A Business Agility Story For Construction

Achieving Business Agility in the Construction Industry

Every day, we’re impacted by both known and unknown issues; these impacts can last for a day or many years. Being better prepared and ready to adjust to change is the hallmark of successful people and the organizations they support.

The ability to sense and respond to change while remaining focused on delivering value to your customer as quickly as possible is business agility. Can non-IT or software companies achieve true business agility?

Let’s examine why a construction firm would look at using agile in their business.

Why bother with business agility?

Last fall TACTEC started helping a growing construction and design firm improve its ability to prepare and manage change. This first blog will share some insight into what this construction business achieved in the short term with TACTEC training and coaching. We’ll follow this story over the next year on how this firm moves from adoption to transformation achieving true business agility using PMI’s Disciplined Agile and Tactec’s education and coaching services.

Eight months prior to working with us, this Victoria-based construction and design firm was struggling to cope with many issues while maintaining an upward growth trajectory. They’d seen substantial development in a short period, growing from 15 to over 40 employees and taking on more advanced high-tech projects comprising 200 units over 12 storeys. Materials and equipment costs were rising exponentially, COVID-19 restrictions were adding more complexity. Finding staff, trade partners, and experts is a difficult and sometimes unsolvable problem.

Gaining common understanding

When we started collaborating with our new client, (end of August 2021), their leadership had attempted to leverage SCRUM which open up their minds to new ways of working. However, there were some reservations and real concerns with the current adoption plan or lack thereof leading to frustration, and failures. Major issues were still cropping up almost daily, SCRUM or the interpretation of what Agile is wasn’t working the way they’d thought. Leaders and team members questioned whether Agile was the way to go and needed to be reminded as to why they were moving in that direction again.

Following an initial call with leadership, we identified some essential points that could move their key initiatives forward and addressed what we should be doing and why. Using a Disciplined Agile approach, we discussed conducting a Disciplined Agile Leadership workshop to identify why want to change and what we want to accomplish from the change allows us to start measuring what matters and then focus on value at velocity (TACTEC’s tagline). 

Many elements make this business unique in a design and construction business. Using standard “SCRUM” phrases, vocabulary and force prescriptive practices will confuse people who are not software developers. 

Improving your success in adopting agile includes a common vocabulary and definition of words, especially news ones that are pervasive in Agile Frameworks. We suggested stopping using overloaded terms, that have very little meaning to non-IT teams. Another critical element to factor in is that large construction projects have many teams throughout the build lifecycle.  So naturally agile folks may suggest a  “teams of teams” or use “SCRUM of SCRUMs.” However, SCRUM does not account for other non-developer roles, such as tradespeople, construction leads like site supervisors. Consistently we heard that most were concerned about the impacts on their current workload, job titles, roles and processes. We can not overemphasize that this is a common problem when adopting agile and lean methods, thus we need to address this very early on.

The nuances of running a large construction site are not described or covered in SCRUM, thus we need to look beyond the SCRUM guide.  For example, using a hybrid toolkit and Project / Product Management approach such as PMI’s Disciplined Agile(DA).  This opens up flexibility, pragmatism and looking at context rather than prescribed “on-site fits all” Agile Frameworks. Using DA we can understand and start to examine the value stream and processes that are part of this industry rather than simply at the team level.  Interestingly Value Streams and Lean are not new to the construction industry and using lean approaches has had a very positive effect on this industry as outlined by the Canadian Construction Association.

The team choosing a “common sense” lifecycle

The DA Lean Lifecycle

Consider the simple fact that a time-boxed SCRUM approach will not always work for the construction firms dealing with planned and unplanned work. Can we use iteration in Construction? Well, we have seen firsthand that many construction tasks and work items can be completed iteratively or through iterations of time. For example, completing a floor in a building, so that tenants can move in while continuing to build and finish other floors. When working with new designs, fast prototyping and shorter cycles to implement quick “proofs of concepts” such as building on a smaller scale with new construction technologies or designs before larger rollouts have helped remove potential costly rework.

However, without “just the right” amount of planning and preparation (part of discipline) is required to minimize dependencies and unplanned work. The reality is that many unplanned or “Just in Time” types of work will still happen. Dependencies and changes in priority are natural in any business, and within different teams, not just on the construction site. Those working in business operations, finance, people management, contracting, design, have a flow of work that is much more compatible with lean processes and thus works well with the DA Lean Lifecycle.

Many teams naturally move to a Lean approach, a way of working that provides the correct type of lifecycle that will innovate, improve rather than disrupt and hinder these teams. Of course, any group can choose what every lifecycle makes sense, and there are over six different lifecycles for any team to choose from such as the Agile Lifecycle which incorporates SCRUM ways of working

Start with your goals and communicate them

Back to basics, when wanting to improve your team and your business we need to make sure our goals are clear. We can accelerate this by using the Disciplined Agile Toolk Kit along with Tactec’s Guided Continuous Improvement Services.

LEARN – Better Skilled Teams deliver better results, quicker, happier, lower risk – Supercharging skills of your teams.

OPTIMIZE EXPERIMENTS – Evolve beyond Frameworks and Methods – Design your Agile & Lean Ways of Working (WoW), to win

ACCELERATE – Disciplined Agile improves value streams and flow of Value to customer – Be Nimble, Improve Flow, Deliver more Value to your Customers

The Disciplined Agile Toolkit

A simple accelerator for your road to business agility

The following summarized bullets to get the gist of getting the value of agile and lean approaches very quickly.  Creating the proper understanding and approach to using agile in a construction company can make the difference between success and failure.

  1. In any company, start with a vision of what you want to achieve from your Leaders, Managers, Staff, Trades and Suppliers. Keep it simple and broad, stretched and measurable, such as using an OKR (Objective Key Result) or GQM (Goal Question Metric) approach.
  2. Plan how to implement the change using a Disciplined Agile approach with a certified and recommended Disciplined Agile Coach. The DA Adoption Team including the Coach will get you on track and identify the What’s and Why’s so you can get on with the Hows and When fast, simply, effectively and measurably.
  3. Use a Disciplined Agile Scrum Master with experience in your industry, i.e., construction and certification.
  4. Start where you are, with some, a lot or no agile adoption in place, an adoption plan along with goal-driven and prioritized planning that drive true Business Agility and real transformation.
  5. Large construction projects have many teams, and not all will be working in SCRUM.  Disciplined Agile accommodates and scales by using the “Program Lifecycle” that includes many agile, lean and even traditional ways of working that allow a more effective flow of value while dealing with risk, even unexpected ones.
  6. With Disciplined Agile (DA) principles, promises and guidelines, the proper foundation and mindset can make the difference between success and failure. DA allows us to focus on “Delighting our Customers and Stakeholders” while being “Pragmatic” so we do not follow restrictive or incompatible “Agile Frameworks.”  “Context Counts” so we can adjust a methodology to our needs and choose the best way of working now and in the future.
  7. Foundational Training, light planning with a Lean Change Approach, while being guided by a DA Coach, and teams supported initially by a DA Scrum Master will help you; Learn, Optimize and Accelerate – Continuously improving!
  8. DA Adoption is the pre-cursor and foundation to transformation to true business agility.

This story will continue as we progress with from adopting agile and lean to business agility transformation.

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Born 1965, San Antonio, Texas and lives in Dallas, Tx.
Mr. James, Ronald, Maverick holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at The University of Texas, San Antonio.

Mr. Maverick or JR as many call him is a “slick” but warm and friendly character in our upcoming book on the DevOps Mindset. Mr. Maverick cares about his IT team very much and could charm the socks off a Texas Longhorn. JR is liked by many in his organization; however, he is not as well trusted by the Overlords as he used to be. Mr. Maverick has a group of loyal staff, including Mr. Barker a bit of an opposite to JR. Of course, Mr. Barker would never call him JR; he would only call him Mr. Maverick because well, Mr. Maverick is his boss. Mr. Maverick has held many IT positions in the past, including starting as a Sales Professional for HP and IBM mini and mainframe computers. Over the years he has risen through the ranks to hold this senior position by delivering using high-paid consultants and Big name firms. He also received his promotion from outsourcing to a foreign country where he was able to reduce his IT spend significantly. Recently he has discovered (actually this was made painfully aware to him by the Overlords) that both the Offshore roadmap and use of external consultants was not giving him the value and velocity for his IT department, and he was probably paying more than he bargained for

So, after hearing a talk at a DevOps event by the Agents of Chaos, JR decided to enlist them to help with their digital transformation roadmap and help improve the value, focus and velocity of his department. However, MR. Maverick has a few ideas about agile and DevOps, something he has heard about for a while and read in various CIO magazines; he thinks of these as Marketing terms and something that can be bought. While Mr. Maverick has held on for many years to traditional IT ways of working he has come to the end of his tenure if he doesn’t do something fast and get DevOps working quickly as he has promised to the Overlords providing him with a little more rope to get the transformation completed more quickly as they view his IT department ageing, procrastinators who are not able to keep up with business demands. JR says in his mind, “I will get it done, they don’t call me Maverick for nothing!“