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You know the power of planning reliability. Your reliable plan helps you stay on the right track in terms of schedule and budget. In the lean construction community, the reliable production planning system known as the Last Planner System has been popularly used to improve the workflow reliability. Though the procedure of the Last Planner System is not a secret, it is interesting to find many contractors have trouble implementing the Last Planner System. For some, just implementing the Last Planner System does not improve schedule or cost performance. Others find the project staff perceive the Last Planner as an additional administration burden. Sometimes pricey consulting or commercial software does not help much. One of reasons why implementing the Last Planner System is challenging is that the Last Planner System is based on the social structure or organizational culture. In this article, I want to share the recent research results on the empowerment of frontline managers.

Empirical case studies already reported that the system that empowers frontline managers to stop assignments with uncertainty from flowing into crews or production units is needed to make the production planning system reliable. Though empowerment to frontline managers in the production planning process is evidenced in the Last Planner System and empirical case studies, the relationship between the empowerment to frontline managers and production planning performance remains unexplored.

What is empowerment in construction project planning and scheduling?

Empowerment is a process of enabling employees to make workplace decisions for which they are accountable as part of the organizational culture. A primary goal of employee empowerment is to give workers voice in their decisions. When applied to construction planning and scheduling, empowerment is the process of apportioning suitable responsibilities in each stage of project planning and scheduling. Decision-making authority for frontline managers in production planning includes the development of short-term schedules and the authorizing of resource allocations. We explicitly consider two types of empowerment in our study: psychological empowerment and structural empowerment.

Psychological empowerment

‘Psychological empowerment’ is the level of an individual’s drive to serve his/her work role in four areas: (1) meaning, (2) competence, (3) impact, and (4) self-determination. Meaning’ refers to alignment among an employee’s individual values, organizational values, and values pertinent to the tasks. ‘Competence’ is related to the job performance and confidence that the employee displays when operating at the best of his/her ability. ‘Impact’ represents how much influence the employee perceives him-/herself to have over organizational outcomes. ‘Self-determination’ (or ‘autonomy’) refers to the employee’s perception of his/her control in the work environment. Psychological empowerment is a mechanism that enables employees to do more than their job requirements.

Structural empowerment in short-term project scheduling

‘Structural empowerment’ in production planning is the authority within an organization that empowers employees to develop a project schedule. When we say ‘structural empowerment’, the empowerment implies the authorities regarding: access to information and resources, learning opportunities, formal/ informal power. When implementing a master-level project schedule, production planning requires numerous short-term look-ahead and weekly work plans. Whereas the master schedule serves as a strategic plan for meeting contractual duties, production planning considers workflow, assignment release, and resource allocation at the operational level. In releasing assignments to the crew, frontline managers should have authority to shield their production unit from workflow uncertainty by rejecting any assignments that are not ready.

Research Findings

We collected survey data from 98 frontline managers over 18 months Through the structural equation modeling (SEM) based on the survey, the research has two findings. First, the result shows that psychological empowerment (PE) of a frontline manager has no direct effect on his/her performance in planning reliability or scheduling performance. Instead, the structural empowerment granted by the organization to the frontline manager for planning (PSE) has a significant direct effect on the crew’s performance such as planning reliability. Second, the results show that a frontline manager’s psychological empowerment indirectly affects his/her performance via structural empowerment for production planning. In other words, structural empowerment plays a significant mediating role in the causal relationship between psychological empowerment and job performance.

What is the implication of the research on the Last Planner System?

Frontline managers’ psychological empowerment is important. However, you should check if your frontline managers have structural empowerment in production planning. Without an organization’s structural support for frontline managers, their psychological empowerment alone will not lead to superior performance in production planning reliability and scheduling. I hope this article motivates you to pay more attention to your project staffs’ empowerment and helps with your LPS journey! You can find detailed information on this research from our published paper.

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Yong-Woo Kim is a Professor and P.D.Koon Endowed Professor of Construction Management. His research is built on lean principles focusing on interdependency and uncertainty in construction supply chain networks. Dr. Kim has published more than 120 peer-reviewed technical journal articles and peer-reviewed conference proceedings, and two professional books. He is leading a Lean Construction Research Lab at the University of Washington and is currently working on various research agenda including supply chain channel coordination, optimization, and machine learning.