last-planner-systemPull Planning is a great tool.  When used correctly, it allows a team to collaboratively build a plan for execution that is best for the project and best for each of the stakeholders.  This is not a trade-off or compromise. It is a newly-invented solution that accommodates everyone’s goals while meeting the needs of the project.  I’ve been part of many pull planning sessions where we invent an approach that no one anticipated – leveling the workload to minimize manpower spikes, re-sequencing work to deal with material delivery schedules, changing design details to accommodate a better construction approach, and often rearranging the work to make it safer, faster, higher quality, and lower cost.  Good pull planning is not a validation of an already existing schedule – it’s a way to build it from scratch.

I’m not here to critique the way some organizations use pull planning – I’ll save that for another post.  The broader question is about what happens to the plan once it’s developed.  If you think pull planning is lean, you are missing so much of the potential.  Instead, think of pull planning as just one component of a Lean Project Operating System, a group of lean tools used within a lean culture to plan and manage our work.  Other parts of the Last Planner System® put the plan into action.  Make-Ready planning removes roadblocks in advance of the work to allow for smooth workflow.  Weekly Work Planning allows the team to coordinate the details of the work in the very  near term so that workers can be safe, efficient, and have a better work experience (yes, this is really important). Daily huddles allow for daily adjustments of the plan and provide feedback about how well the process is working.  Add in the tracking of PPC (Percent Planned Complete), and you close the loop of the P-D-C-A cycle.  The Last Planner System(R) is a process not only to get the work done, but to also make the process better every day, a powerful engine for continuous improvement.

The rest of a Lean Project Operating System reaches way beyond Pull Planning and Last Planner System.  It’s about the connection of the work to the owner, valuing the contribution of all participants, and never being satisfied with the status quo.  When you’re working in this environment, something amazing happens – things change!

The changes can be simple or dramatic: the plumber who has never been asked for his opinion is now developing a better way to do his job and sharing the ideas with the whole team; the designer who is posting his progress on the wall for everyone to see, and getting constant valuable feedback; the superintendent who elevates a foreman by asking him to facilitate the daily huddle; the executive who walks the jobsite to understand the real needs of the workers; the project team who co-locates in a big room and shares all project information publicly; the owner who abandons traditional contracting approaches in favor of an integrated approach.

All these changes move us from a traditional approach for design and construction toward the ideal of a Lean Project Operating System.  The changes at every level are powerful – they are  the result of a culture shift, and at the same time, a driver for even more change. They are very personal yet impact an entire organization – maybe even an entire industry.

I’m often asked if a Lean Transformation is about the tools first, followed by a culture shift, or if a lean culture has to be in place before the tools can be effective.  My perspective on this chicken-or-egg issue is goes something like this.  Every good lean tool can have some effectiveness in any culture.  A culture that is open to change and wants to learn will make the tools most effective.  Good tools can build a culture and the right culture unleashes good tools.

So how does this philosophy help create a Lean Project Operating System?  It’s actually more than a philosophy, it’s a call to action.  It means there is no reason not to experiment with a new tool.  Try a 5S exercise on your office.  Try putting an improvement idea into action using an A3.  Take a waste walk through a jobsite.  Ask someone with a toolbelt what she thinks about the way work gets done here.  Make a commitment to be an agent for cultural change.  Your actions, however simple, will be an example for others in the organization and will move the cultural needle toward more openness, more experimentation, more continuous improvement.  Don’t wait, do it now!