Pull planning in construction – 101 guide

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Pull planning in construction – the ultimate guide

Pull planning is becoming more popular in construction management. In short, it’s a method to work with construction projects in reverse order. And with the much higher involvement of your team.

Imagine rows of dominoes set up in strategic lines. Each domino standing by itself but part of a bigger picture at the same time. The domino at the end of the creation can’t fall until each one before it falls. This is exactly what happens with pull planning, which is one of the overall best construction management methods.

Learn more: Quick guide to Lean practices for construction professionals

Pull planning is starting to substitute many of the scheduling techniques. Let’s take a look at exactly what pull planning is and why you should be implementing it in your process.

pull planning in construction

The rules of construction are often quite different from the rules at other jobs because much of the work that is done is dependent on another job being finished first.  That is where the pull planning technique comes into play. This method is extremely effective in ensuring that everything gets completed on schedule.

What is pull planning?

Effective pull planning begins with an experienced person leading the charge. It is a collaborative team approach involving those who are directly responsible for the completion of a project. This team of stakeholders starts with the end goal of the project and works backwards milestone by milestone. In doing this, a clear plan is laid out and the well-defined workflow of the pull planning is developed.

Pull planning in construction is a planning process in reverse order, with a high degree of collaboration.

Pull planning differs from traditional models by focusing on the end goal rather than starting from the beginning. It also utilises a collaborative team effort versus direction just based on one person (usually the general contractor or superintendent) using his or her best knowledge.

This workflow is visually outlined by the use of a handwritten project outline and colour-coded sticky notes. Each note represents a different necessary part of the project: “Installing the kitchen island” for example.  Make sure you have a large space to work on and lay out the timeline of the project with plenty of room to add and change it initially. Using colour-coded sticky notes is the easiest way for all team members to add their feedback (and update the expected duration) and additional resources needed to complete the task. This will visually allow the discovery of ways to get the job done faster and more resourcefully.

Read also: Punch list for construction – an exhaustive guide

You also want to draw out the timeline in weeks or a defined period, and ensure all major milestones and activities are in sequence. With a clear workflow laid out, you and your team know what has to be completed before the kitchen island could be installed. In one glance at the timeline and notes, every person involved in the project can easily determine the current stage and urgency of each task in the project.

Utilising everyone in a collaborative environment allows for everyone’s expertise to blend together and make it possible to identify potential problems ahead of time. This saves both money and time in your project and reduces waste and redundancy.

The tradesmen for each part of the project are not the only ones you should bring into the “brain trust” for your pull planning. This process requires several key individuals to be an effective process. The following participants should always be involved in the planning and feedback:

  • General foreman
  • Superintendent
  • Design lead
  • Representative of the owner
  • Trade lead from each trade involved
  • Scheduler
  • Project Manager
  • Lead safety officer
  • Quality Assurance supervisor

Bringing all of these people will ensure that your team is on the same page and working together towards one common goal. It is important to keep in mind that you should add only the crew leads, otherwise it will be more difficult for you to gain buy-in.

Pull planning uses a straight forward format including three core rules that assist in the process immensely. The three rules that are consistently used in this method revolve around the words “Pull,” “Collaborate,” and “Commit”.  Together, they create the system know as pull planning and will allow you to consistently be on schedule with all of your future projects.

Pull planning best practices

Although traditionally done with colour coded sticky notes, more and more construction software tools are coming out to manage pull planning in a digital manner. Other than the visualisation that the sticky notes provide, there is more to pull scheduling in construction and their success depends on how the planning process is carried out.

Here we give you the pull planning best practices, simplified:

  1. Rally your team around and get everyone on board. Involve all important team leads and players with the goal that each one of them should contribute relevant data and milestones towards the completion of your project.
  2. Set your milestones and follow them. Establish milestones that are critical to completing project phases that would ensure uninterrupted delivery of your project. Once they are in place, you can now plan out your phases and their workflows including tasks and activities geared towards the achievement of those milestones.
  3. Schedule your activities. After determining your phase plans, fix all your set activities into your calendar.
  4. Arrange durations. Set the duration of each of your planned activities.
  5. Make your weekly plans. From your phase planning, determine how you can itemise your activities and tasks into weekly work plans.
  6. Schedule daily meetings. Having daily meetings before each working day allows the foreman to scrutinise all activities to keep tasks right on course.
  7. Organise weekly meetings. Weekly meetings give the foreman the chance to review weekly work plans and make adjustments when needed.
  8. Update the plan. Updating the plan according to daily and weekly meeting results allows you to have a basis for adjusting the overall project schedule.

3 rules for pull planning in construction

Let’s take a look at these three rules:

1. Pull

This is the first rule of pull planning and is absolutely crucial. It consists of completing the work that is needed by the customer. However, the customer in this scenario is going to be the drywaller, the painter, the electrician, the plumber, or any other subcontractor that has a job to do at the construction site: What should be completed before the framers can start? Or the electrician? Etc.

Essentially, you will be working backwards from the end of the project and determining what order everything will be completed in.  This will allow the work to be completed at the correct time, instead of weeks too early which then puts the subcontractor in the way of others. Or too late, which will put the entire project in jeopardy of being behind.

pull planning in construction
A key part of the initial pull is determining the most effective team leads from each part of the project. You need to ensure you have a gathered a group of people who will collaborate and work together and provide their input and status updates along the way.

It takes skill and knowledge to know who to pull when. This is why an experienced General Contractor is often in charge of this technique to ensure it is done properly.  An excellent example of the Pull Planning technique is having an electrician and plumber do their rough-ins before the drywaller begins to sand and finish their work.  Of course, the drywaller needs to complete their work before the painter can begin theirs, and it just continues on from there.

Pull planning can seem quite awkward and unusual at first, especially if there is some free time where another subcontractor can be working on their part of the job. But if you follow this rule, you will find that everything goes much more smoothly and the result is just what you want.

2. Collaboration

The second rule is collaborating. Pull planning requires the most amount of collaboration out of any construction method with everyone working together as a team so that each project agent understands what needs to be accomplished. Since everyone will be able to add their input at any time, the entire group will have an understanding of what steps need to be taken next.

Collaborating, in regard to pull planning in construction, revolves around the pull planning schedule that is developed at the start of the project. But it is very important to make sure any notes added are as detailed and descriptive as possible. While everyone in the room can place their notes into the pull planning schedule, not everyone will understand what the note means if you are not descriptive and detailed.  For example, a note with “Install cabinets” could mean many different things.  However, when the cabinet installer tells the group exactly which cabinets are being installed when, they will quickly learn whether or not the cabinets are being installed in the kitchen, bathroom, basement, or another room.

This will allow everyone to know which areas are off-limits to other workers for the duration of the cabinet installation so that no one else is trying to do a different job and getting in the way.  The group can then also let the cabinet person know if they need to delay the installation process for a day or two due to work that is still being completed in that area. This will ensure your project is running like a well-oiled machine and subcontractors are not trying to work in each other’s way.

It is also very important to continue the collaboration on a regular basis. The pull planning schedule should be updated by the lead (usually the general foreman) on a weekly basis at a minimum and revisit the plan every other week together as a whole. This will ensure everyone is on the same page with the schedule and any delays that have happened, etc.

3. Commitment

The third rule in pull planning is commitment and it is the most important rule of the three.  This rule ensures that no one ever moves another person’s note, thinking that it is less important than the one that they want to do first. Everyone must agree not to alter or modify another person’s sticky notes.

Obviously, everyone is going to want to get their work finished first, but that will never happen in construction.  Instead, everyone needs to follow the guidelines that are in place so that no work should have to be redone as the project progresses. Each person involved in the project makes a commitment to flow with the pull planning schedule and do their specific part of the project at the right time.

pull planning in construction

Moving notes is also another way that can and will significantly delay the timeline of the project.  Instead, everyone will find that working together, moving their own notes, and discussing which job needs to be completed before the rest and why is a much better option that will improve the progress of the entire project.

Why you should implement pull planning

Pull planning is one of, if not, the most efficient and successful project management method in the construction industry today. Studies have also shown utilising pull planning significantly increases workers’ safety and project quality when the right stakeholders are engaged and openly collaborating.

This method minimises the need for work to be done twice because of mistakes, minimises overall risk, and also brings cost down by not having crews standing by waiting for their task to begin.

One of the best things about pull planning is you don’t have to wait for your current project to be finished to start implementing this into your business. The process can be started at any time during the project execution. But with pull planning, the sooner it is implemented the better.

How pull planning software can help

Having a pull planning software while on site allows you to digitalise your manual sticky notes and have them anytime on your mobile gadget. Improve your productivity on the field and keep your project right on track as you cut down on waste. Most importantly, a reliable pull planning software can:

  1. Improve collaboration. A pull planning software allows you to work on the schedule method while improving communication within the app and encouraging your entire team to work together.
  2. Make team communication transparent. Real-time pull planning software allows your teams to communicate openly, while each team member knows their role and where they stand. Like that they are fully aware of what they should focus on in order to resolve problems quickly.
  3. Optimise work and processes. By putting lean pull planning right on everyone’s fingertips, team members reduce their mistakes and optimise their work.
  4. Make you even more efficient. Everyone on your team has a clear idea of the milestones and the steps needed to achieve them. A thorough understanding of their individual responsibilities in combination with an open data ecosystem helps in streamlining your workflows and ensuring that your project stays on track without a hitch.


Pull planning is one of the most effective ways to ensure your construction project will flow smoothly and finish on schedule. The core principles that this method revolves around is leadership and communication.

Not everyone is a fan of pull planning the first couple of times that they use it. Especially, if they do not do it the correct way.  However, if you use these three rules, you will find that pull planning is worth the time that you put into it, particularly, if you are able to consistently finalise your projects on time or even early on occasion.

If you have never used pull planning for your projects, we encourage you to talk to others in the industry to see if they can share their experiences and knowledge with you.  You will find that it is easier to incorporate into your current and future projects than you think. The results will definitely make you wonder why you waited so long.

The ultimate goal of pull planning is to promote a team environment where it is “we” instead of “me”. Doing this will create a well-oiled machine of a team that communicates effectively and can work together to identify and solve potential problems. As any problem comes up, it can be planned for and avoided in the future. This means each project will continue to become more and more efficient.

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