As part of the Last Planner® System, pull planning is a great technique for planning collaboratively.  We’ve used it effectively for everything from master planning and design through commissioning and owner turnover. It’s a great way to get a group to think and act like a team. When done well, it doesn’t just createa great plan, it sets the stage for outstanding project execution.

So what does it take to make a pull planning session really effective? We start with a standard meeting agenda, a very simple format for sticky notes, and an experienced facilitator. To make it really effective, wealso follow these three simple rules to help us get the right behaviors from the group.

place a note on the wall only when requested by your customer

Obviously, pull is at the heart of pull planning.  This means that all work is done at the pull of the customer.  So the electrician is completing her in-wall rough-in so that the drywaller, her customer, can start standing rock. The drywaller is hanging rock so that his customer, the painter, can begin work.  By working backward from a project milestone, and only placing notes when a customer asks for it, we make sure that all work is pulled into the plan.  The result is that work happens at the right time, not just whenever it can. This is the essence of pull planning and what makes it so much more effective than traditional scheduling exercises. Don’t be discouraged if pulling feels a bit awkward at first.  Follow this rule and you’ll get real pull from your pull planning.

present each task out loud to the group

Collaboration means much more than just being in the room together while the plan is created.  It means weunderstand each other’s work and plan together what is best for the entire team.  By asking each participant to “present” their tasks to the group, we begin to get feedback and coordination of activities as the plan is developed.  For example, the finish carpenter might have a note with the task “install cabinets in patient rooms”.  If he only puts the note on the wall, other participants won’t understand the details of this work, or how it impacts them. When he “presents” the work to the group, he also says that he plans to start in room 6 and work clockwise around the floor ending at room 1. He also explains that the cabinets will come partially assembled and that his crew will be using the entire waiting room as a staging and assembly area.  This conversation with the other project participants leads to questions, clarifications, and true collaboration among the team as they decide how this work will actually get done.  Putting the note on the wall commemorates the discussion and coordination that happens in those conversations.

each task is a personal commitment; never move someone else’s note

The Last Planner System uses the power of reliable commitments to achieve reliable workflow.  In pull planning, every note placed on the wall should be seen as a commitment from that performer to completehis work in a specific way.  The ceiling installer agrees to install all the edge tiles first, the structural engineer agrees that the anchor bolt patterns will be included in the first design release package, and the owner agrees to make a decision about the generator location before the start of foundation concrete.  These commitments are essential, and must be incorporated into every part of the work.  In pull planning, each sticky note represents such a commitment.

By requiring each person to place and move his own notes, we cause the group to treat the work of others with respect and consideration.  We also get individuals to work together when there is a problem that must be worked out. Imagine the mason, window installer and waterproofer standing at the wall with sticky notes in hand.  In their conversation they determine who goes first, and how they’ll each get access to the work.  This conversation causes them to make commitments about how they will work together.  Now imagine them following their plan in the field as they share a scaffold, allow the waterproofer to complete his detailing first, and share responsibility for protecting the windows from mortar droppings.  This tricky coordination in the field becomes simple when they make the commitments in advance during pull planning.  Respecting the notes of others, just as you respect their work in the field, consistently leads to better commitments during planning.

Pull planning is a skill that must be learned and practiced by the participants and the facilitator.  If not done correctly it can be a waste of time, or even worse, a demoralizing experience which leads to resignation and lack of interest in lean techniques. These three simple rules can help you have more effective pull planning every time. Give them a try and let us know what you think!