Using Scrum to renovate my apartment
1 June 2017
Back in September, I began the renovation and remodeling of my apartment. I was struggling badly in dealing with a large group of workers, such as an interior decorator, a painter, a carpenter, an electrician, a plumber, a marble worker for flooring, and a window installer. I didn’t hire a general contractor who could take care of it all; I decided to do it myself. But once I got started, I understood how difficult it was to synchronize all the contractors with each other and to plan the sequence of work.
Some workers were dependent on other workers. They would call me at work with questions, or if they had a shortage of materials or were missing materials altogether. I could meet with them or get materials for them over the weekends only. Things were becoming extremely complex, and I didn't have the budget to hire a general contractor. The situation was frustrating, and I was really worried how it was going to end. By October, I was already behind schedule.
So I sat down to identify the problems and how to straighten things out. The biggest problem was surely the lack of synchronization, and its major cause was my lack of time. Most of the time I was talking to the workers individually and over the phone. I was meeting with them only during the weekends. I had no way to track the progress of individual work streams. They had no way to validate and verify their work in progress during the week. I had no idea which work order would finish next or which one should start after that.
While I was thinking about these issues and more, it all started to seem very familiar to me. Planning the work, collaboration between coworkers, resolving dependencies, reviewing work, reducing rework, validation and verification — these were not new things for me. This is what I do. Every day. At my job! As a ScrumMaster! This is what I have been doing for so many years! So why can't I do it at home?
But how can I do Scrum at home? I was excited, but in a hopeless sort of way. This was one of those times when you think you know what to do but can't quite figure it out. I was sure that I would never be able to do the job of a contractor, but I could do my own job as a ScrumMaster. The big question was how to make it work in that scenario.
Managing the work like a ScrumMaster
I decided to first have a clear wall. Well, there’s no shortage of that at an under-construction house, after all. So I chose a wall near the entrance and hung a 4 x 6 foot acrylic sheet on it. I could easily write and stick notes on that. I spoke to all the workers and decided that I would visit the site for one hour when all the workers come to work, before I went to the office, and I would visit the site on my way back home in the evenings.
On the first morning, I asked everyone to come and stand near the acrylic board to have a "catch-up." I requested that they quickly tell me what they were working on at that time, if they were facing any problems or needed any help, and what was next. As they were reporting, I wrote those items briefly on Post-its and stuck them on the board. I wanted to create a simple board with three columns: To Do, Doing, and Done. All the "current work" Post-it notes went to Doing, and all the "what’s next" notes went to To Do. At the end of that first catch-up, everyone had a clear idea of who was working on what. And they also understood who needed to work together or sequence their upcoming work to resolve dependencies. For example, the electrical wiring needed to be done before the ceiling work could begin in a room; the water pipes should be fixed before the flooring could begin in the washroom.
One immediate benefit that I observed was that they decided to talk among themselves to sequence their upcoming work and told me "not to worry." They were organizing themselves! I was excited. We had these morning meetings every day, and I began to see results.
I wanted to make sure that there was a steady communication platform for all of us. The WhatsApp software is popular in India, and everyone here uses it. We decided to create a WhatsApp group where they could ask questions, instead of each giving me a one-to-one call. Everyone was able to see and participate. That was the second thing that we did. We were a self-organizing team now.
Managing budgets and schedules
The budget and schedule were definitely a concern, and I wanted to control these areas to make up for the lost time. I wanted to make a projection to my family about the time required to finish the work. In other words, I now wanted to involve the stakeholders. We started planning for a week — five days — and we put up all the Post-its in the To Do column. We met every morning. I wanted to spend as little time as possible for the catch-up and use the rest of my time to talk individually with workers who had questions or problems. The chat group was an immense help. No calls from the workers.
On Saturdays, my whole family visited the site to "review" the work. My family and my "team" had snacks together to discuss what we should finish the next week. We spent almost half the day together to plan the next week. No work that day. Sunday was considered a holiday. We began a new "sprint" the next Monday. I had a clear idea of what was going to be done by the next week, all the things that were left to do, and how many more weeks it might take, approximately, at the pace we were working.
The practicality of Scrum
I decided to write about my experience, because I got great results from using Scrum for something that I never thought I would have to do. It bolstered my confidence in the framework and its power to solve problems outside of the realm of software. I believe that Scrum holds immense power to also solve problems outside software development. Scrum helped me to achieve something that I thought I would not be able to achieve.
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