Before I began my Lean journey in 2009, I honestly never thought about my capacity. I paused and reflected on what I had learned about applying Lean. My entry point was “Lean Thinking” by Womack and Jones, but even practicing the principles and some tools wasn’t increasing my management capacity beyond my first-year gains. I was a chronic workaholic and after beginning to practice Lean I was down to a consistent 55-60-hour workweek with only occasional Saturdays. Something was missing, I wasn’t improving. I had reached a plateau. I wasn’t satisfied.
My life was busy but I always made time to develop further through audiobooks during long commutes to Los Angeles or San Diego from central Orange County. One day Audible recommended “SCRUM: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff and JJ Sutherland in early 2014. It grabbed my attention. I downloaded it immediately and in under three days I finished the book! Once I started the book I started experimenting to learn more. The entire Scrum method consists of 11 major steps.
Figure 1: Fundamental Scrum Steps
You will find these in the appendix of the book or in the current 19-page Scrum Guide. The book explains why Scrum works while the guide details how to apply it. Also, you’ll need a wall (or door in my case), some sticky notes and a marker to make your very own Scrum board. Now, it is time to dramatically increase your velocity and output. Here is a construction example involving change orders on a hard bid project. I applied the 11 major steps from the appendix of the book on a makeshift Scrum board and delivered 20 negotiated change orders in 10 work days that were billable that same month while still doing all my other daily work, job walks, and being off-site for meetings a day a week.
- Pick a product
- Project Change Orders (done means it is negotiated, accepted by the owner, and billable)
- One owner’s rep, numerous subcontractor project managers, trade managers, and one project accountant
- Make a list and checked it twice...ordered oldest to largest change orders first followed by newer and smaller size change orders last
- Adjust the list priority to give the customer, owner’s rep, what they wanted first since some changes required additional stakeholder review based on daily feedback from owner
- 30-minutes to organize and communicate what was planned to team - 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
- Used a whiteboard and sticky notes on my construction office wall for all to see the post-it notes march along from one column to the other in order of “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done”
- “Walk the Board” and answer just three questions:
1. What did I do yesterday to finish the Sprint?
2. What will I do today to finish the Sprint?
3. Are there obstacles blocking the Sprint Goal?
The answer to question three becomes a task and is done next before moving onto other work.
- Short team meeting to evaluate what was accomplished and then refine the remaining backlog or tasks incorporating feedback from the team
- 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
During my first one-day sprint at home with my 3-year-old son we got games, home chores, and legitimate fun done before dinner. This tiny test proved what Jeff Sutherland says about how to begin, “just start.” Start at home, start at work, start at school, start with a single project or major task. I continued using Scrum for more and more of my project work – Scrum more than doubled my capacity. I started simple, each sticky note single task was equal to a single point. My first sprints were five to eight point weeks and after six weeks I was consistently above 50 points a week without working any extra time.
Scrum changed how I worked and people noticed. I was shortly promoted to project manager and began serving on multiple company committees. Less than two years later I became a Certified ScrumMaster®. Sutherland told me I was the first from the construction industry, but wasn’t surprised since even Toyota was now sending people for Scrum Master certification. Becoming Agile was one of Toyota’s newest company initiatives. We spent hours talking about Lean Construction and how aligned the Scrum framework is for daily personal and team improvements. The Scrum Master role is mostly modeled from Toyota’s chief engineer and I moved “The Toyota Way” by Jeff Liker up on my reading list. That’s a topic for another post, I’ve read that book at least a dozen times and counting.
I smashed through my improvement plateau! I started with a velocity of less than 10 points per sprint that first week. By the time McCarthy promoted me to serve all our partners embarking on their Lean journeys, I was above sixty points a sprint. I was finally speeding.
If you want to sprint and more than double your capacity, visit this Trello website and click the top left card to download the free current Scrum Guide.
Figure 2: My Digital Scrum Resources Board
My digital Scum resources board will help get you started. It includes links to short videos that will explain Scrum in more detail. Every day, I work through the Scrum framework and even use it to teach others. It keeps me in a continuous improvement loop. It was designed to be a habitual PDCA for people “developing, delivering, and sustaining complex products by a single team.” So what’s happened since I discovered Scrum? Well, I changed and my velocity shows it! I’ve been able to use Scrum to sustain my ability to more consistently deliver value. Go more than twice as fast yet sustain Lean practice and professional development. How fast are you going to go?