Scrum is a team framework that allows complex projects to be delivered with adaptation yet supports people to productively and creatively produce work at the highest possible value for customers. It is perfectly suited to meet the demands of the design and construction industry -- no matter the project, the challenge, or the situation.
This is not just my belief. It is observable based on years of experience implementing Scrum, Lean, and Agile in countless design and construction projects. Read more about my early start with Scrum on this Lean Construction Blog post.
Over my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of Scrum teams, thousands of Scrum practitioners and helped coach people with various experiences, including projects in all design and construction phases. I've even used Scrum with non-profits, manufacturing, and construction research teams.
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. Those gains are not just sustained; they grow as the team improves coordination, alignment, and work product.
Case Study: Scrum in Construction Boosting Productivity by Over 200%
The business case for Scrum in preconstruction comes down to accurate cost estimations. A small error can mean the difference between winning a project and having a profitable job with a happy client or not. Construction estimation teams must be efficient and effective especially given the high demand for complex construction projects.
One such team at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. 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.
That’s a 200%-350% increase in productivity achieved with the same personnel. And they actually work fewer hours than before.
Years later, they continue to use Scrum, and their productivity continues to improve. They now can successfully manage nine simultaneous projects. This team has also turned out more than a handful of Scrum Masters working in operations delivering complex projects for clients all over Northern California.
But don’t take my word for it; take theirs. They put together the above video explaining their use of Scrum and how they integrated the framework. To be clear, I see these kinds of gains in all areas of design and construction, not just estimation.
Case Study: Scrum for New and Existing Construction
One such team I've worked with decided to implement Scrum and invited me to give a short onsite training session. They were considering adding more staff to keep up with the increasing demand as the team was already stretched and working weekends and late nights. After adopting Scrum, they were able to reduce their work hours while improving their quality significantly.
Goodbye nights, and hello weekends with family!
They quickly used Scrum to successfully manage all the project management tasks on the 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 on their ongoing patient care operations. Project stakeholder collaboration also increased among the hospital staff, designers, and frontline trade partners.
Now, years later, they are working on different projects, and each continues using Scrum, and their productivity continues to improve.
Case Study: Scrum for Traditional Design, Bid, Build Construction
The most common question I’m asked about implementing the framework is always a variation of how I first got started or advice about how a new Scrum team should start. My answer for both is to launch a pilot. It can be small, but it must still deliver 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 12-page Scrum Guide or watch check out my audio version with construction commentary below.
Get some sticky notes, markers, and create a Scrum Board by writing ‘To Do,’ ‘Doing,’ and ‘Done” on individual sticky notes with your team. You can add more columns as you like. Notes will move from left to right. See the basic Scrum board below as an example.
Image by Felipe Engineer-Manriquez
Next, pick the length of your Sprint. The Scrum Guide says they should be less than one month in length. I often advise new teams to start with a five-day Sprint. Get started, don't worry about being perfect. Focus instead on learning and adapting.
Now you’re ready to follow the process that I used to start with Scrum in construction. In my case, I started with improving the change order process to keep cash flow and workflow moving in a positive direction. Before Scrum, I submitted about one to three change orders per week, and my owner's representative advised me to pick up the pace more than a few times. We had good communication and entitlement processes, but the trade partners were rightfully also unhappy with the billable change order progress.
With Scrum, we delivered 20 negotiated change orders in 10 workdays that were billable that same month!
During that period, I still did all my other daily work like job walks, meetings, and off-site a few days a week on other projects. That's much more than twice as fast. Here's how we did it.
11 Simple Steps 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 comprised one owner’s representative, 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 reading the Scrum Guide and setting up the team.
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 prioritizing what the owner’s representative 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 sticky notes march along from one column to the other in order of Scrum board columns from Backlog to To Do, then to Doing, and finally to Done. This allowed the team and stakeholders to instantly know where we stood by simply looking at the board.
8. Hold Daily Stand-Ups: Each day, the team would gather for 15 minutes to walk the board. Each team member would answer just three questions:
- What did I do yesterday to finish the Sprint?
- What will I do today to finish the Sprint?
- Are there obstacles blocking the Sprint Goal? The answer to this question became a task at the top of the To Do list for the next Sprint.
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:
- What went well?
- What can be better?
- What improvement can be made now?
- What is our velocity? Our two-week average velocity measured in change orders was 10 per week.
Spend 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 a pilot that allowed me to continue learning and training. 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.
I share even more examples and project improvement stories on The EBFC Show. The Easier, Better, for Construction podcast. Our guests positively build up people, processes, and the business of building. I’m committed to those working to make our industry better. Follow me to see how purpose, autonomy, and mastery are transforming the industry from within.
Are you interested in learning more about Scrum in the construction industry or how to get started? Check out my book, Construction Scrum. Our industry has so many opportunities for positive change. Consider some of the data I'm working with.
- 1 in 6 worldwide work in construction
- Craft and professional labor are in high demand
- About 3/4 of projects are late and over budget
- Nearly 98% of mega-projects ($1B or larger) fail
- Mental Health issues claim more lives than project accidents since 2020
Are you working with Scrum to deliver more value with less effort and have more fun? Check out these Scrum training resources to help you and your team(s) achieve twice the work in half the time.