Project Managers are Last Planners Too!

We often identify “last planners” as the people responsible for performing the work on a construction site. Although project managers do not perform any of the work on a construction site, they do have more responsibility to the project other than just organizing the next golf trip! This blog takes a look at how project managers can use the the Last Planner® System (LPS) to help the project team deliver their promises.

At the project level, LPS starts with pull planning back from milestones. This is an effort that should involve the entire team, as well as project management. When the project manager is involved in the pull planning process, they are able to offer valuable information about budget constraints, scope of work, and buyout methods. As the team pulls the schedule back from key milestones, it can reveal constraints or grey areas in the contract that may require action from the project manager.

When the pull plan has been established and accepted by the team, the project manager can then use it to plan the deliverables his team is responsible for. These can include buyouts, submittal approvals, shop drawing development, and the procurement of material - all constraints that could stop work flowing. This is why I consider those office guys last planners. When the delivery of information is pull planned with the construction crew, it increases the team’s chance for success. To do this, the project manager should assemble those responsible for coordinating the information that the project requires.

The group can then identify the construction start date for each scope of work based on the pull plan. By working backwards from key milestone dates, lead time for items such as material delivery, fabrication, and for the architect's review(s) can be identified and allocated. This helps the team establish a “need by” date for their deliverables. The group can then take into account the time needed by their trade partners to compile the required information, thus producing a due date for receiving information from trade partners.

The result of this type of pull planning is a predictable flow of information required to keep the project moving. The next step of the Last Planner process is make ready planning. This is where the project manager can ensure his team is accountable for the promises they make. The team can isolate the deliverables that are due in the next 6 weeks and record and remove any constraints that can prohibit them from delivering the information required.

One of the basic elements of the Last Planner System is that work is planned in more detail as work gets closer. Therefore, as the “need by” date moves closer to the following week, each team member will create detailed individual work plans to meet the information needs of the group. Each team member will only promise the information that they can honestly commit to supplying. It is important that the last planners are in a position to say “no” if they cannot realistically commit to their promises. Saying “no” is actually a reliable promise. If someone says “yes” all the time, how can you tell which promises are reliable? The power to say no is an important part of the Last Planner System. Reasons for Missed Commitments, Variances and Percent Promise Complete (PPC) can then be tracked (as a team), recorded and acted upon to continuously improve the flow of information.

The Last Planner(R) System is more than just a tool to manage the construction process. Many of the variances I’ve recorded on projects stem from approvals, shop drawings, and material procurement. A lack of/or incorrect information will stop the flow of work. When information is managed based on the principles of the Last Planner System, the full benefits of LPS can be realized.



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