Last Planner System

The Last Planner System® and the Trades: It’s Up to You to Teach Them

The Last Planner System® works if used correctly. As a trade partner, I know that if milestones are committed to and constraints are identified and removed, the project will be smooth and profitable. But if the GC does not do their part and hold themselves and all trades accountable to utilizing LPS® correctly then we can’t do our best work. We need the GCs we work with to fully understand the system, be dedicated to using the system correctly, and hold other trades to that standard so we can all be successful. Here are some of my suggestions, based on years of watching LPS® be done the right—and the wrong—way.

Don’t Change the Rules

Not all trades know the Last Planner System®. It’s very hard to implement it when your trade partners don’t fully understand the intricacies of LPS® and don’t come to planning sessions fully prepared completely and effectively with their durations, manpower, or sequencing. All of this makes it very difficult to have effective planning sessions, and it wastes hours of valuable time.

The easy thing to do is to abbreviate the requirements for LPS® so you can just get through the planning session. But it’s not the right thing to do, and one of the worst consequences is that you are making more difficult for the trades who are committed to executing LPS® correctly, because it muddies the water, distorts their understanding of expectations, and makes it more difficult for them and the trades on other projects where LPS® is being used.

Stick to Your Milestone Dates

Milestones should be set by the GC, agreed upon by the trades, and treated as though they were written in stone. This is how it should be, but I’ve seen some GCs that allow milestones to be pushed on the timeline because trades did not calculate durations properly, constraints were not removed by the GC, or milestones were added late in the game. These disruptions cause a chain reaction to every other trade, and eventually leads them to think: Why should I even put my stickies on the board? The GC just moves them anyway. Hold your ground and resist the urge to move milestones. If you allow your milestones to constantly move, you are setting a very dangerous standard that not only will impact your project schedule but will taint every trade that is in that planning session, and shifting milestones teaches a bad habit which can permeate to other jobs that attempts to use LPS®. Teach the trades that your milestones are firm and help them to hit those commitments so everyone can benefit.

Use and Teach the Right Terminology

Those weekly meetings, where trades come up to the board and place stickies for the work they plan to complete the following week, are not “pull plan meetings;” they’re simply planning sessions. This is where you should be reviewing what you accomplished last week (PPC), identifying constraints on your Look Ahead Plan (Constraint Log), and discussing what you are planning next week (WWP). But some GCs refer to these planning sessions as “pull plans,” and that’s not accurate.

Phase Pull Planning is one of the five connected conversations of Last Planner System® and it only occurs when you are ready to move onto a new milestone. The milestone should be set by the GC and the sequence of work is pulled back for that phase of work. On most projects, Phase Pull Planning will happen every few months where you determine the sequence of work to get to the next milestone. The pull plan does not change from week to week—in fact, the sequence rarely changes on a project.

If you let your trades think that Look Ahead planning is the same as “pull planning,” you’re not helping them learn Lean the right way. The entire system is called Last Planner System®, which consists of Milestone Planning, Phase Pull Planning, Look Ahead Planning, Weekly Work Planning, and Learning & Improving. It’s important that each of these is called by the right names and performed correctly.

Identify Constraints on the Look Ahead Plan

Another issue that I have observed with some GCs is that the constraint log is rarely utilized—and, when it is being used, it is not being utilized properly. One of the main purposes of the Look Ahead Plan is to identify constraints as early as possible, so you can remove those constraints before they impact the Weekly Work Plan. (Remember: the Look Ahead Plan is what you can do and the WWP is what you will do. To keep the commitments of what you will do, all constraints need to be removed so the work can be put in place.) However, I notice some GCs only use the constraint log after the work was planned to be in place. It is too late by then; in fact, it is too late if the constraint is only identified the week before. There needs to be enough time to get the constraint removed so the milestone is not impacted.

If you don’t use the Look Ahead Plan to get out in front of those constraints, those constraints will force you to move your milestones back (which we already agreed is a bad thing!) Most of the time, your trades are relying on you, the GC, to remove constraints—in fact, if you don’t remove constraints, they might use it as an excuse to miss your schedule. If you’re not removing constraints, you are rendering your trades useless, and their view of LPS® can become negative and counterproductive.

Get the Plan to the Field

How many times have you realized that your planning is not actually being executed in the field? That’s because most plans do not make it all the way down to the trades who are putting the work in place. You spend all of that time in your Big Room, putting all those stickies on the wall, identifying constraints, and looking 6 weeks out…but have you spent time developing a way to get the plan to the field? Do you know how the tradespeople are getting their daily tasks? Can your foemen prove to you that all the work that they have put in place is tied directly to a milestone? If they cannot tie it to a milestone, why are they putting it in place? The Weekly Work Plan should not just be the last panel on the Look Ahead Plan in the Big Room. It should make its way onto a board that is seen by each crew of each trade, so they are executing your plan properly.

Don’t Forget PPC and Variance

The last conversation of Last Planner System® is always “Learning & Improving.” Why put a plan together if you don’t measure how well you did? Hold each trade partner accountable to their plans and go over their PPC with them each week—and do it in front of the entire team. Most trade partners have pride and they do not want to fail. They are all super competitive and want to “beat” other trades. Use that competitiveness to your favor by visually showing a PPC chart. Naturally, they will all blame other trades any time their PPC drops, but if you also review variance, you will get to the truth. Stop skipping this step, and really let your trades know how they are doing. You will see that this will help your team come together because they will all see how they impact each other.

by Michael Villar
Lean Director at Nevell Group, Inc.

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Michael Villar, Nevell Group, Inc.

Michael currently serves as the Lean Director at Nevell Group, Inc. NGi is an interior and exterior wall system contractor headquartered in Brea, California with offices in Northern California and San Diego. Michael is responsible for developing all Lean training for the field and office as well as an in-house certification program. He is a retired Marine helicopter pilot who formerly worked as a Lean Manger at Oakley, Inc and Con-Way Freight. Michael most recently worked as the Process Improvement Manager at KHS&S contractors, which is where he was first introduced to the construction industry. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and is very active with the Lean Construction Institute. He is an LCI certified instructor in Last Planner System®, Lean Project Delivery, and Mindset of Effective Big Room. He has been a featured speaker and instructor at LCI Congress, he was a planning team member for Congress 2019 and 2020, he is a Core Group Member for the LA/OC CoP, and has developed training in culture, 5-S, visual management, problem solving, standard work, and 8-wastes. Michael is passionate about advancing Lean within the construction industry and is a strong advocate for the field. He believes the focus of every Lean effort should directly benefit the field and should ensure work is put in place more efficiently and effectively.

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