With a little bit of structure, you can make sure you are getting the most out of your weekly construction progress meetings...
An Overview of The Last Planner System
What is the last planner system?
The last planner system, is an alternative approach to planning used by projects practising lean construction management. The system was developed by Glen Ballard and Greg Howell (founders of The Lean Management Institute) and strives to improve site communication and reduce potential delays by having delivery teams plan the work they are involved in.
The idea is that teams responsible for delivering work begin contributing towards the plan, as the start date for their section of work approaches.
In theory, this helps improve collaboration and utilises the knowledge of the people delivering the work. With that extra knowledge and experience, you can better identify potential issues and delays.
It's quite a stringent process that often involves bringing a consultant onto the project to help ensure the system is managed correctly. As a result, the system tends to divide opinions, and people involved either love it or hate it.
The good news is even if you're not a fan of the last planner system or lean construction management, you can still utilise your preferred parts of the process on non-lean projects.
The last planner system vs pull planning
There's often some confusion around the difference between the last planner system and pull planning; the two terms get mixed up and used interchangeably. But there is a distinct difference in that pull planning is just one part of the last planner system.
You see, the last planner system itself is an approach to planning that includes several steps. One of those steps is 'phase planning' (covered in more detail below), and a popular way of approaching phase planning within the last planner system is with the 'pull planning' method.
There are a lot of systems and planning methods involved here, so for clarity:
Lean construction management
- An umbrella term for a planning methodology that can be approached in several ways.
The last planner system
- A popular way of approaching lean construction management.
- One of the core steps involved in the last planner system.
- An approach to phase planning.
The pull planning method focuses on phases in reverse order, working back from key milestones.
The intention with this apprach, is to identify any potential issues that could prevent activities from sucessful completion. Following these activites back in reverse order will help deliver a focused and minimilistic programme.
The last planner process
The last planner process can be mapped out in different ways, depending on the institute or consultancy aiding the project. But the core principles of the process can generally be broken down into the following six phases.
1) The master schedule
As with the traditional planning methods, the last planner system starts with a master schedule. Initial plans are usually put together by the owner, architect, and contractor, and these plans provide a high-level, forecasted view of start, end, and milestone dates.
2) Phase planning
Here's where the last planner system starts to differ from traditional planning.
With each of the Milestones in place, the next step is to break things down into actionable phases. But one of the most significant differences with the last planner system, is that these phases are planned by the people involved with delivering the work.
The theory behind this approach is that the people delivering the project will have a better idea of time frames and potential obstacles. On a project using the last planner system, this is usually done using pull planning, a method where you plan in reverse from the milestone to try and identify constraints. ensure timings line up.
3) Lookahead planning
A lookahead plan is a hyper-focused view of your project over the next few weeks of activity. The exact period covered will vary from project to project, with some teams looking at 3-week lookaheads and others 12.
However long your lookahead plan is, the principle is the same. Your lookahead is a continually moving, detailed view of your project, tasks and activity over the coming weeks.
When planning a project using the last planner system, it's standard practice to review your lookahead plan at least once a week. This is done in a dedicated meeting where teams can discuss potential issues and causes for possible delays.
It's important to note that lookahead planning is not exclusive to the last planner system, but it does make up a fundamental part of the approach.
Commitments are crucial to the way the last planner system works. At the start of each week, team members commit to completing specific tasks or shifts. These are usually written on sticky notes on a whiteboard that is then reviewed during daily meetings.
Once those commitments have been made, it becomes a matter of pride for teams to deliver on them. And if there are any issues or they fail to deliver, they'll have to explain why tasks were unsuccessful during one of their next meetings.
The other key thing about having team members make commitments is that it gives you a way of tracking progress, performance, and results from one week to the next.
5) Performance tracking
To stay on top of things, you need to track your team's performance and productivity. Most projects using the last planner system do this by having daily meetings and tracking Percent Plan Complete (PPC).
PPC is a simple metric, calculated by taking the total number of shifts you committed to at the start of the week and dividing them by the number of shifts you actually completed at the end of the week. This will then give you a percentage which can be used to score your team's productivity.
These daily meetings are also an excellent opportunity to flag issues and spot repeat problems, so that you can avoid potential delays in the future.
6) Continuous improvements
Methods like the last planner system and lean construction are not about quick fixes or tick-box exercises. Instead, they focus on steady growth and improved performance over time.
As a team, you should constantly be looking to measure results and look for opportunities to improve.
The last planner system is a popular way of approaching lean construction management that focuses on having delivery teams own their plans, and build those plans using pull planning.
Even if you're not explicitly using lean construction management or the last planner system on your project, you may benefit from some of the frameworks and tools those systems propose. For example, you may wish to consider using pull planning or PPC to improve communication and track performance.