“As a superintendent, The Last Planner System is the most useful tool in my tool box. It forms the structure that allows me to develop a culture of trust and respect within my project teams. Allowing everyone involved in the project to feel like a valued part of a team that looks out for each other and works together for what is best for the project.”
Cade Keyes, Superintendent, Columbia Construction Company
“After decades of being the smartest guy on the job (nothing happened unless I planned the work unilaterally), I had an “awakening” when introduced to The Last Planner System for planning work. Suddenly the work was getting done in a more orderly relaxed fashion without conflict and lost time due to waiting for the work to be made ready, information, or resources. I realized by working together with the experts of their prospective fields using the Last Planner System more got done with less effort. I felt a great weight being lifted from my shoulders. I couldn’t imagine doing any project without the Last Planner system.”
Jim LaCasse, Superintendent, PC Construction
What is the Last Planner System?
Work on what ultimately became the Last Planner System of Production Control began in 1980 when Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell sought an approach for optimizing coordination between trades while improving the reliability of construction planning. The initial practice focused on the crew development of weekly work plans that only included work that could be accomplished that following week. It was a departure from the centralized planning approach of assigning tasks based on a master schedule. While crews were able to start some elements of those master planned tasks, unable to complete them they were placed in a position of frequent task switching. Limiting work to only those tasks that could be completed increased productivity significantly. During the next two decades additional practices were added to form the Last Planner System, including daily huddles with learning metrics, make ready planning, phase planning, and master planning.
The Last Planner System is one of a handful of practices that comprise lean construction. It retains a central place in the array of these practices because it enhances collaboration across a team of wide-ranging disciplines. Projects employing lean construction practices are three times likely to be completed ahead of schedule and twice as likely to finish under budget. The Last Planner System plays a central role in increasing productivity, realizing impressive levels of cost reduction.
Operating Confidently in an Uncertain Industry
The construction process is full of unknowns that threaten project schedules and budgets. In many respects centralized control is illusionary when it comes to project management, and one unforeseen event can trigger unsustainable project losses. Because the skillful use of the Last Planner System reduces the time and energy required to complete a project, field management teams have been able to double their contribution to their company’s net operating income while reducing the stress that often accompanies leading a construction project. Superintendents and project teams using the Last Planner System also find themselves being part of a professional community committed to helping them succeed.
Is the Last Planner System Right for You?
There is an important caveat to consider. The skillful use of the Last Planner System requires a rigorous approach toward coaching foremen and crew leaders in the work of collaborative planning. Even once basic planning skills have been obtained, a lean approach requires everyone on the team to continue improving their planning and collaboration skills. While the payback is significant, company leaders need to assess if they are willing to commit themselves and the company to the time and emotional investment required to succeed.