The History of the Last Planner® System

The roots of the Last Planner® System reach back before the word “Lean” was coined by the International Motor Vehicle Program and made famous by the book The Machine that Changed the World. Events that in some way influenced the thinking behind the Last Planner® include the collaborative leadership style of a military officer in southeast Asia, the priorities of a chicken rancher, and the influence of the Total Quality Management movement.

Glenn Ballard is credited with the invention of the Last Planner. A principal collaborator in its development has been Greg Howell. Others, including Mike Casten and Laurie Koskela, contributed to the experiences informing its development.

Glenn began his career as a pipefitter on an oil and gas project in the Houston ship channel. As his early career progressed he worked as a construction area engineer on an oil and gas project south of Houston for a major engineering and construction company. The year was 1979 and the project was failing. A new project manager for the work, not wanting to experience the fate of his predecessors, brought in a group of productivity experts which included Greg Howell and Mike Casten. Greg and Mike sought a project team member to work with them in addressing the problems facing the project. The first candidate, stating he would rather be tending to his 100,000 head chicken ranch was rejected. Glenn was the next candidate, and together this team saved the project. Glenn became a manager of productivity improvement for the company, leading his division to ten percent productivity improvements.

Greg began his career as a Navy Seabee, stationed initially in the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone and ultimately responsible for leading a road construction team in northern Thailand. Among his influences was a commander, who upon gathering a team to plan a project, placed an alabaster bowl in the center of the table, in which he placed his insignia. He invited others to do the same. The message was clear. Planning is a collaborative exercise requiring the combined intelligence of everyone on the team. Rank cannot prevent anyone from speaking their mind and contributing their ideas. And rank does not confer any special level of knowledge that escapes examination by others on the team.

By 1988 Glenn was identifying the importance of reliable planning. Greg was teaching at the University of New Mexico. The two had continued to collaborate throughout the years. In 1989 Glenn began lecturing at the University of California in Berkeley, with a focus on quality and productivity in construction. A few years later the importance of reliable promising by construction foremen in regards to weekly work plans was recognized. Weekly work planning, percent plan complete measurements, and variance based learning formed the foundation of the Last Planner System. 1992 began a period of development beginning with a coke plant expansion project in Corpus Christi, Texas, and continuing with a 1995 $1.2 billion refinery expansion project in Venezuela. In the latter project, productivity improved so rapidly that the need for make ready work became apparent. In the next few years lookahead planning was added to the Last Planner.

In the early stages of Last Planner development Glenn and Greg met Laurie Koskela, who was a visiting scholar at Stanford University in 1991 – 1992. Laurie was advocating that the construction industry learn from the Total Quality Movement changes occurring in the manufacturing industry; a call ignored by people refusing to see any correlation between production in manufacturing and production in construction. It was near this time that the three men read The Machine that Changed the World, by Jim Womack, Dan Jones, and Dan Roos – a book that began the popularization of the word “lean.” The book supported the importance they placed on the need to do things a different way. The connection between the lean concepts described by the book, the approach to work of the Last Planner, and the ideas advocated by Laurie resulted in the formation of the International Group for Lean Construction in 1993. Later, in 1997, Glenn and Greg co-founded the Lean Construction Institute.

Last Planner continued to evolve. In the course of work in the late 1990s phase planning through the use of pull planning techniques was added along with milestone planning to complete the functionality of the Last Planner System as practiced today.

For more history of the Last Planner System, and importantly the events and people that informed its development, please watch our recorded webinar.

Featured Post



What is Integrated Project Delivery Part 2: Lean Operating System

This post is the 2nd of a 3 part series looking at Integrated Project Delivery. The first post focuses on IPD agreements (contracts), this post focuses on IPD as a Lean Operating System, and the final post focuses on culture.

To maximize the value of the contract structure, teams require a new work philosophy focused on efficiency and reliability. A Lean Operating System delivers customer value, through streamlined processes practicing continuous improvement.

Integrated Project Delivery Read more



Integrate or Disintegrate

"Integrate or disintegrate" was a statement I made while facilitating a multi-day kickoff meeting for a mission critical project. My point to the folks was that only as an integrated team could we achieve the aggressive objectives set for this project. I used the example of the 2004 USA Olympic basketball team for what could happen if we didn't integrate.

The USA committee had assembled Lebron James, Tim Duncan and other high paid superstars to deliver another gold medal as in years past. However, when it came to the semifinal game to decide which team would play for the gold, they were beat by a less talented Argentina team. Why? Because the USA did not perform as an integrated team. Argentina had played together for over a year; the USA team for a few weeks.

Integrated Project Delivery Read more



Pull Planning in Design - Best Practices and Common Pitfalls

At the heart of most lean processes is the drive to reduce waste and increase reliability. The Last Planner System is no different. Over the last few years, construction teams have been able to utilize the The Last Planner System to reduce waste in terms of scheduling, production, and quality control, with a relatively high level of success.

Last Planner Read more



Zero Sum to Win-Win: An Australian Perspective on Integrated Project Delivery

In many parts of the World, contracting can seem like the modern-day equivalent of a Roman gladiatorial battle, where a single project cost blow-out can end a promising political career or bankrupt a once profitable company.

The rules of the contest are set out in the construction contract and rival teams of lawyers seek to negotiate their side an early advantage in the battle to come through the introduction of carefully crafted indemnities, notification regimes, liability caps and risk transfer, with little or no consideration as to whether the party that ends up liable for a risk is best able to manage it.

Integrated Project Delivery Read more

Copyright © 2015- Lean Construction Blog