In line with the famous saying “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”, construction production systems need solid mechanisms to control their projects on site. The Last Planner System and Takt Time Planning offer a collaborative and balanced method for planning in lean construction. However, plans are pretty much pointless unless they are controlled and modified effectively. In the dynamic construction environment, in which constraints, clashes and interdependencies are abundant, management would like to execute its control function in a simple fashion just by looking around1 . Also, in these complex contexts, it is often preferred to delegate control activities to the people working onsite.
To realize the easy control and self-management aims, some construction organizations have been using visual project control boards with cards to track their short-term, 3 week lookahead plans from the Last Planner System. These control boards are typical examples of Visual Management and provide a means for increased process transparency in construction. One example of this type of visual control boards can be seen in Figure 1. The figures in this post have been taken from the archives of the London Underground project2,3,4.
Figure 1: Visual project control board with contractors using cards
In figure 1, the leftmost colour-coded column represents different project site areas (locations). The remaining columns on the board represent days, shifts and weeks (time) for the 3 week period. Bespoke cards are used by each contractor to write down and record their activities for the first 3 weeks on site. Those cards are often called contractor activity cards and they include information such as the working area, date, activity, manpower and the duration. Each card is colour-coded to match the master schedule (e.g., blue for structural/concrete works, red for electrical works, etc). The cards then populate the 3 week lookahead boards based on the plans. At the end of every shift, the construction manager reviews the progress of the shift and confirms whether or not the activity has been completed. If the activity has been completed, the construction manager ‘turns over’ that activity card which has the colour green on the back of it. If the activity has not been completed, the activity card stays as it is. The project team will need to re-plan and develop a follow-up strategy. At the end of the first week, all incomplete activities are re-planned, the board is then shifted across and Week 1 becomes Week 3. There are several other cards that site contractors can use such as the “ready for inspection” card or the “issue card” to communicate a problem that needs the management’s attention. See Figure 2 for an example of the activity and issue cards.
Figure 2: Activity card (on the left), issue card (on the right)
By using the board before the start of the work on site, one could easily see clashes where multiple contractors plan work in the same area at the same time. One could also identify opportunities to start work earlier on site. At the beginning of the implementation, during the learning curve, it is normal to have the boards covered from Week 1 to Week 3 with “issue cards”. Later, contractors are forced to plan ahead and the cards are used as early warnings. And after a short period of time, new “issue cards’ normally only appear in Week 3. This practice maximises the time that the project manager has to solve issues. After a couple of months, the contractors should be able to understand the benefits of the boards and should start self-managing and controlling their activities.
In summary, the expected benefits of these kind of boards include: increased site coordination and dialogue, facilitated project control, the emergence of improvement opportunities, fewer work clashes, fewer mistakes/quality issues and fostering preventive thinking5. In future posts, I will continue exploring both conventional and IT based Visual Management tools used in different sectors (i.e. building, transportation, water, energy etc.) in the construction industry.
1. Formoso, CT, Santos, AD and Powell, JA (2002). An exploratory study on the applicability of process transparency in construction sites. Journal of Construction Research, 3(01), 35-54.
2. Agutter, D. (2015). “Collaborative Planning on 5 London Underground Projects”, LCI-UK Workshop Training Document, available at: http://docslide.us/documents/collaborative-planning-on-5-london-underground-projects-mr-daniel-agutter.html
3. Jensen, C. (2015a). “Collaborative Planning Stations Stabilisation Programme”, ICE Magazine
4. Jensen, C. (2015b). “Production Management in Design and Construction”, ICE Magazine.
5. Brady, D. A. (2014). Using visual management to improve transparency in planning and control in construction (Doctoral dissertation, University of Salford).