing’, and ‘done’, which indicates what is to be completed, what is in progress, and what is finished.
    • Kanban boards could be organized to represent time (days) and individual trades (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Each sticky note represents a task, which is now the foundation for your backlog. If your team is co-located on-site, you could tape a Kanban board to the wall and use sticky notes to organize tasks.  If you are a remote team, consider an electronic alternative like Monday.com or Trello (or many others).  Whatever you choose, be sure to implement a system of inspecting, accepting, and approving work. The responsibility of ensuring work meets the Acceptance Criteria and Definition of Done would fall to the product owner, or superintendent in this case.
  4. Sprint Planning
    • Planning is a major part of the construction industry, and all companies have to plan for the specifics of their projects. Most of this planning is done in the beginning stages of the project and not revisited again unless things go awry. Clearly, this leaves the team in a responsive instead of proactive stage.
    • Planning in “sprints” of 2-4 weeks is particularly helpful during the design phase of construction.  It’s challenging to gather so many inputs into a cohesive design, but the team is not yet applying expensive materials, equipment, and manpower to building things.  This makes it a perfect application of “sprints” to rapidly and incrementally produce components of the design.
    • Much like the sprint retrospective, sprint planning can take place at the beginning of every sprint. The more you plan (and the smarter you plan), the better prepared you will be to do the work. Planning involves all team members, but employees who perform the work have more power to say what is achievable and what is not.
  5. Sprint Retrospectives            
    • Though sometimes construction timelines make sprint planning difficult, the basic concept and purpose of sprint retrospectives remains. Facilitating a team review of each project goal completed can help everyone review what went right, and what went wrong. Tangible plans can be made to ensure specific issues do not reoccur.
    • A good time to implement sprint retrospective is at the end of each sprint (2-4 weeks of work). Sprint retrospectives provide a great opportunity for the entire team to inspect both group and individual work. Through examining the good and bad, teams can apply lessons learned to new projects.
Julian Suarez
About the Author
Julian Suarez is an Associate Cost Estimator at Technical Assent.