The Agile Series

Making It Real

Adopting the Agile Approach (Part 2)

We’re back with our second of two posts going over the key principles of Agile and how to apply them to your construction business.

In our first post, we talked about three critical ways to bring agility into your business:

  • Satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of value
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Today, we’ll explore the next three principles, which focus on how to use Agile best practices to manage a team.

Principle 4: Deliver tangible progress as frequently as possible.

A typical construction manager has 120 different responsibilities. From building codes, to plans, specs, parameters, finances and calendars. They’re responsible for everything from cost management to safety regulations. It’s complex, difficult, and ever-changing.

Now, we know you can’t exactly deliver a construction project in discrete parts – at least not as easily as we can in software development – but the core idea is the same: increase predictability by breaking down large chunks of work into smaller units that you can deliver more frequently.

In Agile, these are called Sprints. A Sprint is a short, set time of working within which you are trying to achieve certain goals.

"Sprints make projects more manageable, allow teams to ship high-quality work faster and more frequently, and give them more flexibility to adapt to change,” one agility coach explains.

The duration of your Sprints can vary, but thinking in 1 week or 2 week increments will ensure you are balancing agility with productivity. The beauty of running formal Sprints is that they drive accountability. The timebox of a Sprint gives teams a structure to set goals and commit to meeting them. It forces planning, team work, and discipline. Nobody wants to let the team down. And when done right, the team is deciding the goals for each Sprint as opposed to being told what to do. This keeps morale high and the entrepreneurial spirit thriving.

Want to learn how to set up your next sprint? Click here.

Principle 5: Build projects around motivated individuals, give them the support and trust they need to get the job done.

With all that goes into keeping a construction business running smoothly day to day, it is easy to begin spending too much time on the tactical topics (costs, schedule and quality of work) and not enough on bigger strategic choices about the business. One area that is often overlooked is the importance of talent strategy and planning. Successful team building – not just hiring great talent, but growing, nurturing and retaining it – is the secret weapon of nearly all great companies.

When was the last time you spent time to truly think about your team? Not just who you’ve got on staff and who are your go-to subs. But, really thought about exactly what skills each of them have and don’t have. How can you find new roles and responsibilities for those looking to grow and advance? Which team members compliment one anothers skills the best? What new talent is needed to fill gaps and make the rest of the team better?

It requires a time investment to sit down – uninterrupted – to think and plan your talent strategy. But if you can find the time, two things will start to happen. First, you get better at motivating and managing your team. Second, you deliver a better experience to your client.

“The best personal example of this point was with my first major project,” Robbrecht van Amerongen, an Innovation Manager at AMIS services, explains. “I was responsible for a team of 8 developers. At the start of the project I took the time to sit down with each individual developer and talked about their individual interests, challenges and goals...when assigning tasks and making decisions that involved the team I took into account the individual motivation and interests of the team members. This made the whole team successful in delivering the end-product.”

So, as you think about your team, put time into evaluating each person’s current strengths and weaknesses. Ask them about their career goals and ambitions. Then, seek creative ways to combine their talents to maximize productivity and drive client satisfaction.

It will take a bit of investment up front, but will pay dividends for everyone in the long term.

Principle 6: Get everyone involved in the project together in a room.

In a typical whole home renovation or new construction job, there are literally dozens of people that must come together to deliver the final result to the client. Architects. Designers. Contractors. All of the various trades. Plumbing and lighting vendors. Landscape architects and installers. Inspectors. Bankers. Attorneys. The list goes on and on. Without a proactive effort to foster open and transparent communication, it’s almost impossible to deliver a seamless result for the client.

"There is a common understanding that there needs to be greater collaboration and better integration between the various parties in the design and construction process," says Heather Gadonniex, head of the building and construction team at PE International.

This Agile principle recognizes that different types of professionals speak different languages (sometimes literally!), and also have different processes and preferred ways of working. But when everyone sets their ego aside and pushes to bring their individual processes and preferences into one, shared approach, huge progress happens.

While the logistics might prevent you from literally “getting everyone together in a room,” the spirit of this principle is what matters. When faced with the many thorny challenges that arise throughout a project, keeping everyone – designers, contractors, carpenters and everyone else – all working in tandem is essential.

The best way to do this is to create open and clear communication across the entire team. Not just your team, but the entire extended team. Create transparency into the challenges, decisions, and agreements that are made. Foster daily conversation in groups, as opposed to silos.

Looking for more practical ways to apply Agile to your business? Read on for specific tactics on how to apply the transformational principles of iteration, collaboration and continuous process improvement to your next project.