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. Considering the system was initially produced to manage manufacturing and production, this appears to make sense. Pull Planning in Design is still relatively early along in its lean journey as it pertains to successful reduction of waste and increased reliable promising.

In October 2017, I gave a presentation with Larry Summerfield and Ron Migliori of Buehler and Buehler Structural Engineers, along with Shurid Rahman of Sutter Health at the 2017 LCI Congress in Anaheim highlighting our understanding of implementing Pull Planning in design, including best practices and common pitfalls. The presentation centered on a relatively common theme amongst planning in design: The design process centers on refinement. The design workflow is a continuous improvement of concept and not a linear sequence of tasks. This fact can lead to frustration while trying to implement the Last Planner System if it is designed to accompany a linear workflow.

The refinement of design centers on the notion that incremental improvements add value. When the time and money cost of the next improvement is too much, then that portion of the design is "complete," which can vary from firm to firm. This incremental improvement is also based on information that is discovered during the design workflow process. Together, these concepts are part of the reason why the design deliverable information available in each design milestone (% Schematic, % Design Development, and % Construction Documentation) vary so much from project to project.

Our presentation centered on four key concepts on implementing Pull Planning in design:

1. Ensure proper use of the (3) planning meetings of the Last Planner system, as each are equally important:

  • Milestone Planning
  • Phase Planning
  • Make Work Ready Planning (Weekly Work Plan)

2. In the Milestone Planning portion, make sure to establish a strategy that includes discovery first and only after all of that discovery is completed and documented then estimate time frames. Some items included in discovery are:

  • What information does the owner need to know and when
  • What information do the users need to know and when
  • When do consultants need to be brought in, when do they need to be released
  • What design work can be performed by a Design-Builder, when should they be brought in and when do they need to be released
  • When will construction and design overlap
3. In the Phase Planning portion,
  • Select a single milestone to be pulled
  • Keep the duration short, as short as possible. The longer the forecast, the more wrong your team will be
  • Discuss and document the conditions of satisfaction for that milestone. Try not to focus on what drawings are complete but which aspects of specific parts of the design are complete enough for handoffs
  • Do your homework, have each stakeholder document their primary tasks including what they need from whom at what point
  • Each design consultant establishes and discusses their optimal workflow
  • During the pull plan meeting, review critical workflow first (usually architectural), then align other workflows of other consultants through the negotiation process
  • Include durations and document
4. In the Make Work Ready Planning (Weekly Work Plan) portion,
  • Review phase plan every week, include review of the previous week and review of the upcoming handoffs for the next 2 weeks
  • Commit to the next week’s activities
  • Report out new information, constraints, and design improvements, and adjust phase plan as required
  • Measure effectiveness utilizing Percent Planned Complete, Percent Committed, and make sure to utilize reason codes for issues to help improve process each week
My co-presenters and I have found that following these general guidelines during design processes help increase the reliability and effectiveness pull planning in this phase of the project. While there is a lot of technology to help with this each of these process, we have found that before jumping too far into technology, establishing a process workflow with project teammates is the best first. You want to make sure you have a good process, and not let the “technology tail wag-the-dog."

There will always be space for continuous improvement on all processes, especially processes that try to integrate multitudes of various people, processes, and technology. However, we have found, having your entire owner, design, and construction team buy into the Last Planner System in the way we have described above will set up a baseline from which the design team can be successful in efficient planning and reliable promising.

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