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Explaining the Last Planner System

Thursday, January 10, 2019

By: Gavin Scroggin & Sean Sample

Project Engineers Gavin Scroggin and Sean Sample attended a Last Planner System® (LPS) workshop through Master Builders of Iowa. They then shared their new skills with the entire project management team during a recent weekly training session. Gavin and Sean explain the benefits of the LPS here as well.

The Last Planner System (developed by the Lean Construction Institute) is a collaborative planning system that utilizes trade foreman and superintendents to create the schedule as they are the people closest to the work. The foremen are able to visualize where their respective trade is planned to be and when they are planned to be there. This helps to prevent overlap and “trade stacking”. 

Mapping out the process

Above: The Last Planner System creates a collaborative environment that engages the entire team.

This system can be used at any stage of a project and is especially helpful as a project ramps up and the team goes into “crunch mode”. The whole process starts with a milestone planning session. Depending on the contract and where you are in the project, this meeting could include owners, the design team and prime contractors. Hard bid jobs will always include all the major subcontractors. As a group, you set the important milestones and decide on an anchor date – such as substantial completion. You then give all the other milestones a date and begin the process of phase pull planning. 

Sticky notes for each contractor

Above: Pull planning allows the team to visually see the tasks to be completed.

Phase pull planning happens when the foremen, project managers/engineers, and superintendents discuss the 8-12 week timeline between milestones. During phase pull planning you create a very detailed 3-4 week look-ahead plan and from there, weekly work plans. Each contractor is assigned a specific colored sticky note where they will note their construction tasks and when they will accomplish those tasks within their weekly work plans. The visual representation of responsibility holds each contractor accountable for their part in the schedule and gives everyone an opportunity to have input. If a contractor does not make a deadline, the sticky notes remain in place. The deviations in the schedule and those responsible are easily tracked via a deviation report. These are not to be seen as a scorecard, rather an opportunity to improve overall team planning. 

Note the important milestones and work backwards

Above: One team lays out their schedule using the Last Planner System.

Using this system streamlines the flow of information from the office to the field and forces collaboration. By having all the important parties in one space, owning their role, we can plan each project better. It requires everyone to think about what needs to come first for the project, not just for each contractor. 

White boards and walls are often used as they have the most space

Above: Practice makes perfect and windows make good layout spaces.

After taking the class we began using the LPS on the Stivers Collision Center project. This project had a very tight schedule and having the project team get together and walkthrough the schedule two weeks at a time was very beneficial to helping us find gaps in information, products and resources before the contractor was ready to begin the work. 

Project team used the LPS on Stivers

Above: Subcontractors met with the project management team and used pull planning on the Stivers project.

Once we’d successfully implemented the Last Planner System on one project we taught the entire team how it works. During a weekly project managers meeting we broke everyone into three teams of four and gave them a mock project to complete. Each team had to develop milestones for the project such as: finish foundations, finish drywall, etc. and they had to work back, or pull back, from the finish date that we gave them. They added in the various activities required for the project – exterior framing, window installation, insulation; and the contractors that would be needed for each one and when. We believed the hands-on practice made it easier for them to understand the process and will hopefully help them implement this system as they move forward with their current and future projects. 

Construction projects require communication between all parties, especially between those in the field completing each task and the project management and design team who are organizing and laying out the schedule. Ensuring all parties have the necessary information to keep the project moving forward can be a challenge. The Last Planner System promotes conversations between field staff and project management staff which helps eliminate issues and increases work flow by encouraging participation and communication through the whole team. The LPS also gives the whole team the opportunity to “buy-in” to the project making it personal for each member and not just another job to be completed.