Stop Pull Planning and Start Using the Last Planner® System

We’re often asked to help projects and companies that are struggling to get tangible results from the Last Planner System (LPS). In these situations, we always start with a visit to the site to see what’s actually happening. Once there, we ask the project leaders to show us what they are doing with LPS. I can’t tell you how often their explanation of LPS is limited to pull planning and a wall full of sticky notes.

The enthusiasm for pull planning is easy to understand. It’s a great process for bringing together a team of individuals and creating a unified plan of action for a phase of the project. Pull planning can build a common understanding of the work, create a sense of connectedness between tasks, uncover hidden problems in advance, and help the team start to think and act like a team. There is a lot that goes into facilitating an effective pull planning session, and it’s a beautiful thing when done well.

However, pull planning by itself is not the Last Planner System. LPS is not only a tool for planning, but also a process for executing the plan while constantly improving the team’s ability to do both. When only part of LPS is used, the results are often lackluster. Even worse, these projects tend to go through the motions with little expectation that anything will actually improve. When we ask the question, “What do you expect LPS to do for this project?” we often get a blank stare. If you are not expecting LPS to dramatically improve project outcomes, we say don’t bother. Projects with low expectations almost always meet them.

When we agree to help with LPS, we focus on getting the team to adopt new behaviors and expectations around all the elements of Last Planner System:

  • A Master Plan which provides milestone targets for each phase of the project and ensures the broad project objectives will be met
  • Phase Planning to create a teamwide approach to achieving the work of each phase
  • Make-Ready Planning in which everyone identifies potential problems in advance, and makes commitments to resolve them before work is impacted
  • Weekly Work Plans created by the team as their detailed commitment to how they will work together next week
  • Daily Huddles where foremen compare progress each day against the Weekly Work Plan, make fine-tune adjustments, and identify the reason for variances
  • Learning and Continuous Improvement which includes open and honest discussion about where the plan is failing, and a team approach to making it better each day

When all elements of Last Planner System are adopted as a cohesive process for planning and executing the work of the project, something amazing begins to happen. As workflow improves, individuals start to see how they can help themselves by helping the team. As behaviors shift and trust increases between team members, they find a new sense of possibility for achieving great results on the project. They gain confidence in their ability to impact the future and look for new ways to make improvements. In this way, LPS can be the beginning of a lean culture shift on the project, and in the organizations that are part of it.

So, take a closer look at what you are doing with LPS and what it is doing for you. Are there elements missing? If so, recommit to using the entire Last Planner System. You might be surprised by what you can achieve on your projects.

Last Planner® is a registered trademark of the Lean Construction Institute