5 Common Mistakes Implementing and Using a Digital Last Planner System and How to Avoid Them

The Last Planner System (LPS) is a process used to develop a collaborative production planning that is based on the team experience in order to achieve efficient and effective design and construction processes. A digitized system and its visualization has shown advantages due its independence of time and location. In case the digital tool receives all automated checks and necessary information in order to support the planning process the LPS evolves into its leanest version.

Through the developmental, implementation and usage phase of digital Last Planner tools, five common mistakes could be identified systematically. These emerge due to the nature of the LPS itself, the different usage via a telecommunication device or wrong interpretation of the data. These pitfalls will be introduced as well as how to avoid them. This will help you obtain the essential advantages of this type of tool in your own project and elevate your LPS implementation and usage to the next level.

The first big issue lies in the implementation process itself. It is crucial to have a well-trained team, not only concerning the usage of the LPS but also in the lean philosophy and mindset. The approach of implementing a digital Last Planner System and the necessary requirements for the software and the Big-Room were mentioned in my last blog post, the pitfalls during the implementation process are not mentioned in this article.

By using a digital LPS some common mistakes of using analog LPS can be intensified.

Pitfall 1: cherry picking

In teams, people often begin to either cherry-pick certain tools from the LPS or start using them without really understanding of the connections and purpose of the tools. Especially when the LPS is being implemented at the stage where a project is already up and running, people tend to focus only on planning a week’s worth of work. Employing a digital lean tool, this cherry picking can easily be unnoticed. By opening up and eliminating real ’physical‘ borders and boundaries, keeping control over a system has been proven to be extremely difficult. Especially if users only meet virtually and not in person, the person facilitating those virtual meetings is faced with the almost impossible task of checking whether each participant is using the tools correctly and understands the intricacies of it.

The relationship between weekly work schedules and milestone/phase planning must remain unbroken! One solution would be that the facilitator travels to the different process owners each meeting to check for the right implementation and usage of the LPS. That is obviously more efficient than traveling with the entire team each week form one Big-room to the other. A far better solution is a system environment requiring and visualize those close links between the processes levels. That is one big advantage of digital tools! It is possible to visualize the correlations and create automated feedback directly in case of a deviation.

Pitfall 2: copycats
Some enterprises think they will get desirable effects by applying Lean tools just because others had great results. Successful implementation of any Lean tool must be closely related to the management philosophy. As a result, you cannot succeed by imitating and copying practices of others indiscriminately, it must be combined with the local culture.

It’s the job of the lean-team or facilitator to implement and maintain the right mindset and methodology to help the project achieve success. Therefore, flexible analog systems with sticky notes and a canvas have more space for improvisation.

A highly specific digital tool may stop this natural “lean evolution” due to its strict workflow and rigid structures. Teams often get the impression that it is really hard adjusting these systems to their needs or ideas, and they are often right. The key to success at this point is an excellent IT-department supporting the groups’ needs. The tool needs to be flexible and adjust it to your needs. Not the other way around.

Pitfall 3: post-it-rush

“We often overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year.” – Glen Smith

During the implementation of Lean, it’s common to have a lot of tasks for a short-term time frame and having a blank spot in the process concerning the work schedule of the upcoming weeks or months. This is a result of the way we have been working. During the design phase or construction phase, we focused on the details, losing the feeling for the overall process. Discussing small details gives us a certain frame which is far away from abstract process planning and evaluates different strategies. This makes people feel more safe and productive. [1]

Writing and moving your sticky notes, makes you feel really productive and efficient. Unfortunately having lots of tasks does not mean you are doing the right things for the project. That is what I call “Post-it-rush”. This is just another kind of silo-visualization. It can be identified for example as a bow wave of tasks in the 6-week lookahead, shoved along week by week. A clear sign of lacking an understanding of the process and the linkages between the trades.

By having a digital system setup, it is much harder to identify this Post-it-rush, if you or the facilitator have no deep understanding of the specific trade processes.

Pitfall 4: focus on the message, not the messenger

It is really common that lean practitioners become captivated by lean tools, the idea and the goal behind all of them. Studies in other industries show similar outcomes. “It felt like whoever knew more Japanese words was the coolest— kaizen, kanban, gemba, muda, poka-yoke, heijunka. It actually became annoying. Managers did not lose time showing off their new vocabulary but, deep down, they did not know what they were talking about!” During our research we also found that practitioners who focused exclusively on lean tools and forgot to complement their technical approach with a psycho-social change management effort experienced, at best, mostly if not only short-lived improvements. [2]

Using lean in a digital way fuels that problem. It is not just a new methodology you are implementing (lean), it is also a new way of using it (digital). Using easy analogue systems, the process owners are able to focus on their processes. Sitting in front of a computer, you are challenged to deal with the user interface and behavior of the application. Sticky notes and pens do not have much space for abstract problems, but malfunctioning applications do. Having to focus just on the application and its problems and the related concerns, it is hard to achieve a lean mindset.

The system has to be easy to use, supporting you and your processes; not working against you and causing more inefficiency. This leads directly to the next big source of problems: The video call procedures.

Pitfall 5: call me maybe

2 pm Skype meeting. Finding the log-in in a bunch of emails takes at least until 2:15 for everybody to be online and ready. We have all been part of such calls.

Working on lean processes, it is hard having such inefficiency. Most companies have their own video rooms and conference equipment. Leaving the silo of one company is where the trouble begins, and it is not a problem of discipline anymore.

These boundaries have to be discussed at an early stage of implementation. Otherwise, you will have problems as mentioned before. I have had some good experiences with digital lean systems using a direct video chat interface. The best practice is to hold the lean meeting directly within the application via the built-in telecommunication unit.

To sum it up ... There are certainly more sources for mistakes affecting the success of the digital lean setup like not having an independent facilitator or not using metrics or KPIs for continuous improvement. At the end it depends on the project, the team and the problems that needs to be solved. The way you organize your LPS implementation whether digital or analog needs to fit your own situation. If you are using a digital system, keep in mind of these five common mistakes and pitfalls. It will make your implementation much smoother and make it easier for your team to succeed.


[1] Kahneman, D., 2011. Thinking Fast and Slow
[2] Pabon, U., 2010. The pitfalls of an exploitation framework

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