Using production management with the Last Planner® System

“How do we know if we are doing it right?”

This question by a participant in an LPS workshop during one of my early engagements has stuck with me as I’ve worked with teams and individuals furthering their lean journey. While I don’t recall my specific answer to that individual, I’m sure it was along the lines of, “Well, most important is that the planning conversations are happening, and you’re tracking PPC to see how reliable the planning process is as well as having those root cause conversations about when there are plan failures so that the team gets better week after week”.

While that may be a more or less reasonable answer, it hasn’t been that satisfying and has pushed me to think more deeply about how we are training and facilitating teams in their LPS implementations. One obvious measure to look at to weigh the impact of an LPS implementation is the metric of Percent Plan Complete. The ubiquitous metric of the Last Planner® system making visible the percentage of activities completed as planned in a given week to the total number of planned activities.

PPC = (Activities Completed as Planned)/(Total Activities Planned)

We often say that if a team is achieving a trend of 70-75% PPC it is high performing and “they are doing it right” but at the same time, when coaching teams, I always emphasize that PPC is not to be treated as a score since that can lead to behavior of striving for a number rather than truly improving continuously, so we have to be careful to not have a PPC score be the goal.

A stated purpose of LPS is to ‘make work flow more reliable’. PPC is the best measure we have of how reliable our plans are for the week; however, measuring workflow effectiveness on a project wide scale is not quite as simple, especially on projects which don’t have clean delineation of similar work batches. In addition, as we should be implementing LPS in the context and objectives of lean construction the concept of making work more productive – by eliminating waste, creating innovation and more reliable work planning – should be front and center of our thinking.

Production Management & Productivity

In my construction experience, I have been engaged in Last Planner® efforts from multiple perspectives – planning collaborator, facilitator, coach and lead – both in the design and construction portion of the project. Of the project teams I’ve had the pleasure of working with, few make the leap from typical production/schedule control – where the date needs to be achieved and the way to get more done is expend more hours via more manpower or extended working hours – to production management/productivity improvement – where we achieve more with the same or less expended man hours.

In some extreme cases, the output of collaborative pull plans simply become the new command and control schedule accountability tool, with insufficient focus or clarity on the productivity benefits that we should be expecting. This can lead teams to struggle and cause frustration because the time invested in pull planning session and weekly work plan meetings is not yielding the payback we want when the actual work on-site is still a struggle and last planners can suffer from planning burnout.

If we include productivity expectations in the application of Last Planner® System we can see a more direct connection between the planning efforts and outcomes. This along with reliability measure and tracking variances lets us see a direct feedback from the application of lean principles on the project on improving productivity above budget expectation.

Whenever I am facilitating a pull planning session, and the response to the question “How long to get that done” is me taking out of a scale to measure the actual units, I become a little more enthusiastic about what we might achieve. However, these instances are still too few and far between.

To achieve a more broadly spread integration of production and productivity goals with project team, we need to integrate this line of thinking, practice and measurement into our LPS training and coaching with teams.

From a production and productivity mindset, we may look at a gradual implementation approach to LPS. If the team is new to LPS and each other, we can look to build confidence and competence in weekly work plans and look ahead planning, while bringing productivity discussions both into the planning conversations and the study of variances.

Study of variances: “If we completed the work item on the day planned, but we could not be as productive as anticipated do we still count that as complete as planned”?

Then, as the team demonstrates competence in work planning we can bring in additional elements of collaborative planning close to the work taking place while bringing additional data to the conversation.

Click here to view my recorded webinar where I take a deeper dive into productivity as a core element of lean project planning, including plenty of example of tools, tips and techniques for how to integrate this into your planning sessions and project conversations.

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