We first learned about scrum from our clients, many of whom work in the software field here in Austin. The methodology transfers really well from their industry to ours: Both make profits through the creation of custom client projects.
One client in particular came to us and said, “I like your company, I like what you’re doing, but I’d also really like if you were a little more agile and came back to me quicker with loose plans.” We chatted about the Agile movement, which puts heavier emphasis on communication and collaboration, team self-organization, and adaptability. (As it turns out, Agile borrows many aspects of lean manufacturing.)
Scrum is one of a few specific methods underneath the Agile umbrella. Thanks to its simple steps, or sprints, it’s easy to adapt to any remodeling business, and it helps break down the communication silos that often appear over time in a company. To help you get started, here’s how we modified Scrum to fit our business.
Scrum is broken down into two-week-long sprints, at the beginning of which the team sits down, determines the goals for that sprint, and gets to work. At CG&S, the team consists of the salesperson, estimator, architect, and project superintendent, with a dedicated project manager joining during construction. Using cross-functional, small teams for each project from Day 1 is the key to the Scrum process—no more working in silos.
Our first sprint is discovery, where we define the fundamental nature of the project. We usually only need one discovery phase, but for more complex projects (especially those involving multiple rooms or additions), a second discovery phase is sometimes needed—that would be our second sprint.
Within 2-3 weeks, the clients receive what we call prototypes, which include diagrams demonstrating a variety of design solutions. Prior to Scrum, we would take at least a month to get initial plans to clients, but this included taking more time to illustrate each design in greater detail. It was standard to deliver a finished computer model. But when we talked to clients about what they liked or disliked about our process, it became clear that almost all prefer to have less detailed plans presented to them sooner. It gives them a closer connection to the project from start to finish.
Now, our prototypes don’t include elevation views or much detail at all. They simply help us decide which path the client prefers. Once that’s set, we move into the next sprint, which covers architectural construction drawings. Each set of substantial changes and additions—e.g., an electrical plan, a lighting diagram, external elevations—becomes its own separate sprint, so the number of sprints in the construction phase will fluctuate depending on your job size and clients.
Review, Inspect, Adapt
When reviewing the plans and requesting changes, clients are held to the same two-week turnaround time. They don’t usually use all of that, because they’re eager to get their project moving and finished, but the option is there. They can look at each prototype, decide if there’s one in particular they want, or combine bits and pieces of each to create a hybrid solution for the next sprint.
Now, our prototypes don’t include elevation views or much detail at all. They simply help us decide which path the client prefers.
We use a custom-made Excel spreadsheet to track the sprints and timeline for each project. It’s not perfect, but it keeps everything clearly organized and accessible to the entire team. It’s easy to see if there’s a delay or miscommunication, so we can quickly remedy that and get things moving again. We are looking into migrating to the work management platform Asana in the near future, which should smooth out our Scrum process even further.
Switching to Scrum has provided some structure to the chaos that is remodeling. It’s saved us at least a third of the time we were previously spending, especially when it comes to the design phase. Breaking the project down into two-week blocks keeps us on track and creates a sense of urgency for the clients as well. And, the more efficient you can make your processes, the happier everyone will be.