Pull Planning Construction – 5 pull planning best practices as explained by Lean Construction expert Keyan Zandy, co-author of The Lean Builder – A Builder’s Guide to Applying Lean Tools in the Field.
Why your pull plan sucked and 5 tips so your next one won’t
I’ve had plenty of bad pull plan experiences over the years—ones where we forgot to invite critical trades, or where the sticky notes kept falling off the walls. Some that ended in confusion, frustration, or arguments. I’ve tweaked and tinkered with the process; swim lanes -vs- no swim lanes, calendar dates -vs- no calendar dates, prefilled cards -vs- cards filled in the room and—through the years and hundreds of pull plans— some that were less than ideal (OK, they sucked), I’d like to share five things I’ve learned to give others a head start on their journey.
One of the best things you can do to ensure your pull plan does not go off-track is to do a preliminary pull plan with just the project team, before doing one with all the trade partners in attendance. This will allow the superintendent and project management team to discuss expectations, predicted work durations, and share their thoughts around the direction of workflow and phasing. For example, if you are pulling from foundation poured, is there a strategy on which direction to start from, or into how many areas the foundation will be broken down? If you are finishing out a space, what goes first: ductwork or framed walls? Are there phases, and are you going clockwise or counterclockwise?
By talking through the sequencing of work as a project team, you can create flow/phasing plans for the trades prior to the pull plan so that they can think through durations based on the proposed phasing. This exercise will also allow your teams to create a “cheat sheet” of expected durations. That way, if the trade partner foreman’s durations start to seem long, your team will be ready to ask the right questions to ensure no float is built into the activity durations. Note: Phasing and flow can change during the pull plan meeting from what was initially pre-pulled—and that’s okay! That’s the benefit of having all the experts in the room for the pull plan session. It’s just important to have thought through these things prior to the session to utilize the time effectively.
The last step in doing an internal pre-pull plan is addressing the questions below to clearly articulate the following:
- date, time, and purpose of the pull plan;
- expectations around who should attend and what each person will contribute;
- preliminary thoughts around work phasing and flow; and
- desired level of detail that should be described for each activity.
2. Confirm attendance
Once an internal pre-pull plan is completed and the project team has aligned on workflow and phasing, the next step is to send out the email invitation to the trade partners. The easiest way to ensure that your pull plan sucks is by having poor attendance—or by having the wrong attendees in the room. This can easily happen when the invite comes out only a few days before the meeting.
In our experience great attendance occurs when the meeting invite is sent two weeks before the pull plan meeting to ensure everyone has time to make their arrangements to attend. In the email, be clear on the following bullet points:
- The date, time, and duration of the pull plan session.
- The location of the pull plan (either a physical location or virtual).
- The milestone that is being pulled back from.
- Your expectations around who should attend and what each person will contribute.
- Your team’s preliminary thoughts around work phasing and flow.
- The desired level of detail that should be described for each activity.
As you approach the day of the pull plan, remind the trade partners of the day, time, and duration of the meeting by both phone and email. We like to have a verbal confirmation from each foreman three days prior to the pull plan that they have 1.) received the invite and 2.) will attend, ready to pull.
3. Don’t be overly ambitious
Early in my journey, I attempted to pull plan the entire project in one sitting. This was a mistake. If your pull plan session lasts more than 2-3 hours, your last planners will begin to lose concentration and become disengaged. We recommend only pulling one milestone at a time and, if needed, break down longer, complex sessions over several days.
4. Facilitate, don’t dictate
The best sessions have a strong facilitator. Whether you are using internal team members or someone external to the project, remember that pull planning requires strong collaboration between trades to discuss handoffs and commitments. If the project manager or superintendent facilitates the pull plan, be sure that they do not try to dictate activities—this can result an unreliable plan if the trade foreman feels pressured and reluctantly agrees to what they’re being told. A good facilitator should always ask the right questions to flush out value-added activities based on the needs of other trades. Also, make sure to recognize and address their expectations for the promise or handoff. People have different perceptions and assumptions, and a good facilitator will ensure that all parties have a common understanding. The facilitator’s role is crucial to the success of the pull plan, and a good facilitator will be able to lead the team, ask good questions, and keep everyone on track.
5. Document and distribute quickly
In my opinion, one of the most wasteful (non-value adding) parts of pull planning is the rework of having to document the sticky cards and incorporate the activities, durations, and predecessors back into the master schedule (using digital solutions/software eliminates this step). Over the years, we have had great success in the pull plan only to fail at execution because our project team did not update their master schedule or distribute the information pulled via look-ahead planning (the 6-week schedule) in a timely manner after the pull session. Best practice is to do this with the superintendent(s) and project management team, working together directly after the pull plan. Here are some quick bullet points for closing out your pull plan session without losing critical information:
- Take photographs of all pull boards for distribution so that all attendees can refer back to them.
- Record and distribute any “parking lot” items or constraint items that were brought up but were not critical to the conversation during the pull plan session.
- Update the master schedule with durations/activities/predecessors from the pull plan.
- Create the 6-week look-ahead for the upcoming week based on the activities/durations from the pull plan.
- If the session was in person, clean up the room (roll up the pull boards so the stickies stay intact, organize sticky notes, markers, and all other supplies so they are ready to go for the next pull session.
Pull Planning Construction – Conclusion
In closing, here’s perhaps the best tip I have: don’t become discouraged if you have a bad pull plan session! You are on a journey to add value and reduce waste, and continuous improvement takes time. Success is a poor teacher, and in my own journey I have learned the most after complete failure. A bad pull plan is an opportunity to learn, not an excuse to quit trying. If you have some success or failure stories you would like to share to help others, please leave a comment below.
More blog posts about Pull Planning:
7 Steps for Successful Last Planner Pull Planning
A Trip to the Airport: Learn Pull Planning in 5 Easy Steps
5 Easy Tips to Set Your Next Pull Session Up for Success
4 Best Practices for Your Next Pull Plan Session
3 Must-Dos After Your Next Pull Planning Session