Building Solar Carports Like We Build Software

We recently completed a fantastic new iSun® Solar Carport in Indiana. Made of long-lasting anodized aluminum, the structure is beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, and an eco-friendly addition to the Tom Wood Subaru dealership. In the middle of the installation, we got to thinking — building a physical solar carport is not completely unlike building software. You see, even as simple as our carport is to install, there are often things that come up. For example, in Indiana we were deluged by rain, very much out of our control. Rather than trying to plan everything ahead of time, being prepared and ready for change is the most important thing that can be done — in either physical carport installation OR software development.

Our vision for many of our future products is to deliver innovative new technologies like iOT (Internet of Things) and Intelligent Automation. In order to achieve success with complex and unreliable new technologies, we use agile methodologies to project manage and break down complex software activities to simple and achievable sprints.

Some of our methods that we can see realistically applying to a solar carport installation to make it even simpler are laid out below:

1. Use a physical board to track progress

In the agile software development world, teams often start planning on physical work boards. They track what is up next, in progress, and done on a wall, often using physical task cards.

On a job site, a physical board can help manage the complexities and break down seemingly complex issues into achievable bursts of work. The more complex the job, the more value a physical work board where any layperson can come see the current state of progress matters.

2. Have an installation roadmap based on the customer’s expectations

In software development, you know what sequence of features you need in order to have a satisfactory demonstration to your customer of progress. This is also true in for a solar carport installation. Have a pre-planned series of components: ballast, beams, panels, rain gutters, wiring. You can demonstrate progress at the end of each component build out, even when done in overlapping time periods. One major lesson to note, installation & software development team members both appreciate the moral victories of completing a task and demonstrating progress before moving on to the next phase.

3. Have quick standing meetings to gauge progress and discuss issues

In software, there is a quick daily meeting where each team member is asked 3 questions: What did you do yesterday? What are you doing today? What blockers are stopping you from making progress? On a job site, the daily meeting can be adjusted to be as frequently as every 2 hours. As arduous as it may seem to pull everyone off the job for 10 minutes — it will save a tremendous amount of money when you factor in the amount of rework that occurs when a job has to be redone because an issue wasn’t caught in time.

Software development has long taken cues and practices from physical construction. We use terms like software architects to title some of our best software creators. However, as software continues to eat the world, maybe it’s time for the world to begin taking cues and practices from the rapid advances in software.