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Agile project management in Solar

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

My personal experience in solar showed that not a lot of people knew or cared about the project management methodology used by their project managers. Asking a solar project manager if they preferred Waterfall or Agile frameworks led to blank stares. These terms are more a part of a day’s discussion in a software development firm than a solar company. In my experience, things are thought of in terms of either an assembly line or a project with a manager. The assembly line concept consists of having a project that moves from staff to staff as the tasks are completed. In other words, once the designer has created the permit package, the project moves on to the permitting coordinator, who passes it to the install team, etc.. Projects show up in your cue, you do your task, and send it on. Project managers check up on things really only when they stall or are informed of hiccups in the project. This is often the way that residential projects work.

Waterfall The assembly line concept is essentially a “Waterfall” ideology. “Waterfall methodology is a linear project management approach, where stakeholder and customer requirements are gathered at the beginning of the project, and then a sequential project plan is created to accommodate those requirements. The waterfall method is so named because each phase of the project cascades into the next, following steadily down like a waterfall.” - Waterfall projects often use “Gantt” charts (see below) to chart how a project is scheduled, what a certain task depends on, and how long it is expected to take. As things are adjusted, the effect on the grand scheme of the project becomes visible. For smaller solar projects, the speed that a project moves through the workflow is usually much higher because most stops in the process only take a few hours. Once the project is complete, it is presented to the client. Changes are usually determined after the fact and are harder (and more expensive) to do. This method also creates a silo effect where the different staffs like design and install never talk to one another and can’t help solve problems together.

Agile in Construction The project manager method, on the other hand, is different in that the project manager takes a bigger part in each project, checking to make sure everything is planned for and scheduled to go when construction begins. This is more common with complicated projects that have a lot of tasks, a lot of people, and more points of failure. The Agile Framework is more about speed and iterations (see the Agile Manifesto below). It values individuals and relationships over the process and helps break down silos. It typically uses a project owner and a “Scrum Master” to coordinate more or less simultaneously done tasks. The project owner creates what’s called a “Backlog” or list of tasks that need to be completed. This backlog is then organized into “Sprints” and “Epics” and the tasks are performed in order of their value to the project and what needs to be done before something else can be done. A sprint is a set amount of time where a group of tasks are completed and then demonstrated to the client at the end to make sure it’s meeting their needs. An Epic consists of a group of sprints for a much larger goal.

Image above adjusted for construction industry courtesy of: published by Myles Roberts Agile and the Kanban Board Agile projects often use a “Kanban Board” that shows the various stages that a project must go through in order to be “done”. As the tasks for a certain stage of the project are completed, the teammate documents the findings and outcome of their stage and send it on to the next team. Project managers or Scrum Masters are thought of as “servant leaders” whose primary jobs are to remove obstacles from the process, hold daily “standup meetings/calls”, and make sure everything is moving forward in its optimal path.

Kanban boards are available in many CRMs to help show where each project is and Coperniq is no different. Coperniq enables you to look at the project the way that you need to whereas many alternatives do not. To learn more about using Agile in construction, check out this post from PMI: Agile and Standup Calls/Meetings The Standup Call/Meeting is a counterintuitive way of building value. Meetings are expensive (no attendee is being productive and creating value for the project). Every meeting is loss on the ledger. However, the point of the Standup is to discover problems in the process, problems in the design, and to let everyone on the team know how they are progressing through the sprint. They are called “Standups” because they should only last as long as someone should be able to stand so 15 minutes max. In construction, standups often reveal that there are unforeseen dependencies like running low on a critical bolt or we can’t run wire until the puller is on site. The team discovers these things before they become emergencies. Essentially, standups enable a team to be proactive instead of reactive. Imagine how much money it would save you to discover that your home runs need to be longer to account for the movement of the tracker BEFORE you realize you’ve installed it that way on all 200MW.

Tell me what your experience has been like using standups in your project. How did you adapt the Agile framework for the work you do? Email me at If you’re interested in checking out Coperniq, please let us know.

solarsolar installationsolar installsolar project managementagilewaterfallagile constructionproactive constructionconstruction meetingsproject management

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