Last PlannerĀ® in Renovations and Design: Going from Good to Great

Posted by Paul Ebbs on

Change is good. Indeed, every dark cloud has a silver lining. I am 8000 miles from home, but some things never change. The prospect or arrival of rain makes headline news in San Diego. The dark clouds of the thick marine layer or “May Gray” arrived in San Diego last month and we had two “good” days of rain. In Ireland, “good” weather is defined as days with no rain. “Great” weather is when the clouds disappear for a few days or weeks. This becomes headline news in Ireland and a starting point in many conversations. People like change and appreciate looking at the world through a different lens (sunshine or rain). This brings me to the primary focus of this month’s post going from good to great by changing the way we collaboratively plan for renovations and design projects using Last Planner® in Renovations and Last Planner® in Design.

The Last Planner® System (LPS) was developed by Professors Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell in the 1990s and was reported in Dr Ballard’s PhD thesis in 2000. The basic premise of LPS is to get those who do the work to plan the work and get reliable commitments which helps projects flow. The system was originally designed as a production control system for construction where the “Last Planners” (those who touch the work last – Superintendents and Trade Foremen) are used to plan the field work. However, the theory and practical application of LPS has evolved since it was first developed and it is now used in many other applications such as shipbuilding, commissioning and even personal situations like wedding planning!

Last Planner® in Renovations

We held LPS kick-offs this month for two high-school summer renovation projects. Both projects require start to finish in just two months over the summer holidays. In one of the projects the General Contractor has chosen not to produce a CPM (Critical Path Method) schedule and is instead relying on those who know the work best (specialty trades) to work together and produce the schedule. Maximizing the whole project, not the piece. One of the projects in particular is quite complex and requires significant demolition and abatement. The 300 Post-it notes that were generated during the Milestone and Phase Pull Plans shown in these images illustrate the complexity of the project.

The impact of one wrong commitment to demolition and abatement could result in serious delays during the construction phase of the project. Working out the daily schedule at the wall with the input from all the trades quickly showed that the schedule had to be reworked. It is best to this at the wall, not in the field. The key takeaways from this kick-off included:

  • Good team coordination and excellent cooperation.
  • A lot of work ahead.
  • Success is dependent on teamwork.
  • This is a good way to keep everyone accountable.
  • It is good to keep everyone on the same page, everyone can see each other’s scope and crew requirements clearly.
  • Keeping commitments is essential to make the plan work.
  • The visible aspect of the wall is really helpful.
  • Good to meet and see who all the project players are before commencing on site.

Last Planner® System in Design.

Design management is made easier using LPS because each design team member develops a greater understanding of the roles, responsibilities and actions of each discipline through the conversations, collaboration and good communication that evolve around the wall (LPS visual work board). All of the activities, decisions and important milestones for each discipline are displayed visually with multi-color Post-it notes. Each tag relates to an activity or task that is created by each design team member in a unique color. As a consequence, everyone (including the owner) can see how defining the project scope, decisions, submittals and approvals etc. are impacting the design production schedule.

The early engagement of the team (designer, specialty trades, owner, etc.) in LPS in design and pre-construction significantly reduces the time spent in design. During another LPS in construction workshop last month an electrical contractor estimated LPS used in pre-construction and design compressed the design schedule by 25% or more on the three occasions he used LPS.

Combining LPS with Building Information Modelling (BIM) during design creates even greater efficiencies. Similarly colored Post-its are used to match Revit colors. These colors will then follow through into the construction phase with the respective construction disciplines. The conversations and collaboration around the wall, in addition to each discipline’s Post-it notes help to quickly raise any issues that will impact the design or procurement process. This can eliminate unnecessary work or rework (waste) for team members and highlight any potential show stoppers in the design or construction phase. This can also be referred to as delivering “bad news” early.

The Lean Construction Institute (LCI) San Diego Community of Practice in conjunction with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) San Diego Chapter held “Last Planner in Design” in May. The attendees included owners, architects, engineers, project managers, superintendents and trade foremen. CW Driver were the kind hosts. Dan Fauchier of The ReAlignment Group of California LLC, and Umstot Project and Facility Solutions was the guest presenter. Dan provided the overview of LPS and led the facilitation of the “hands-on” and “learn-by-doing” 2 hour workshop. I was delighted to be the assistant facilitator during the practical exercise.

The big takeaways from the Last Planner® in Design workshop included:

  • LPS in design is a great informal format to kick-off and hold design team meetings.
  • LPS can benefit the whole project especially in design assist.
  • Reverse planning (Pull Planning) can identify constraints.
  • Gained a greater understanding of other design professional’s positions on the team and learning more about their needs.
  • The benefit of having an owner’s representative present and their participation in LPS design meetings.
  • LPS is adaptable to design from construction.
  • 3D BIM combined with LPS in design can provide a greater process understanding of the project for the team.
  • There are strong similarities between LPS and Agile software development.

Why use Last Planner®?

Put simply, using Last Planner® properly reduces schedules by improving the reliability of workflow by engaging with the people doing the work to make commitments to deliver their work (information, material, inventory, product, etc.). Understanding the work of others and what, where, when and who is required to complete a task helps to make the project flow and identifies any “bad news” early at the wall rather than in the field. If we fail to plan, we are planning to fail. Using Last Planner® for renovations and design reduces time and effort and subsequent rework. According to a study by Hwang and Yang in 2014, rework can account for between 2 – 12% of project costs. An informal study by Glenn Ballard revealed 50% of design time was spent on unnecessary design rework. Furthermore, Peter Love identified that 50% of rework is a direct result of design changes and that indirect costs can be as much as six times the actual cost of rectification. Thus, there is a lot of opportunity for eliminating waste.  Last Planner® plays a big part in reducing rework, associated costs and creating efficient schedules.

LPS eliminates rework because the work being handed-off between trades is clarified at the wall if it is 100% acceptable. If the hand-off is not correct, then a correction will occur there and then, ensuring the defect does not travel through. LPS also defines accountability through the visibility of the wall.

To conclude, I will finish with a quote from Hwang and Yang.

“Good communication between designers and contractors can prevent the occurrence of rework. One project manager who was interviewed emphasized the importance of frequent meetings and updates on design development, as these communication channels help project team members to understand the process and consequences of changes that may cause rework. The respondents also indicated that a shared common database would increase the level of communication among project players, allowing for project information to be retrieved and updated instantaneously. Waiting time for gathering essential project information from various project players can be greatly reduced while efficiency is enhanced.”

Next month the focus will be on Target Value Design - designing to a budget not budgeting to a design.