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Have you ever heard a trade partner complain about a phase plan (pull plan) being over four (4) hours? Have you been a part of a phase plan with facilitators that drags on and on? Have you looked around the room during a phase plan to see glazed over eyes from trade partners?

Since beginning my Lean journey in 2017 I not only can say yes to each of those questions but have heard complaints about phase plan meetings from trade partners for the same reasons. I’ll admit the first couple phase plans I hosted were close to four hours and some going over that time frame. In the seven years I’ve been utilizing and teaching Lean, I’ve observed that poor preparation (CM and trade partners), targeting a milestone too far away, and trying to plan too much detail are all consistently responsible for disappointing phase plan timeframes and content.

Being Unprepared:

One of the biggest frustrations a project team and/or facilitator faces is phase plan attendees showing up unprepared for the meeting. It only takes one (1) trade partner to slow down the meeting. At Flintco, we onboard our trade partners prior to their first phase plan meeting and yet we still have a few trade partners show up to phase plans not ready to contribute. Common frustrations include:

  • Does not know the project.
  • Was not involved in the planning/bidding of the project.
  • Does not have the “authority” to promise dates.
  • Isn’t ready to discuss their scope of work.
  • Just doesn’t show up.

Unfortunately, being unprepared is not just a trade partner issue but also a project team issue. If a project team does not have their agenda laid out, is not ready to expound on the milestone being scheduled, does not have their paperwork ready, does not have the meeting space ready for the meeting, etc. it creates a delay in the start of the meeting. Not only that, but the attending trade partners can see this as the project team not taking the meeting seriously, which in turn can rub off on the trade partners.

How does one combat trade partners and/or project teams not being prepared for a phase plan?

As the facilitator, as the project manager, or whatever your role you need to meet with the project team prior to the scheduled phase plan. Items to discuss during this team meeting include:

  • Milestone that is to be scheduled,
  • What items need to be prepared for the meeting,
  • Whose task it is to prepare each item,
  • Where is the meeting being held, and
  • Any additional items to create a smooth meeting.

The majority of our project utilize Touchplan, therefore there are additional items to discuss, which include:

  • Confirm the phase plan is set up,
  • Confirm all trades are invited to Touchplan,
  • Confirm all trades have logged into Touchplan
  • Add swim lanes and locations, if needed.

It is the project team’s responsibility to make sure the trade partners attending are prepared. This is done by:

  • Sending a meeting invite out no later than two (2) weeks prior to the meeting.
  • Touch base periodically to confirm with each trade partner.
    • One week prior.
    • A couple days prior.
  • Make sure that each attendee has logged in to Touchplan, or another Lean software, if being utilized.
  • Train the trade partner
  • Flintco puts a priority on training our trade partners prior to their first phase plan. We host a one to one and a half hour Lean onboarding for all our trade partners who have never participated in a Flintco Lean2.0® project. In short, this onboarding teaches the main principles of Lean and Lean2.0® to the attendee, along with what Flintco expects from them during the project. On a side note, I will be at LCI Congress in Detroit this year presenting on how onboarding our trade partners has created buy-in for utilizing Lean2.0® on our projects.

    Last but not least, follow an agenda. We have a specific agenda we utilize for all our phase plans, and when followed the phase plans run smoothly and don’t waste our trade partners time.

    Thoughtful Milestone Selection:

    I’ve seen project teams plan milestones that release a few weeks’ worth of work and only have one or two trade partners in the phase plan. And have seen the opposite, where they plan months out and release enough work that ten plus trades are in the phase plan. Both have their drawbacks. If a phase plan doesn’t release enough work or only has one or two trades is the team utilizing their time wisely? How much collaboration is being accomplished? This creates additional meetings needed for planning the entire project than if the correct milestone was selected. Which in turn creates complaints from the trade partners, and maybe even the project team, about the number of meetings being held.

    Selecting too large a milestone for a phase plan and your meeting length extends past an acceptable time for your trade partners while also wasting their time. No one enjoys meetings that are more than a few hours long, especially our trade partners. Many times, you’ll have multiple trade partners that’s scope of work is towards the end of the milestone. So, they are sitting in the meeting listening to hours of people talk just for the brief time they need to be there. The time spent in the meeting ends up not creating enough value for the project.

    How does one know/select the correct milestone to plan?

    That’s a typical question our project teams ask when first implementing Lean2.0®. They don’t appreciate my answer when I tell them it’s not about the number of weeks, but the amount of work being released. I say this because some milestones are going to be 8-12 weeks while others could be 24+ weeks. Again, it all depends on the amount of work being released. Honestly, it takes some time to understand what milestone a phase plan should encompass and depends on the Lean experience of your project team and trade partners.

    You want to error on the side of too small a milestone than too large a milestone, which can create more meetings. Typically, milestones such as structure complete, building dry-in, overhead rough-in, and wall rough-in can be completed in a phase plan per milestone on a small to medium sized project. For larger projects, breaking up each main milestone into areas and/or floors helps. Finishes is the one milestone that always takes longer per project than any other milestone.

    I have found that when the correct sized milestone is utilized/planned, our phase plans take approximately 2 hours give or take 15 minutes. 30 to 45 minutes of that time is spent with the project team and trade partners discussing the flow of the milestone and specific hand-offs between each trade.

    Too Much Detail:

    The devil is in the details. When talking through activities in a phase plan it is easy to get bogged down in details. You’ll have trades and even some co-workers wanting to list every little activity that goes into a scope of work rather than the main activities. This can lead to “analysis paralysis,” overthinking and overplanning of the work to be scheduled. It also can balloon a phase plan from maybe having a few activity tickets for one scope of work into having handfuls of activity tickets. The more tickets your trade partner must create and that must be organized, even in Touchplan, the more complex and longer your phase plan meeting becomes.

    What’s the key to the right amount of detail?

    Simplicity is key. Remember a phase plan is approximately a 10,000-foot view of the project. At that distance you’re going to see the major activities, but not the details that go into each activity. Two examples are;

    1. Structural steel activities: Column and Beam Erection, Floor/Roof Joist Erection, Floor/Roof Deck Install

    2. SOG Concrete activities: Footings, Slab Prep, and Slab Pour

    The additional details outside of the above should be input during the 6 week look ahead and weekly work plan scheduling. The main reason for this is a trade partner is not going to be able to plan specific details 12 plus weeks out from the work being started. The higher level you can keep the activities in the phase plan, the easier it is on the project team and trade partner to plan the schedule and work on the flow of the particular milestone.

    This is a hard thing to learn and remember. I can get stuck in the details during meetings and discussions all the time. But this part of a phase plan surprisingly came easy to me. It’s because I truly believe and keep to the idea, which I stated above, that the phase plan is a 10,000’ view of the schedule.

    Trade partners complain about the number of meetings they are in, and that most of those meetings don’t give value to the project. With the main philosophy of Lean being to remove waste, we need to remember that even Lean meetings can be wasteful, especially if they are hours upon hours. If you can keep your phase plans to around 2 hours each, you are not wasting your trade partners time or your project team’s time. To do so, make sure all parties attending the phase plan are prepared, plan to a realistic milestone, and keep each trade's scope of work activities simple. Expect this to take some time to click, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t have it down within one phase plan. Remember that we are all striving for continuous improvement and the perfect construction experience. That doesn’t come easy or quickly.

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Bryan has over 18 years of project and team management experience in the construction industry. He has developed strong project management skills which are demonstrated in the results he has achieved with his teams. He is an award-winning sales professional with experience specializing in business-to-business, outside and retail sales and contract negotiation.