Construction in Today's Changing Environment: How to Use the Scrum Framework

Construction is complex, but project delivery doesn’t have to be. The idea of how teams deliver construction projects has changed significantly since the pandemic began two years ago. Discover how you can adapt quickly, doubling your team’s productivity and output while still respecting each other.
February 10, 2022

In the past couple of years, the whole world had to rapidly change as local and federal governments deemed certain parts of the economy "essential" or "non-essential." Construction is complex, but project delivery doesn’t have to be, especially in the U.S. labor market with a shortage of qualified people.

Some teams adapted to remote work or variations of working from home faster than others. Whether working in the trades or in project management, we learned and adapted as construction professionals. The idea of how teams complete construction projects today has changed significantly. We said goodbye to the belief that complete teams had to be physically in the same place at the same time to be productive. When teams worldwide had to go fully or partially remote, the differences between scrum and non-scrum practices became very apparent.

Scrum is the most widely used Agile framework. If you are new to Scrum or want a refresher, watch this video or read and download the scrum guide for free. Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. Scrum teams use the scrum guide to operationalize agile concepts into habits and experiments. Non-scrum teams often lack this adaptation change mindset, and many organizations don’t have people with agile skills to help them quickly pivot.

Is Your Team Struggling to Keep Up?

One construction team found themselves struggling to keep up with more change order work and new projects on a large corporate campus. The team consistently delivered great work with praise from the client and project stakeholders but had arrived at a tipping point already, working more than 80 hours per week. Often, in these situations, teams tend to add more people to improve productivity.

However, in this case, more help wasn’t available. When they asked what changes they could make immediately, they were introduced to the basic principles of scrum and shown how to start using the agile approach straight away. After implementing the scrum framework, they sustained working a five-day workweek while substantially improving their productivity and output.

Five Ways to Start Using Scrum Today

  1. Choose to practice patience with yourself during this experiment and do one thing at a time.
  2. Commit to achieving one goal this week. Write it down and put it at the top of the scrum board to keep it visible daily.
  3. List three to five tasks that you think will help you achieve your goal. Write each task on a separate sticky note. A good practice is to keep tasks in time increments that allow you to accomplish them in one workday.
  4. Prioritize the tasks in the "To Do" list sorted by priority. The first task is the most important one to get you closer to your goal. Subsequent tags in the stack visually indicate descending priority order. The bottom of the column is for necessary yet less important tasks. Tags closer to the “Doing” column are a higher priority. The “Read the Scrum Guide” tag in the Sample Scrum board above would be done last.
  5. Move tags from left to right. When you work on the top priority item, place it in the "Doing" column. If you get substantially interrupted or change your mind, move it back to the left. Move the action to "Done" when the work is complete for that tag.

Team Doubled Productivity and Outcome

Goodbye, late nights, and hello, weekends with family! The team quickly used scrum to successfully deal with all the project management tasks on the large, more-than-$200-million corporate campus project while simultaneously managing up to six smaller projects ranging in size from $500,000 to several million dollars in value with the same team of seven. Their productivity and output more than doubled.

Equally impressive was the positive client feedback about the project’s increased quality and beneficial impact on their ongoing operations. Project stakeholder collaboration also increased among the facilities staff, designers and frontline trade partners. Now, years later, they are working on different projects using scrum and their productivity continues to increase.

Respect Trumps Harmony

Despite vaccines and new COVID-19 protocols, 2021 was still not business as usual. The lessons that teams and organizations learned during the pandemic remain front and center. Leaders must capture insights from these experiences before they are lost. The scrum framework provides a process at the end of each and every cycle of work, known as sprints. The respective meeting is called the sprint retrospective. It starts by asking each member what worked and what didn't work. Scrum teams practice tough conversations and ask difficult questions. During the pandemic, many scrum teams shifted to hybrid work, a combination of working colocated and working remotely.

There is good in everything. One of the positives from the pandemic has been added time to pause, reflect and adapt. No system or process is perfect. There is always more to learn. All construction teams should be encouraged to inspect, adapt and improve daily. Today's way of working is evolving. Teams are hungry for better processes and for using resources in ways that drive results. Scrum will enable them to do this while increasing respect for each other.

Interested in Delivering Construction Projects Easier, Better and Faster?

Listen to chapter nine of Felipe Engineer-Manriquez's book Construction Scrum to discover how to use the scrum guide to make your own playbook.

Get the book Construction Scrum

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