The Kitchen Remodel

I have hired a contractor to remodel my kitchen and am seeing lots of agile techniques being used! I don’t think my contractor knows he is using agile techniques, but I recognize them and think they are working really well. I would like to share a few examples. 

As the sponsor/product owner of this project, I admit that I know very little about construction, electricity, plumbing, or kitchen design. All I knew going into this was that I was buying an old house with an old kitchen and I wanted it updated. As a stakeholder I knew I wanted something beautiful, useful, and of high quality. But as a project manager and business analyst, I recognized that this would be a big project and wanted to manage it. To preempt this risk, I sat down with my contractor before we started the project and explained my requirements. I asked many questions, trying to understand the tasks he would oversee and when my design decisions would be needed. I wrote a requirements document stating my desires and sent it to the contractor.  Then I built a project plan in Microsoft® Project so I could see a timeline and track the project work. Fortunately for my contractor, my husband suggested I let the experts do the work.

Again, I doubt that my contractor or anyone on his crew has heard about agile development, but they have figured out some of the same techniques and use them effectively. In addition, I am using some agile principles myself, as the product owner, that are improving my satisfaction with the process.

Daily Stand-Ups

Every morning when the crew gets to our house, the crew leader has a talk with the workers. They discuss the work they will do and make assignments. If they have questions about the work, they ask me and husband (the product owners), and they make sure they have the materials they need. This has been a great practice for us, because if we have any questions or concerns about the work, we know we can address it within 24 hours and get an answer quickly.

IKIWISI: I’ll Know It When I See It

As product owners, we described our product vision (e.g., we want a white kitchen, we want a tile floor, etc.) but we did not have to make every single decision up front. We decided on the big features (cabinet style, floor tile) and then were able to wait to decide on the wall colors until after the floor was done. This allowed us to see the floor with a sample cabinet door and decide on a wall color that would coordinate. We also didn’t have to pick our countertop right away. The measuring and design of the cabinets were done concurrently with our shopping for counters. Our requirements were in effect being defined a sprint or two ahead of the developers’ work.  And we were able to look at the work each day to make sure we liked the product direction.

Changes to Requirements Are Welcomed

After our project was started, we had cable Internet access installed in our house, and a wall outlet above the counter in the kitchen was activated. We suddenly realized that we wanted to hide the modem and router in a cabinet, but this would require the outlet to be lower on the wall and a hole cut in the cabinet. During the next daily stand-up, we spoke to the crew leader, asking if the outlet could be moved. “No problem” was the response, and the outlet was moved within the week. Our team is open to changes and often makes suggestions for improvements that we might not have thought of (they suggested, for example, that we make the cabinet opening large enough for future maintenance).

Team Velocity

The crew has worked together for several years, so they know each other well and know how quickly they can get work done. When we ask for an estimate, they are pretty accurate and let us know if things are not going as expected.

Generalizing Specialists

Different people on the team have different expertise, so we have noticed that when a specific skill is needed, the skilled team member is called in to lead the team. When the cabinets were being installed, an expert on cabinets came to oversee the work. An electrician came when the lights were being moved. Other team members are used for various types of work that require fewer specialized skills.

In the End

I was dreading a kitchen remodel, but with this team, working with proven (agile) techniques, this process has not been at all painful. What’s more, I am confident the final product will meet our needs!

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