Lean Streets of San Jose“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

– Yogi Berra

One of the more challenging practices for people in the design and construction industry new to Lean thinking is related to pull planning. Several aspects of a pull planning work session people readily embrace. Having the people directly responsible for executing work doing the planning, having a direct dialogue with others integral to the value stream, identifying and working in batches, and balancing work loads to create flow are all practices most people accept. The collaboration required for a successful session can sometimes make the planning feel like a party.

It’s understanding the benefit of planning work by pulling from a milestone versus the more conventional practice of ‘scheduling’ starting with tasks at the beginning of the work that is initially difficult for people to accept. Explanations that pull planning provides a structure that allows a conversation between work participants resulting in a flow based sequence of work aren’t easily accepted. People reason that we will have these same conversations if we plan the work from the beginning.

This reasoning assumes that as an industry we really know how to design and construct buildings, roads and other infrastructure well. While the industry is capable of designing and constructing truly wonderful buildings as an end result, the processes we use to realize these wonderful structures are archaic. That means that if we are to realize that wonderful building we need to understand the value we are creating for the customers of that building. Starting with that understanding of the value to be created we then need to reverse engineer how the new environment serving those customers gets built.

Explanations may not be enough to convince people new to pull planning they need to start with the goal and plan work toward the present state if they are going to design a flow based production system. As many people will testify it’s only after participating in several pull planning sessions that the logic became apparent to them. And that’s good, because what people learn for themselves through experience is far more useful than even the best explanations.

So if you’re skeptical and think this “backwards planning” isn’t necessary, all that is asked is that you continue with the pull planning process, testing your skepticism at the end of each session by reflecting on the conversations that resulted from the process.

For additional thoughts on pull planning see this post by Hal Macomber (https://www.leanproject.com/news/pull-planning-confusion/).