Life can throw unexpected curve balls. One such came on attending a workshop led by Christine Pasquire many years ago at Loughborough University in the UK. In talking about the Last Planner System (LPS), she revealed an approach that appeared logical and intuitive, in contrast to the illogical unwieldy Critical Path Method (CPM) I’d used to plan and run construction projects for the previous twenty years.
Yet, implementing this seemingly straightforward system proved challenging. Available guidance (Mossiman, 2002) was used to aid implementation, but outcomes were mixed. But another curve ball arrived. This was an opportunity offered to research the implementation of the LPS on a number of short ongoing refurbishment projects on a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facility in Northwest Australia. This led to development of implementation guidance over a two-year period (Hackett, 2017). The guidance points (below), is now used to inform the implementation of the LPS on UK construction projects from highway to public realm schemes for the past five years.
Obtain real buy in and support from executive management including clients
This is the first and most critical step in the journey. Without real support from senior management, implementation proves challenging and long-term sustainability unlikely.
Identify and engage formal leaders, especially senior management
Real buy-in from formal leaders is also a prerequisite for success.
Identify and engage informal leaders
An informal leader may have no formal position of authority in an organisation but are held in high regard due their experience and reputation among peers. They can influence the decisions of others. These can prove valuable connectors in selling the benefits to their peer group.
Couple the use of the LPS with CPM milestones
The process map below adapted from (Ballard, Tommelein, 2016) guides implementation. Initially the CPM was not integrated into the LPS. However, there was an observed misalignment with changing project key dates. Now CPM key dates inform the LPS process, with a feed forward and feed backward loop introduced between CPM and Pull Planning high-level milestones, to maintain synchronised workflow. Furthermore, as construction is so heavily investigated in the use of CPM, it was found that the aligned use of CPM provides stronger buy-in from organisations when first implementing the LPS.
Use pre-existing lean or lean type knowledge and existing initiatives
Lean thinking can be more instinctive than acknowledged in the literature. My own father, a dairy farmer on the west coast of Ireland, intuitively developed and used numerous lean production type initiatives over the years. Also, a number of initiatives encountered on previous projects have informed current LPS implementation.
Using the LPS as a boundary object
Knowledge transfer can be difficult due to boundaries to knowledge transfer. The LPS is used as a boundary object facilitating knowledge transfer and continuous improvement.
Develop a high-level strategy and a robust CPM schedule prior to the construction process
Always develop and then focus relentlessly on the high-level and supporting strategies. Strategies can include work sequence, use of continuous improvement, off-site manufacture, 5S including standardisation. Lack of strategy appears to be endemic in the construction industry.
Use Daily Huddle boards to engage the workforce in daily production planning (below right).
Use a disciplined approach
Use a structured approach in the implementation, with the approach continually refined through Plan Do Check Act cycles (above right). The PDCA cycles produced change. The current approach consists of Pull Planning: 9-12 months high level planning, informed by the CPM schedule. Weekly work planning (WWP): report on commitments achieved in prior week, what WILL be done in the upcoming week and what CAN be done in the following 4 weeks. Daily huddle reporting on commitments achieved on prior day and what will be achieved for the upcoming day.
Use of LPS meetings to assist continuous improvement
Use of constraint analysis, data analysis, from the LPS reporting. This informs first run studies, fish bone analysis workshops, used for continuous improvement and lessons learned over the course of a project.
- The LPS has now been used on projects from petrochemical plant, highway and public realm schemes. Implementation was initially undertaken on discrete sections of projects, but now across a full project, with the following achieved consistently.
- 20-25% schedule compression
- 15-20% cost reduction.
- Much reduced punch lists/ snagging
- High Quality outcomes
1. Mossiman, A. (2002). Last Planner: collaborative conversations for predictable design & construction delivery
2. Hackett (2017). The impact of a collaborative planning approach on engineering construction performance http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/31787/
3. Ballard, G., Tommelein, I.T. (2016). Current Process Benchmark for the Last Planner System