Last Planner System

3 Ways to Pull Plan during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lean Pull Planning & the Covid-19 Pandemic

As an operations leader, worker safety is something I feel deeply passionate about, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created many related challenges for us in the construction industry and Lean Pull Planning is just one of those challenges. The list below contains just a few of the new practices and protocols our industry has quickly adopted to keep our people safe and healthy on the jobsite:

  • Practicing social distancing with workers maintaining six feet of separation, staggering shifts, etc.
  • Conducting meetings in small groups, and outdoors, if possible
  • Wearing face masks
  • Staggering breaks and lunches to limit the size of any group to ten people or less
  • Minimizing ridesharing or shuttling of employees to the jobsite

CDC Guidelines and Lean Construction

The challenging thing about these protocols is that, while they keep us safe, they can have a negative impact on the Lean culture on a jobsite. So many Lean methodologies center around bringing people together, breaking down barriers, and building relationships; this can be difficult in a time where we need to focus on distancing ourselves.

We know it can be tempting to abandon Lean on our projects right now, but please keep in mind these are exactly the kinds of events that Lean is built for. Our responsibilities have increased, as well as our constraints. Planning our work through pull planning is probably more critical than it has ever been.

Below are three suggestions we have—and if you are doing something that is working well, please add to the conversation.

A Traditional Pull Plan Session, with Social Distancing Protocol

For some project teams, staying with the traditional method of pull planning but taking precautions to make sure that last planners stay safe has been the most obvious way to transition. Here’s how this works:

  1. A large space to meet has been selected and seating arrangements allow for workers to be 6 feet from each other.
  2. If the pull requires more then 10 last planners/superintendents, then the pull is broken into separate sessions with cluster groups to focus on specific scopes or areas.
  3. Last planners’ temperatures are taken before they come into the meeting space.
  4. Materials are BYOB – pens, and stickies are either brand new or brought in individually to ensure multiple people are not touching the supplies.
  5. All last planners are wearing masks to minimize spread.
  6. Only one last planner at a time can place their cards on the wall/board.

Advantages:

  • It’s traditional: meaning planning, collaboration, and commitments are being done in the space, in person.
  • Low cost: no special technology is needed. Just stickies, pens, and last planners.
  • No learning curve: If the teams are already used to pull planning, no extra instruction is necessary.

Disadvantages:

  • Potential exposure: by meeting as a group, there is still potential exposure to illness.
  • Need larger meeting space: the jobsite trailer may not be sufficient, so it will be important to find a space large enough for people to keep distance.
  • More front end/back end work needed: a lot more intentionality will be required, both before and after the session. Things to consider on the front end include:
    • Exact date, time, and purpose of the pull plan,
    • Expectations around who should attend (to minimize attendees),
    • Early correspondence around work phasing and flow, and
    • Desired level of detail that should be described for each activity.

Digital Pull Planning Technology

If there has ever been a time to switch from stickies to a digital pull system, now may be the time. Many in our industry (including us) have previously felt that, by pulling digitally, there is a loss of interactivity with trade partners; however, we have now seen that, through Zoom meetings and other platforms, we are still staying as connected as we have ever been. A few platforms you can try are Touchplan, QLean and Oracle.

Advantages:

  • Less exposure: by going digital you do not need to worry about safety risks by gathering last planners to meet.
  • Easier to read: a frequent complaint is that it can be difficult to read the handwriting on the pull cards when the session is complete; going digital alleviates that.
  • Attend from anywhere: being physically present in the space is no longer a requirement, and pulling digitally can be very convenient for projects &/or facilitators and participants who are out of town.
  • Transparency: going digital gives access and transparency to the last planners since they can review cards and predecessors in real time.
  • Digital is Leaner- not only is there less setup and take down time, the most inefficient part of pull planning is after the pull plan, when a team member has to copy all the information from the plan and distribute it. This is rework and can be cumbersome. With digital pull planning, the software-created schedule is finished immediately and can quickly be distributed to all trade partners.

Disadvantages:

  • Cost: pull planning technology will cost more than stickies and markers. This may be an issue for many General Contractors who have smaller projects.
  • Harder to scale across all projects: on large projects with a lot of resources, digital pull plans seem like a no brainer. But on smaller projects, where it’s just a superintendent with limited office staff, it will be difficult to use this type of pull planning across the board.
  • Technology skills are required: while this may not be an issue for some, some smaller companies may be slower to adapt to technology which may present challenges for those last planners.
  • Distractions: during a normal pull plan session, it is easier to limit distractions (i.e. phones, laptops, etc.) This is more challenging digitally, as last planners are not there in person and can easily check in and out.

A Traditional Pull Plan Session Via Video Conferencing
If you are unable or unwilling to make an investment in pull planning technology and cannot host a traditional pull plan session while following social distancing protocols, a third option is to run a traditional pull plan session virtually, using video conferencing tools. Here’s how that can work:

  1. The facilitator sends out instructions to the last planners to ensure everyone understands the milestone the team will be pulling from.
  2. The last planners fill out template cards that clearly identify the activities, durations, and handoffs for their work, and send those back to the facilitator prior to the session.
  3. The facilitator reviews the card templates to ensure the cards are filled out properly with adequate information. The cards will then be printed and cut for the pull plan.
  4. The room will need to be set up with a web cam and good audio so that participants can see and hear. The facilitator will place all cards on the board and “pull back” for the last planners. The last planners will be on the video conference, ensuring that workflow is as intended and making commitments with each other between handoffs.
  5. The facilitator will capture all the information at the end of the pull session and send out to the last planners for review.

Advantages:

  • Smaller learning curve: needing to learn a new technology is not needed. Besides the video conferencing, this method is still stickies and markers
  • Low cost: this is an inexpensive alternative to the digital pull planning technology.
  • Familiar: if the teams are already used to pull planning, no extra instruction is necessary.
  • Easier to scale: this solution is easier to scale across all project sizes, since an investment in new pull plan technology and training is not required.

Disadvantages:

  • Prework: there will be a lot of prework involved to ensure that the trades’ cards are filled out properly and turned in timely to be ready for the pull.
  • Audio/Video requirements: the audio and video in the room must be set up and work perfectly for this to be successful. If the last planners have trouble hearing or seeing, it will affect the quality of the pull plan session.
  • Strong facilitation: a strong facilitator is needed to keep engagement throughout the process.
  • Distractions: during a normal pull plan session, it is easier to limit distractions (i.e. phones, laptops, etc.) This is more challenging digitally, as last planners are not there in person and can easily check in and out.

Lean culture relies on sharing lessons learned and offering help to others on their journey. We would love to hear what is working well for you on your projects, so please share any pull plan-related tips or ideas in the comments.

By: Keyan Zandy, COO
Skiles Group

For more from Keyan, see The Lean Builder – A Builder’s Guide to Applying Lean Tools in the Field or Connect with Keyan on LinkedIn.

Keyan Zandy, Skiles Group Keyan Zandy is a longtime Lean practitioner, enthusiast, and advocate. As Skiles Group’s COO, he has a dual focus on client service and on nurturing a progressive company culture. He is ultimately responsible for the oversight of the firm’s daily operations and ensuring that their Lean processes are continuously improved and consistently practiced. He is the co-author of The Lean Builder: A Builder’s Guide to Applying Lean Tools in the Field, which simplifies and clearly articulates the benefits of seven primary Lean concepts, and delivers them in a highly-relatable, immediately-applicable, and field-friendly manner. Keyan also serves as CEO for Smart Safety, an award-winning crisis management communication and emergency response tool.

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