XPM During Construction

Construction Challenges

Construction contract administration work presents significant challenges to architectural firms:

XPM Approach

XPM practices don't solve all CA challenges or problems, but they do make it easier to deal with them:


Except for some practices that aren't required, most XPM practices can be easily adapted for use during Construction as described below. For more details, see the list of practices.

Readiness Assessment

XPM is not appropriate for all teams. Are all team members ready, willing, and able to commit to the practices? Will upper management support the practices? Will they permit team members to spend the time required to attend meetings? If any answer is no, XPM will be difficult, perhaps unworkable.

Benefits: Decide right away if XPM is appropriate or not.

Kickoff Meeting

Hold a kickoff meeting to discuss team and personal objectives and agree on the specific practices to follow.

Benefits: Align the team. Insure that all team members are on the same page.

Task Cards

A task card is a 3 x 5 index card with a brief description of a specific task, along with an estimate of the time it would take to complete it. Notes and other information can be added. Cards can be color-coded to represent different projects or task types. Task cards are easy to make, change, arrange, pass back and forth, and destroy. Every task in CA is identified by a task card. Collectively, they're used to manage the CA process.

Some CA tasks are iterative -- they occur each week or each month, for example. We usually create only one task card for each iterative task, then re-use it as required.

Benefits: Quick and easy way to define, view, organize, and handle tasks.

Release Plan

Start by creating a release plan to provide an overview of the project. A release plan consists of a set of task cards -- one for every task you can think of -- for a specific period of time. For example, make cards for: reviewing submittals, RFIs, meetings, site visits, preparing reports, posting photos, reviewing meeting minutes, progress payments, etc.

The level of detail for each task card in a release plan depends on the size of the project. For a project extending over a year or two, task cards can be coarse-grained and broken down later. For a shorter project, make them more fine-grained. For example, on a large project you might have only one task card for processing submittals. It would include an estimate of the number of submittals along with the average processing time for each. For a smaller project, create a card for each submittal.

The number of release plans required also depends on project size. For smaller projects, a single release plan will suffice. For larger projects, a monthly release plan is more appropriate. A monthly plan lets you adapt for sub-phases within a project, like the submittal phase or the project closeout phase.

RFIs: Even for a small project, you can't make task cards for specific RFIs. Instead, estimate RFI velocity and change it later. For example, you might expect four RFIs per week, so make a task card showing that. In weekly planning meeting, replace the original with another that's more specific. The original acts as a reminder.

Benefits: Provides an overview of the entire project along with time estimates for each task. Easily modified as the project moves ahead.

Weekly Planning Meetings

Weekly planning meeting objectives are to review the prior week (via a retrospective process discussed later), and to select tasks for the coming week.

Selecting and estimating tasks: Choose tasks for the current iteration from the Iteration Board based on priority. Re-estimate the time required for each task. Select the number of tasks based on velocity from prior weeks, adjusted for team availability. This will be a trial and error process at first because additional tasks will come in during the iteration but you won't know how many. Post the selected task cards on the Task Board.

Team availability: Each team member posts the maximum number of ideal hours they can commit to during the coming week. They are not required to spend that amount of time; they may not need to work on CA at all that week if the number of required tasks is low.


Task Board

The Task Board is the focal point of the team. Post all task cards for the current iteration here. After posting, any team member can choose any task by placing the task card under their name.

Deadline tasks: Some tasks must be done by a specific date. Post them in a special section labeled "Deadline". Team members select from deadline tasks first.

Benefits: Team members can choose tasks based on their availability, knowledge, and personal preferences.

Weekly Retrospectives

Retrospectives are the heart of the improvement process. In CA retrospectives, focus on three things: The practices themselves; problems and issues related to CA activities; and technical issues. Supplement discussions with slides from the construction site and material from the contract documents.

Process issues: Ask things like: What's kept us from working at maximum speed? What can we do better?

CA issues: Ask things like: How do we handle this request effectively? How can we process this more efficiently?

Technical issues: Based on photos from the jobsite, ask things like: What can we learn from this? What should we do next time? Technical issues usually have to be dealt with by the entire project team, not just CA members. So, if appropriate, create a task card to resolve technical issues later with entire project team or office staff.

CA retrospectives will probably take longer than typical project retrospectives. They may have to be time-boxed: limit the amount of time spent to an hour or so. Prioritize issues; leave low priority issues for later or for resolution by an ad-hoc team (make a task card).

Benefits: Continually improve the XPM process, the CA process, and technical specifics. Bring technical issues back to the entire project team. Base discussions on practical real-world issues that impact the bottom line.

RFIs and Submittals

RFIs and submittals can come in any time. When they do, make a task card and announce it in a stand-up or planning meeting. Add a date for deadline tasks and post them in "Deadline" section of the Task Board. Otherwise, just add each new task card to the Iteration Board.

Benefits: Everyone knows what's required, that is, how many tasks and deadlines we have each iteration, and can adjust their schedules accordingly.

Completing Tasks

In XPM, anyone with the time, knowledge, desire, and inclination can choose to do any task on the Task Board. They can ask and expect to get help from any other team member. In fact, in XPM, we encourage pairing, where two people work together to complete a task. We also encourage pairs to switch frequently, so knowledge and learning is passed around as effectively as possible.

Select a task by placing the task card beneath your name on the Task Board. When completed, add the number of hours it actually took to complete the task and place the task card in the "Done" section of the Task Board.

Some tasks require continuity. For example the same person may need to attend site meetings each week. If so, that person can volunteer to take on the task for the duration of the project.

Large tasks should be broken down into subtasks. For example, a large submittal can be broken down into parcels, each taking a few hours to complete. Breaking down large tasks makes it easier to distribute, estimate, and track progress.

Testing: How do you know when you are done with a CA task? How do you know what you've done is right? When the tests all pass. Creating tests before completing a task helps reduce the amount of work to the absolute minimum required. Do only enough work for the tests to all pass. Pair to create the tests.

Benefits: Anyone can choose any task. No need to wait for someone who is unavailable. Prevents bottlenecks.

Stand-Up Meetings

Stand-ups are short meetings, held same time each day. Every available team member attends. Each team member shows and tells what task they completed yesterday, what they expect to do today. They report any problems or obstacles in their way. Other team members comment and offer advice, but topics that require longer discussions are held in ad-hoc meetings after the stand-up.

Benefits: Team member accomplishments are recognized and promises are made. Everyone knows what has been done and what will be done. Problems are identified immediately.

Management Reports

Create graphic management reports to demonstrate progress and make projections. Create a separate report for each project. Create "big visible charts" for items that will benefit by tracking, like submittals processed each iteration.

Benefits: Everyone, on and off the team, can see progress compared to overall scope.


What about someone who is always on-site? They should attend the weekly planning meetings at a minimum. For other meetings, they can be represented by a proxy -- a team member who stands in for them, keeps them and the team informed, who handles communications each way.

What if there's a lull in CA work? Additional tasks need to be available on other projects for times when CA work is slow. This can be easily handled if you're using XPM on other projects. Join in the stand-ups and pick up a task card. Pair with someone familiar with the new project. XPM works best with cross-trained, multi-disciplined people -- people who can fit in anywhere.

Will XPM save time and money? There are no guarantees. But you can monitor progress and make reasonable projections based on weekly reports. After a few iterations, you'll have reliable metrics upon which to make adjustments.

Benefits of XPM During Construction

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