The Last Planner® System (LPS) is just that, a system.  It’s made up of processes and techniques that work together do one thing: create and maintain reliable workflow in projects. LPS is made up of five key parts, which are laid out nicely in this diagram.

…the real magic of an effective LPS project goes far beyond this mechanical process – it causes a transformation in the behavior of project participants…

In many ways, LPS is a mechanical process, where daily work is connected to phase plans, and phase plans are connected to the overall objectives of the project.  This mechanical process of planning, executing, and adjusting follows a PDCA cycle and allows the team to continuously improve its ability to plan and manage the work of the project.  This process by itself is usually a significant improvement over traditional project management methods.  However, the real magic of an effective LPS project goes far beyond this mechanical process – it causes a transformation in the behavior of project participants and builds a culture of teamwork at an entirely new level.


This teamwork breakthrough comes from a new set of expectations about what we owe each other as teammates.  A truly effective LPS installation is based on the concept of reliable promising and means that we must shift from managing tasks with a top-down approach to one where individual performers and managers (the Last Planners) make reliable commitments to each other about how the work will be executed.

This might seem a bit too “warm and fuzzy” for the rough and tumble world of construction, but the results are very real and can be dramatic.  When project leaders learn to facilitate project discussions and make (and ask for) real commitments, the Last Planner System can actually lead to shocking performance breakthroughs. We’ve seen this type of commitment-based LPS implementation result in dramatic improvements in safety, quality, schedule reliability and productivity; all resulting in shorter schedules with less fire drills, lower costs, less conflict and rework, and a much better work experience for everyone involved. 

If you’ve worked with me before and asked what good LPS looks like, I’ve probably told you the story of one general foreman, I’ll call him Aaron, that we worked with on a high-pressure, high-churn, mega project in Arizona.  I had just finished coaching Aaron’s team in a 10-minute daily huddle as part of a Last Planner roll out on the project.  Afterward, he stopped me to let me know about his personal satisfaction with how well the project was going.  “This stuff really works!”, he said.  I was happy to hear it, and thanked him for his encouraging words as I turned to head off to another meeting.  As I began to walk away, he stopped me again.  “No, Klaus.  I mean this is making a huge difference in our work!”  I was of course delighted to hear this, but had little time to ask for more specifics.  I agreed to find him later in the day to catch up.

I quickly made my way across the plant to a meeting with Aaron’s boss, Tom, the regional director for the largest mechanical contractor on the project.  I shared Aaron’s positive remarks with Tom, who immediately replied, “I know, it’s changed his whole view of the world.”  Tom was only partly joking.  “Do you know about Aaron?” he asked.

Tom went on to explain that only two months ago, Aaron was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  He was working crazy hours, always behind, not sleeping, feeling like he was completely out of control, and being swallowed alive by the project.  I imagine we have all experienced a bit of the construction “meat grinder” at one time or another, but Aaron was an experienced leader who had been through plenty of rough projects in the past. This project had been particularly challenging and simply pushed him to his limit.  Don’t misunderstand, Aaron was a great general foreman.  On past projects, he would simply step into superhero mode and make things happen.  He’d take on the burden of more detailed planning, catch up on paperwork after hours, doggedly chase down the issues that were holding up progress, push his guys a bit harder, relentlessly track down information from designers and owners, and help his crew stay busy even when everything seemed to be falling apart.  Not only were Aaron’s extraordinary efforts failing on this project, things actually continued to get worse.  It’s only after the team started using a commitment-based LPS that things quickly started to improve.

In a few short weeks, the Last Planner System brought some order to the chaos and allowed Aaron the breathing room to begin leading again rather than just chasing fires.  The transformation of the project was real, and Aaron wasn’t the only one on site to feel it. It was hard to put your finger on any one aspect, but as Last Planner System and new behaviors began to take effect on the project, you could feel a sense of calm and order settle over the project.  It was not quite construction nirvana, but it was a long way from the meat grinder, and Aaron’s experience was the result of a true lean project transformation.  The sense of teamwork was pervasive, and most everyone involved would agree that on this project, things were now “just getting done.” It was hard for participants to explain, but the project became a place where people just did what they said they’d do.  There were fewer surprises, and much more reliability in everything that happened. LPS and a focus on reliable commitments had begun to transform the culture of the project.

…if you’re using LPS, don’t be satisfied with just a better scheduling process.  You should be expecting a transformation…

While there are plenty of case studies and metrics about the positive impacts of the lean and the Last Planner System, my interaction with Aaron stands out for me as more powerful than any statistic.  For me, using lean principles to improve the experience of project work for so many is the ultimate measure of success.  People who live through this type of project first-hand, don’t quote metrics.  They just know this is the right way to manage project work, and they would trade this environment for the traditional project approach anytime they can.

So, if you’re using LPS, don’t be satisfied with just a better scheduling process.  You should be expecting a transformation in behaviors and outcomes.  You should be getting a higher level of collaboration than you ever thought possible on a construction project.  Making and getting reliable commitments from each other should be baked into the project culture, and you should be able to “feel” it when you walk the job.  This new paradigm of project performance is real and achievable – don’t be satisfied until you feel it for yourself.