The Last Planner® system: A brief but comprehensive overview

Last Planner

As suggested by its name, the Last Planner® System is a planning process centered around collaboration involving the last planners of a project. The last planners usually include the foremen, the project manager, or the design team leaders—the people left planning a project’s greater details towards its deadline. In the UK, it is sometimes referred to as Collaborative Planning, and in the USA, it’s sometimes called Pull Planning.

Developed by the guys who later founded the Lean Construction Institute, it is a planning monitoring, and control system that follows lean construction principles. It was ultimately created to facilitate more reliable and predictable production in projects as well as to support a seamless workflow throughout a project, build collaboration and trust within a project team, and deliver safer and high-quality projects at a faster turnaround time.

LPS organises the team that will execute the work to plan the when and how through a series of conversational processes. As a team, they are required by LPS to remove obstructions as a team, and to deliver each task in a collaborative manner. These organised and methodical procedures ensure reliable workflows, and inject the importance of personal relationships and peer pressure to the entire process.

The Last Planner® key processes

Each conversation (as LPS is a conversational process) within the system has its own benefit to bring to the table. When each works properly and works together with the other processes, they reinforce each other and offer greater overall benefits. Here are the five components of LPS:

Master scheduling

Master scheduling is the process of creating and building your schedule around your entire project from start to finish. It includes identifying and planning for project milestones so you can outline the phases of your work and their overlaps.
In making the master schedule it is important to capture the full project with emphasis on the earlier phases.

The level of detail for the earlier part of the project is highly important. Master scheduling should start as soon as practically possible with the intent of refining the schedule once your project details become more apparent.

The master schedule is the starting point for all your project planning, setting the phase schedules and milestones for the entire project.

The project milestones should be identified early on so all other work can be based off your master schedule. In the early stage of conceptualising and designing, it’s your construction manager, your client and  your architect that take the lead. Upon the onboarding of your general contractor, they take over.

Phase scheduling

Phase scheduling is the collaborative programming of creating and defining all the tasks and their sequences to complete the phases of work planned out in your master schedule. A technique called pull planning is often applied—working backwards from an established milestone to identify task details needed to achieve the milestone and the related conditions that overlap between tasks and phases.

Usually, phase scheduling is used six to twelve weeks ahead of a deadline and depends on lead times needed to eliminate constraints. With phase scheduling, better plans are produced because people involved in the actual work are the ones making the plans. It develops a better sense of ownership for the plans and the work which improves responsibility, accountability, and reliability.

Look-ahead planning

This process looks at constraints or obstructions that prevent upcoming and future works from being performed and completed as planned. The goal is to knock them out before they cause you any kind of problem.

Look-ahead planning is done regularly each week. Ideally, work planned should be reviewed four to six weeks prior so you can take care of potential obstacles.

In other news: The QHSE manager’s guide to coaching their employees.

Commitment planning

Commitment planning should also happen regularly so your teams can meet and discuss current and upcoming work and can commit to getting things done as scheduled. Best practice is comparable to successful Sprint practices. Teams meet once a week to plan out work and make commitment and meet daily for a brief reinforcement that everyone is on track.

Learning

Learning is a critical process in how teams identify causes of failures in plans and planning. A good practice involves teams doing a regular inventory of what went well and what didn’t in the previous week’s plan. This is in order to prevent issues or plan around the issues for the rest of the project.

The Last Planner® principles

As enumerated by the Designing Buildings wiki page, here are the Last Planner principles:

  • All plans are forecasts; all forecasts are wrong.
  • The longer the forecast, the more wrong it gets.
  • The more detailed the forecast, the wronger it is (first formulated by Ballard ca. 1991).

The implication of these principles are that it is important to (Ballard et al 2009):

  • Plan in greater detail as you get closer to doing the work.
  • Produce plans collaboratively with those who will do the work.
  • Reveal and remove constraints on planned tasks as a team.
  • Make and secure reliable promises.
  • Learn from breakdowns.

In addition, it is important to:

  • Measure promises kept (see above) and improve by learning from early, late or incomplete deliveries and workflow disruptions.
  • Improve workflow as a team based on what has been learned.

Integrate the Last Planner® with your construction management

Obviously, the Last Planner® System is designed to improve your projects. Integrating the LPS principles with your current construction management system would even double that improvement. A great construction software should be able to integrate the Last Planner® System and support the key processes in a project.

Further reading: Applying construction technology solutions for a safer worksite.

To learn more about the Last Planner® System and how to integrate it into your construction software, get in touch with us. We can definitely help you with that. We actually have an ebook that discusses how you can standardise your processes so you can welcome more lean construction methodologies into your construction process. The ebook is free to download today.

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