What is the Last Planner System?

It’s full name is the Last Planner® System of Production Control. Production control is necessary on projects to support working toward planned accomplishments, doing what can be done to move along a planned path, and when that becomes impossible, determine alternative paths that accomplish desired goals. The term Last Planner® is a registered trademark of the Lean Construction Institute, which is why the “®” symbol should appear when first used in a document.

The Last Planner® is a holistic system, meaning that each of its parts is necessary to support lean project planning and execution. Resist the temptation to treat the system as a menu from which you select only the parts you want to use. The system is organized into five major parts.

Figure 1: Last Planner System

The first two parts focus on identifying the work that should be done to complete a successful lean project. Master Planning, part one, is done at the very beginning of a project. The master planning work is focused on identifying major milestones that help gauge the pace at which the project will progress if it is to be successful. Normally milestones are completion dates for each of the major project phases and dates for releasing the purchase of major long lead building items. Ideally both design phase and construction phase last planners participate in developing the master-planning schedule. The term “last planner” refers to the people on the team responsible for making the final assignment of work to specific performers and ensuring they have the materials, equipment and information available to complete their assignments. During the design phase, last planners are typically architectural and engineering project managers. During the construction phase, last planners are typically foremen and superintendents for the trade contractor crews.

Phase planning, part two, is done two to three months before the beginning of each phase. Phase in this context refers to a portion of the project that makes sense to consider as a complete unit. The phase breakdown for a project will depend upon the size and complexity of the work, with beginning and completion milestones for phases identified during the master planning. Phase planning develops an agreement between last planners on how all the work between those two milestones will be completed.

Phase planning utilizes a pull planning approach, wherein last planners are very clear about the sequence of requests and commitments they are making with each other. The approach follows a central lean practice of developing flow by starting with the final condition required to complete a phase, and building the sequence of work though a series of customer requests and performer promises to define clearly how work will be released from one operation to another. These phase planning sessions are important opportunities for the team to determine how to pace the work so that it progresses at a steady rate with limited variation.

The third part of the Last Planner System focuses on ensuring that work can be done. It is the make ready planning through which last planners look ahead to evaluate whether there are constraints to upcoming tasks identified during phase planning. Most teams look ahead six weeks when make ready planning, though on complex projects a longer time horizon may be warranted. A lookahead plan is used to help the team focus on which tasks need to be made ready.

Constraints are conditions that prevent a planned task from being completed, and include concerns such as labor and material availability, equipment access, construction document conflicts and permits.

Constraints are identified on a log, with responsibility for removing a constraint identified along with a promise for removing each constraint by a certain date. Insufficient make ready planning is often the single most factor in project workflow breakdowns, so it is vital that the team attend to make ready planning in a diligent manner. The make ready planning also includes the refinement of tasks identified during phase planning into more detail, as the work is better understood.

There are two additional aspects of make ready planning that need consideration. Those tasks in the phase planning that were not broken down to the level of operations sufficient for daily and weekly execution planning need to be developed into further detailed tasks. This is also when project teams collaboratively can more precisely design the first run of their operations through that phase of work.

The fourth part of the Last Planner System focuses on what each last planner will do to fulfill the promises made during the phase planning. This is accomplished through the preparation of a project Weekly Work Plan, wherein each last planner identifies the tasks their teams will complete each day of the following week. Reliability is extremely important in developing these shared plans.

The fifth part of the Last Planner System focuses on learning from what the team did. Learning is a daily action for lean project teams. Last Planner provides two specific opportunities for learning. One is through the daily coordination meeting, often called the daily huddle. In this brief stand-up meeting, last planners confirm whether their teams accomplished the planned work that day, and if not agreed upon adjustments required to stay on plan for the week. These daily adjustments are vital, as daily adjustments are easier than weekly adjustments, which are much easier than monthly adjustments.

The other learning opportunity provided by the Last Planner System is through the analysis of a few key metrics. One is Percent Plan Complete, a measurement of the percentage of weekly planned tasks that were completed as planned. Another is Tasks Made Ready, a measurement of the percent of tasks identified during phase planning that were ready to begin as planned. A third is Tasks Anticipated, a measurement of the number of tasks in a weekly plan that were identified in the look ahead plan.

There are two important considerations in making your implementation of the Last Planner System successful. First, you won’t leverage the full potential of the Last Planner in a command and control environment. Management practices need to be aligned with the lean respect for people principle and project leaders need to see themselves as coaches and facilitators of the planning and learning by last planners on the project.

Second, the use of the Last Planner System is a discipline, and like any other discipline such as an athletic activity or playing a musical instrument requires continued daily practice to first become proficient and then ultimately master. Make it the cornerstone of project team collaboration and you have taken a large step toward implementing a lean project.

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