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The Art of Sprinting: It’s Not Just for Software Development

As a sequel to the article I wrote last month about the process and technology improvements I helped design/build firm Design Platform make earlier this year, I wanted to highlight another change that they implemented that transformed their workflow efficiency:

Two week sprints.

In Agile software development, sprints themselves aren't unique, but in the construction industry they are a completely new way of working. Building construction typically adheres to a traditional waterfall process, but after learning about Agile methodology, Jonas DiCaprio, owner of Design Platform, wanted to try implementing the approach on the construction side of his business.

In March, Design Platform employees started working job sites in two week sprints, and in the process gave the traditional construction process an Agile makeover. Where previously there were pockets of inefficiency and communication breakdowns, there is now a process more adaptable to the day-to-day, week-to-week fluctuations that often occur on a job site. Together, the construction crew does sprint planning, which they call "look-aheads," so that the design and architecture team is aware of the progress at each job site. This planning style allows just-in-time procurement to ensure that the materials are at each job site only when they need to be there. The crew makes a commitment to what will be completed in the next sprint (just like Scrum), and they get to work.

The project managers have been tracking velocity for each job site and have noticed that the crew is able to complete about three quarters of the items that they commit to every sprint. Everyone on the team knows that the remaining quarter of work items will compound in to the next sprint. So, just like software development, the construction crew is reassessing how much work they can legitimately take on so that the schedule and client expectations remain accurate.

One major struggle that Design Platform was having prior to switching to sprints was unpredictability in scheduling subcontractors. It was a huge challenge getting them to show up when they were needed, especially when Design Platform was unable to stick to a schedule or even know when the work would be ready for them. Other jobs that a sub was working could also impact Design Platforms schedule and a cascading effect would ripple through their portfolio of work. Repeated delays and stalled progress frustrated everyone, especially clients.

With the looks-aheads, subs can be scheduled when the work is ready to work, and the client knows what to expect. Now, subcontractors are showing up on the exact day they are needed 80% of the time. A huge improvement and an additional yet unexpected benefit is that Design Platforms clients' are excited about the continuous improvement and changes that the company  is investing in. It's making a big difference to the client experience which will only help grow the business by way of referrals and publicity. Design Platform as proved that working in two week sprints can benefit industries other than software development, and I am proud to be a part of their transformation.

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