Photo courtesy of Flickr user paurian "walk stand"

What does software development have in common with building management?

A peculiar delight in our launch of Tikkit has been learning just how similar the life of a software engineer is to a building engineer. We came to this realization by dogfooding Tikkit as a development team. In addition to listening carefully to Tikkit users and prospects, our engineering team has moved all of our engineering project management tracking to Tikkit. Because Tikkit is so simple and flexible, our internal implementation simply swaps buildings for “projects” and software issues for “work orders.” Just like building users customize request types, we’ve built our own for unique software requests. This helps Gridium develop empathy with our users, and because our engineers spend all day in the tools, we’re able to rapidly pursue natural evolutions in the software in an organic way.

Our software engineers manage a broad spectrum of work everyday. Some items are small requests and easy to squash bugs; others are large projects that require serious time and where accurate scoping is only possible after the task has started. Like most engineering teams, our team is also small, tightly coordinated and under-staffed. Triage is an essential task — we have more potential work than we could ever hope to accomplish.

Tikkit is working fabulously as a coordination tool. Relative to other bug tracking tools we’ve used, we have a deeper shared understanding of our tasks, and better communication on tasks, thanks to email based comments. Our “Tenants” are our sales team, who can file issues on their own, and follow along as the issue is worked on and resolved.

One key tool in our workflow is a daily meeting to discuss issues. Common in technology organizations, this meeting is called standup, and it helps our team gather once a day to debrief progress and discuss what is on deck for the day. The meeting spans 15 minutes, which is just enough time for each team member to quickly answer three questions:

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. What obstacles are impeding my progress?

Our team finds that along with a tool like Tikkit, a daily rhythm of these questions keeps everyone coordinated and allows critical information sharing. For example, our priorities might change daily due to a customer request or the complexity of a task. A daily standup helps us run tightly as a team, with very rapid knowledge sharing, status updates, and tight collaboration.

Which brings us to the question. Does your building work like this? Imagine your latest, most complex work order. What would happen if your entire team heard about it every day until it was resolved? Would you find the root cause faster, learn as a team faster?

If this concept is intriguing, read a few articles (here, here, or here) and think about how you might improve building management with a daily standup.

About Tom Arnold

Tom Arnold is co-founder and CEO of Gridium. Prior to Gridium, Tom Arnold was the Vice President of Energy Efficiency at EnerNOC, and cofounder at TerraPass. Tom has an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. When he isn't thinking about the future of buildings, he enjoys riding his bike and chasing after his two daughters.

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