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A Year of Scrum

October 23rd, 2021 marked the one year anniversary of Gray & Fick adopting the Scrum framework.

What is Scrum and why are we using it?

The Scrum framework helps teams work together through a system that implements empiricism and is founded on three pillars: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Our use of the framework has made the relative efficacy of current management, environment, and work techniques visible so that continuous improvements can be made. We believe that working in this manner minimizes costly errors, produces a better quality product, decreases delivery times for projects and increases employee well-being.

How does it work?

While Scrum was initially created for the tech space, it is still very applicable to other fields, including structural engineering. Designing structures is a large endeavor that traditionally requires large up front planning of timelines. However, planning for these months-long designs can be very difficult, especially when balancing multiple projects at once, and timelines rarely work out as initially planned. Scrum removes much of this planning uncertainty by breaking down projects into shorter sprints of 1 to 4 weeks, which are much more accurate to plan. It also allows designers, drafters, and construction administrators to remain agile and adapt as projects develop.

The Scrum team consists of one Scrum Master, one Project Owner, and Developers. Within a Scrum Team, there are no hierarchies. It is a cohesive unit of professionals focused on a goal.

Our first “sprint” planning meetings included cardboard sheets, painters tape, and sticky notes. We upgraded to white boards and magnets for a while and then remote working forced us to adapt and move to a cloud-based platform, Trello, which is what we have continued to use.

What does the G&F team think?
"I like it! I haven't worked here before scrum, but in comparison to other jobs I've had, it makes it so much easier to know what you're going to be doing for the day and be able to see what's next." - Ryan Saunders, Junior Technologist

Chapter 3 of our Book Club involved reading Jeff Sutherland's Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. This book was a significant departure from the previous two, which focused primarily on improving on an individual level. Sutherland instead takes the position that we can see drastically larger improvements by working on teams and groups rather than individuals, with team performance being a key indicator instead of individual performance.

Most of the group really enjoyed that we could implement what we were reading in our day-to-day work. We have modified the Scrum framework to work within the context of structural engineering and construction, but a lot of the system remains and all of the principles that the book discusses are still relevant.

Junior members of the team shared that using the Scrum framework has made it easier and more manageable to get timely feedback throughout the design process. Our intermediate staff reported a significant reduction in stress and said that their work-life balance has improved because their workloads have become more manageable and prioritized. Senior staff have never been more directly involved in the process as a project evolves. As individual tasks move through the board, a review is completed for each task providing real time feedback to designers and drafters. The transparency of the system allows us to pivot resources as necessary in order to meet sprint goals and reinforces that we are working as a team. Bi-weekly review and retrospective discussions try to pin point ways to improve efficiency, celebrate successes, and analyze failures as part of the continuous development and improvement of the system.

"We were looking for a project delivery system that could grow with us and ensure projects could get completed efficiently with our high standard of quality. We were able to adapt Scrum with the help of all our employees to be the system that checked all the boxes and allowed us to pivot with changing priorities." - Bill Fick, P.Eng., President
10 minute daily standups are one of the events in the Scrum framework to update the board.

There was some hesitancy when Scrum was first proposed, but G&F as a whole has been happily surprised by the results to date. Not only has more work gotten done, but it's been at a higher quality, with improved reviewing, deeper learning, more collaboration, and stronger bonds, even as we faced challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it may not be twice the work in half the time, it has definitely been better work, faster, and with more smiles.


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