Six-Week Look-Aheads and Six Feet Apart: How We Kept Our Lean Construction Schedule During the Pandemic
The pandemic has made our jobs more challenging; we have new constraints and obstacles to overcome on top of everything else that’s already difficult about construction. For example, my firm has worked hard to incorporate and repeatedly modify a variety of new daily protocols to better ensure our workers are safe—while still performing all the routine work involved with meeting our construction schedules.
I recently completed a 12-week-long renovation/refresh of a behavioral unit at a local hospital, involving an upgrade of 12 patient rooms and two rooms in the emergency department. Behavioral health projects require specialty, non-standard anti-ligature hardware (doorknobs, shower knobs, cabinet pulls, louvers, vents, etc.), which means the timely procurement of all materials is uniquely difficult—and, as you know, lead time issues can completely derail your project. I used The Last Planner System™ (LPS) to help my team create and navigate our compressed Lean construction schedule, and COVID-19 really put us to the test. Here’s how we were able to keep our schedule—and keep our people safe—with LPS and through the challenges raised by new social distancing requirements.
Pull Planning via Social Distancing
We started The Last Planner System™ before our first Pull Plan meeting, and the trade partners ordered the materials with long lead times before we initiated demo. The next step was to do the Pull Plan with all the project managers and foremen from the various trades—but now, with COVID-19 we had to look at doing it differently. We used the guidelines provided in another Lean Builder blog post, “Lean Pull Planning & the COVID 19 Pandemic,” to help. Our team met in a large room and kept the attendance down to under 10 people. We also kept everyone six feet apart, and only allowed one person at a time to be up at the board. Despite all the new guidelines by the CDC, the Pull Plan went off without a hitch and were geared up to start our project.
Look-Ahead Lean Construction Schedule
Everything started off great; foremen with the trades were attending our daily huddles, and their project managers were engaging on our six-week look-aheads every week. I started to think: This is too good to be true; things never go this smoothly.
And…I was right. I love to be right, but this time I wish I were wrong. Enter: global pandemic. Now our materials were delayed, and our work productivity took a huge hit.
The six-week look-aheads became crucial to our success. I would send the six-week schedules to the trade partners every Friday afternoon as a reminder of where we stood, and I highlighted critical path items or long procurement items, which made it easier for them to identify. In the field, I would post these six-week schedules on my Lean Dashboards. This also held the trade partners accountable when it came to on-time material deliveries.
Weekly Work Planning Via Daily Huddles
Our daily huddles were the key factor to hitting our milestones set during the Pull Plan—but when COVID-19 arrived, we had to adjust. Over the course of a week, we had tried just about every variation of a daily huddle you could think of. We went from having them on the jobsite with everyone in attendance, to having them outside with everyone six feet apart, to having two daily huddles. For a couple of days, I was even holding the huddles individually with the trades, to keep the number of people in one place to a minimum. (I don’t recommend this, as it did not work effectively for any of us.)
We finally settled on reducing the number of attendees to just the foremen and me, and this was especially effective because it allowed us to keep the huddles at the Dashboard. Once the daily huddle was figured out, we were able to get back on track and finish our project on time.
When COVID-19 hit, it changed everything, and it changed everything fast. In the early days, our Safety Director was sending updated revisions to our safety protocols a few times each day. He did a fantastic job keeping all of us “essential workers” safe during a time of confusion and uncertainty. But in the field, we already knew one thing we needed to do to get through: The Last Planner System™.
The Last Planner System™ works. It makes life easier for everyone—superintendents, and trade partners. Knowing we can get our project to the finish line on time, even in a global pandemic, makes me feel like we can handle anything life throws at us. Bring on the zombies; we’re ready.
By Thomas Hardy
Project Superintendent for Skiles Group
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