According to Glenn Ballard, one of the inventors of the Last Planner System (LPS), an earlier study on Crew Planning in the 1980s was a precursor to its development1. At that time, Glenn was the Productivity Improvement Manager for Brown & Root’s Construction in the US. Some key LPS principles such as ‘make ready’ and ‘shielding workers from bad assignments’ were practiced then. While this and other studies contributed to the emergence of the LPS, it took another 10 years before the “Last Planner System” formally emerged as a system for managing production in construction.
How It Began
Figure 1 presents a timeline of the history and development of the LPS2. It shows that Glenn Ballard and Gregory Howell’s consulting work in the industrial construction sector led directly to the development of the LPS in the early 1990s 2, 4.
Figure 1: Timeline highlighting major developments in the Last Planner System (click to enlarge)
The LPS did not emerge from the Toyota Production System, rather, it is an approach developed by construction practitioners specifically for the construction industry. The initial principles of the LPS were to: (1) improve workflow and (2) improve plan reliability and predictability 3, 5. These principles have not changed but the list of LPS principles have been supplemented over time with on-going research and development.
The history of the LPS would be incomplete without mentioning its early marriage with Lauri Koskela’s seminal work in 19925 on the application of production principles in construction. This union created the field now known as ‘Lean Construction’ and led to the formation of the International Group Lean Construction in 1993 with its inaugural conference held in Espoo, Finland. The term “Last Planner” was first mentioned at this conference and published in the Proceedings5. Early experimentations and implementations of the LPS on construction projects occurred between 1993 and 1994, with a full implementation of the system carried out on a major refinery project in Venezuela between 1995 and 19964, 5.
How It Was Developed
Figure 1 reveals that various developments have occurred over time. For instance, in 1996, the link between Look-ahead Planning, the make ready process, and the impacts of Look-ahead Planning in improving the Percentage Plan Complete (PPC) was first discovered and incorporated into the LPS. In terms of research, the most influential publication is Glenn Ballard’s PhD thesis “Last Planner System of Production Control” published in 2000. A recent Google scholar search showed 832 citations of this work7, the most cited publication on the LPS to date. Ballard’s thesis has informed research into the LPS in both industry practice and academic activity. It is a core part of the Lean Construction education for undergraduates, Masters students, and PhD scholars around the world.
Figure 1 shows how theory can be used to underpin the system and explain how it works. Some of the studies that exemplify this include: the work of Lauri Koskela on the TFV (Transformation Flow Value) model of production6, language action perspective8, and the development of production control principles9 to mention a few. The LPS has also been integrated with other systems such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), Location Based Management System, Takt Time planning and visual management. Several commercial software products have also been developed based on the LPS.
In terms of implementation, there has been an exponential increase in LPS implementation10 in the construction industry with written evidence of LPS implementation in 16 countries and in all the major continents of the world2. Currently, Glenn Ballard is creating a LPS benchmark with inputs from both industry practitioners and academics around the world11. The goal of the benchmark is to: list the current best practices of the LPS, provide Q&A to common questions on the LPS, give organizations the ability to measure their implementation of the LPS relative to the ideal state, and standardize the language used by the industry when referring to different components of the LPS.
This post has shown that the study that led to the development of the LPS began in the 1980s. Its formal development occurred in the 1990s following Glenn Ballard and Gregory Howell’s consulting work in the industrial construction sector. Over this period, the LPS demonstrated its dynamism by constantly combining practice with theory through research. Further research showed its integration with other elements such as BIM, Location-Based Planning, and Visual Management. The LPS has shown its potential to improve construction projects’ cost, schedule, productivity, and safety. Many researchers from around the world are actively conducting research on the LPS and new findings are continuously integrated into the LPS.
The authors would like to thank Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of this blog post.
1. Ballard, G., (2015a). Crew Level Planning. Lean Construction Journal, pp 15-24
2. Daniel, E.I., Pasquire, C. and Dickens, G., (2015). Exploring the implementation of the Last Planner® System through IGLC community: twenty one years of experience. In: Seppänen, O., González, V.A. & Arroyo, P., 23rd Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Perth, Australia, 29-31 Jul 2015. pp 153-162.
3. Ballard, H.G., (2000). The last planner system of production control. PhD thesis, University of Birmingham.
4. Ballard, G., and Howell, G. (1998). Shielding production: essential step in production control. Journal of Construction Engineering and management, Vol 124 Issue 1, pp.11-17.
5. Ballard, G., (1993). Lean construction and EPC performance improvement. In: L.F. Alarcón, ed. Lean Construction. Rotterdam, Netherlands: A.A. Balkema Publishers.
6. Koskela, L., (2000). We need a theory of construction. In Berkeley-Stanford Construction Engineering and Management Workshop: Defining a Research Agenda for AEC Process/Product.
7. Google scholar, 2015. The Last Planner System of production control citation of Googlescholar [online] Available: at: https://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=last+planner+system+of+production+control&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5 [Accessed: 18 January 2016].
8. Macomber, H. and Howell, G., (2003). Linguistic action: contributing to the theory of lean construction. In: Proceedings of the 11th Annual Meeting of the International Group for Lean Construction, Virginia, USA, pp. 1-10.
9. Ballard, G., Hammond, J. and Nickerson, R., (2009). Production control principles. In: Cuperus, Y. & Hirota, E.H., 17th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Taipei, Taiwan, 15-17 Jul 2009. pp 489-500.
10. Lean Construction Institute, 2015. The Last Planner. [Online] available at: http://www.leanconstruction.org/training/the-last-planner/ [Accessed: 19 January 2016].
11. Ballard, (2015). Last Planner current process benchmark. [Online] Symposium presentation Project Production Institute. Available at: http://projectproduction.org/resources/presentations/ [Accessed: 4 February 2016]