A Digital Approach to Implement and Use The Last Planner® System

The pros of using the Last Planner® System [1] in Projects is a well referred topic [2, 3, 4]. However, especially in a design phase with several participants who are located far away from each other, analog systems can be uneconomical. This was the biggest challenge during the implementation of a Lean Project Delivery System for the design phase of a residential home with about 800 apartments. The design team consisted of four organizations, two located in Germany, one in Austria, and another in Poland. Due to a tight budget, co-location was not an option.

Therefore, a virtual big room including digital process planning and evaluation was used to overcome the distance constraint. With the idea of having a virtual big room, we were searching for a software, but couldn’t find one which would serve our needs. Thus, we develop our own digital prototype, which is now over 5 months in use.

By implementing the prototype, the two big question were: (1) how to teach the participants the key elements of lean design and the LPS in a two day workshop and (2) how to develop and test a new software and implement it in a running project. Our key to success was the combination of analog implementation and the lean startup methodology. This methodology is for developing products and testing their business cases, which aims to accelerate the development cycle. In this case, the development of a digital LPS prototype. Within numerous build-measure-learn feedback loops the problems that needs to be solved were described and potential solutions were established and tested. The following image represents those feedback loops. For example, we had an idea like implementing different card types for milestones and activities. The next step is not coding this solution, but build a minimum viable product (MVP) to test the ideas’ core hypothesis. This MVP can be tested together with the customer to evaluate the core hypothesis and clarify the requirements.

Figure 1: Build-measure-learn feedback loop

Building Knowledge – the foundation of a good Implementation

The first step was to teach the process owners the keys of the lean philosophy and the usage of the Last Planner System (LPS). Therefore, we had a two day workshop including the Villego® LPS Simulation and the Airplane Game. We also asked the designers directly about their concerns to design without direct contact and without design sessions to find potential improvements for this project.

Establishing the Last Planner System

The second step was to establish the LPS. At the beginning and for the first six weeks everything was based on Post-it’s® and Whiteboards. Meetings took place weekly for evaluation, improvements, and re-planning.

Digitalization – the step to freedom?

After six weeks the team learned the know-how and routine to use the LPS without direct coaching. So we tried to digitalize the key elements, the weekly work plan including the evaluation process with the root cause analysis and the make ready plan. The aim of first implementing an analog system and combine it with digital elements was to help the design team to understand the function of the LPS and to minimize the resistance against the system and the software. The weekly physical meetings were replaced with skype sessions where the process evaluation and the process planning took and still takes place. Picture 1 and 2 show such a digital LPS meeting and the re-planning.

Figure 2: Digital LPS meeting and the cloud based prototype


The workshop with the LPS basics was very important for starting the process. Of course it’s necessary to teach the process, the functions, and steps as well as develop the project strategy in collaboration, but the workshop had also a team building effects. You get to know the person behind the voice you’ve already heard on phone.

The digital LPS eliminated the costs of the LPS meetings. Another big advantage is that you can see your tasks and the task status of your teammates everywhere and anytime. All you need is a device with internet functionality.

After a short learning phase, the process owners were able to plan their tasks much faster, because of the direct text input with the computer or touch-panel. So the limited meeting time was more efficiently used.

While the facilitator in analog systems, of course, needs good moderation skills, the role of the facilitator in a digital systems enlarges. During the meetings, the discussions focused very much on the prerequisite tasks. The communication in the analog LPS meetings is physical and personal. This kind of communication is really limited with Skype. In fact of the one-way communication collaborative discussions aren't possible. So an even deeper process know-how of the facilitator is necessary to elaborate realistic production setup and not to lose sight of the big project milestones.

Modern video screens are much cheaper than before, but they aren’t cheap enough to have the same size as the visual planning areas in normal Big Rooms. This was a really big problem during the development process of the digital prototype. A wall of Post-it’s fulfills all the needs of visual process planning. Information can be communicated transparently, was easy to read, and you can visualize the information. The digital LPS uses a few tricks like intelligent zooming or filters to make the limited screen space more efficient, but a bigger screen is needed for better visualization of the information.

Lessons Learned
  • Lean Workshops are necessary and good for team building.
  • The establishment of the LPS first in analog form makes the digitalization later on much easier.
  • More focus on the details is required to identify critical processes.
  • Discussions need to focus much more on the previous task in order to commit one’s tasks.
  • Good hardware and fast internet is necessary to make the planning process faster.

In the next weeks and months the build-measure-learn feedback loops will continue to refine the prototype. Also the functionality will be greatly enhanced. For example elements like an overall process analysis or linkages between several projects. A future post will show the results of those loops and the requirements using metadata of digital process planning to improve the production process.

[1] 2017. https://www.leanconstruction.org
[2] Ballard, G., 1999. Can Pull Techniques be Used in Design Management?
[3] Fosse, R., & Ballard, G., 2016. Lean Design Management in Practice With The Last Planner System
[4] Khan, Sheriz, & Tzortzopoulos, P., 2015. Improving Design Workflows with the Last Planner System: Two Action Research Studies

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