“Design is an iterative process."

That's the phrase I most often hear when architects and engineers respond to how long some design deliverable will take to complete. When pushed, you may get a response, but it won't be accurate. Contractors have a go-to answer, too, "about two weeks." Design work and building work are interconnected. One follows the other. Design work is creative work, and creative work takes time. Building owners are like any other consumer. They want to know how long it will take the second the pricing for the work settles.

Some designers tell me that putting a time limit or schedule on their work cheapens or diminishes their creativity. That is my entry point to introduce the Last Planner® System of Productions Controls (LPS®). I briefly chat with my design partner about how LPS is a 'pull' framework developed by Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell in the 1990s to make project delivery reliable. I have tested it with hundreds of design team partners including heavy civil engineering wastewater treatment plants, schools, complex hospitals, and even beer production sites. Sometimes it is referred to as 'pull planning,' which invokes images of people gathered in offices or job sites amid sticky notes and drawing sheets posted on walls with the designer waiving me off, saying, "It doesn't work in design."

I can't disagree with her experience, but I share some case study examples, and we agree to a small trial for a portion of the design. Last year an architect working on a sizeable multi-story city hospital got into such a discussion with me. The client had paused the design for 30 days due to COVID uncertainty, and when the project restarted, it was a cumulative two-month delay based on the owner's project schedule.

The team galvanized on delivering their promise to start treating patients in less than three years. Traditional planning and scheduling methods historically taught in design, engineering, and construction management school, such as critical path method (CPM) scheduling, failed to accelerate design deliverables even when over a dozen more designers were added to the project.

The architect was sold on trying it first without the client and then later with the client if valuable. I agreed, small safe-to-fail experiments are great ways to improve value delivery on projects and in business. Many design and construction professionals learn CPM scheduling, but few know about LPS. My first experience with LPS occurred after a decade in the construction business, and after seeing the power of intense collaboration, I became hooked. Today I'm an approved instructor for the Lean Construction Institute on LPS.

LPS is gaining popularity in large part to work done by the Lean Construction Institute since 1997. Project teams are discovering LPS to overcome shifts from localized improvements that delay projects to increasing throughput for whole project optimization. Traditional contracting and organizational practices contribute to unpredictable workflows and limited collaboration. Using LPS in construction and design requires a proven facilitator to overcome the team's known and hidden boundaries. The first experiment succeeded with the design team trial session when I asked the architect to clarify a duration estimation of two weeks to understand what the civil engineer would receive. We focused on work detail, 'gives,' and constraints as 'needs' instead of just what and when. This LPS guided conversation increased the team's trust in me and my upfront commitment to ensure smooth, high-quality work without a design process sacrifice.

The Last Planner® is the person who directly makes resource decisions or assignments of work to their team. Project architect, discipline leader, head engineer, or similar roles are common names for the design phase's last planners. Superintendent, site manager, or foremen are common names for last planners in construction (Glossary | Lean Construction Institute | Design & Delivery Techniques, 2021). LPS is a highly collaborative, commitment-based planning system that integrates five interconnected conversations for more reliable project delivery.

In each LPS session, we answered these Should-Can-Will-Did-Learn questions.
1. What Should we do?
2. What Can we do?
3. What Will we do?
4. What Did we do?
5. What was Learned?

Here are the results. In the first session with only the designers, we created an improved flow that created a plan to submit the site permit drawings more than a few days sooner to the city than the current CPM schedule.

Here are the results. In the first session with only the designers, we created an improved flow that created a plan to submit the site permit drawings more than a few days sooner to the city than the current CPM schedule.

A month later, with the owner participating in the LPS session, the entire civil design duration shifted to completing on September 4, 2020, versus the original September 22, 2020, planned date. That's a nearly two-month gain of time by the team! Recall that the project's owner paused the design work 30 days earlier that year due to COVID uncertainty. The two-month schedule improvement was due to two factors. First, the 30-person owner and design team agreed to a safe-to-fail 4-hour LPS session. Second, they did the work and kept themselves accountable to deliver high-quality, coordinated, and constructible design. The architects and engineers saved 44 workdays. Using a blended $1,000 design day rate for 30 people equals a realized $1,320,000 USD design savings.

“$1,320,000 USD Design Savings"

Part of the implementation included creating multiple LPS facilitators among the team members to sustain the schedule gains and continue improving the workflow. After twelve months, the project realized a ten-month design schedule improvement. The total project schedule duration shifted to 26 months from the original 36 months, and the construction schedule is currently trending four months ahead of the original plan. The designers agreed to invite me to every LPS session for 2021. They are continuing to iterate and improve their newfound love of pull planning. During one such session this year, the team completed a multi-year milestone pull to determine the last responsible moment for the owner's imaging equipment team to make purchasing decisions. The total time from the hospital's business case approval to treating the first patient is ten months faster. How much revenue is that worth for a $300M hospital? How much would such an improvement of time be worth for your project?

If you want to dive deeper into LPS, please connect with me so we can keep the conversation going. Learning doesn't stop when you get a job. I enjoy learning about other's experiences with LPS, Scrum, Agile, and even CPM.

Felipe's Favorite Online LPS Guide:

A Guide to the Last Planner™ for Construction Foremen and Supervisors by Gregory A. Howell, P.E.


Lean Construction Institute. 2021. Glossary | Lean Construction Institute | Design & Delivery Techniques. [online] Available at: https://www.leanconstruction.org/learning/education/glossary/#l [Accessed 2 April 2021].

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Felipe Engineer-Manriquez is a best-selling author, international keynote speaker, Project Delivery Services Director for The Boldt Company, The EBFC Show podcast host, and proven construction change-maker from million to billion dollar-sized projects and companies worldwide implementing Lean and Agile practices. Engineer-Manriquez helps people work twice as fast with half the effort - easier, better, and faster. Felipe is a Registered Scrum Trainer™ (RST), Registered Scrum Master™ (RSM), and enables change via blogging, coaching, social media, and his book, Construction Scrum. He is also a Lean Construction Institute Chairman’s Award recipient for his contributions to the industry. Connect with Felipe at https://thefelipe.bio.link/.