The Last Planner System (LPS) has helped the construction community, with its focus on building assembly, make better use of manpower and resources to produce high-quality projects on time and on budget. Once having deployed it successfully, few construction professionals question the value of LPS during the act of building. Conversely, many architects and other designers have struggled to apply these principles in the design phase.

According to a survey released by the Lean Construction Institute at the 2017 Design Forum, designers prize two things most: creating great outcomes for clients/owners, and design excellence. The process of design is not linear, and many designers fear a loss of creativity if they employ a system to manage their work that is geared to “production.”

But LPS has, with a few adaptations, proven to increase the time and space for good design. As with construction, multiple disciplines in design must plan their work together; information must flow to the right people at the right time. Many decisions are made along the way, and those decisions are profound – in design, the entire structural system may be changed, the function of entire departments altered with a new floor plan, and future maintenance and operational costs substantially decreased or increased.

To properly deploy LPS in design, first start at the milestone level. Milestones in design are either design packages, pulled by construction needs, or points at which decisions must be made. Consider what decisions must be made, and in what order. Which decisions are dependent on others? With LPS, we want to make decisions at the Last Responsible Moment – when enough information is known so we can make good decisions that don’t need to be revisited, but not so late that we create risk for the project. Consider what knowledge must be gained in order to make those decisions. What is the fastest way to gain that knowledge? These decisions form the milestones that guide phase planning. In design, phases should be planned more often and with shorter time horizons than in construction, given the uncertainty inherent in design.

Design is really split into two distinct delivery phases: The early phase of concept design, including bounded exploration, massing, blocking, extreme schemes and prototyping. The latter is the production phase, where the design team implements solutions and offers implementation instructions for the builders.

In the early, creative phase, designers should resist the temptation to select one overall concept too early – using set-based design, they should develop several alternatives as they progress, shedding less successful alternatives until one remains as most optimal. Disciplines ideally work together in multi-functional teams, and major trade contractors should be included as soon as possible. Different teams focus on subsystems including the structure, mechanical, or electrical systems, the building envelope, interiors, site design, and so forth. A meeting cadence is determined, wherein teams work in break-out sessions creating several sets of alternatives on their own, interspersed by integration events where a core leadership team meets to make decisions regarding choices between design sets. The objective of the project team is to optimize the whole design. The deployment of LPS helps the team organize its efforts during this creative phase.
Once the project is ready for the design production phase, the use of LPS for work flow management becomes more linear, and similar to the construction process. Make Ready planning, where designers look into the future for decision failures that could cause delay in tasks in the production process, helps clear the way for tasks to be performed as per phase plans agreed upon by the team. Weekly work plans and daily check-ins help the team stay on track and measure progress.

Far from constraining design, lean practices, including LPS, allow for the most efficient way to explore the best solutions in the largest design space.