My Second Month in America: Last PlannerĀ® System Observations and Takeaways

Posted by Paul Ebbs on

Time flies when you are having fun. The past 2 months were quick and every day brings a new experience. I sailed San Diego Bay courtesy of Dave’s colleague Dave MacVean - the Navy dolphins and sea lions were busily being trained. We attended my first baseball game which saw the San Diego Padres defeat the LA Dodgers 3-1 - Hodads burgers and Ballast Point beers complemented the baseball game atmosphere very well. Brennan’s Irish Pub provided a “céad míle fáilte” (100,000 welcomes) sandwiched between a 2-day soft-start Lean kick-off session north of Los Angeles. The Lean Construction Institute LA Community of Practice ‘Overview of Lean Project Delivery’ training day was up next. The Queen Mary cruise ship welcomed us on board the night between these events. The ship resides in Long Beach and was decommissioned in 1967. It was a nostalgic and pleasant way to wind down the evening with Dan, Kyle, Summer and Dave. It felt as if we were in an old movie!

Much of the work focus this month has been on nine Last Planner® System (LPS) training; kick-offs; and follow-ups. Villego® simulations have been used in some workshops to introduce teams to the concept of LPS. The simulation uses gamification to demonstrate the benefits of LPS over traditional planning methods like the Critical Path Method (CPM) to great effect. Following one session at San Diego State University some graduate students commented that the simulation and subsequent exposure to LPS was ‘the best class they ever had’.                                                      

It has been really interesting to see how LPS is being used by different teams, clients and coaches in the design and construction of educational, medical, correctional and biotech facilities. The importance of a good facilitator and engaged superintendent appear to be crucial to productive sessions. Every construction project is different and every LPS session has been different. The LPS requires us to think backwards and this is difficult. Thinking backwards is a paradigm shift in how we traditionally plan projects. Each time I have witnessed LPS participants being continuously prompted to work back from their milestones (pull), not forward (push). People naturally gather at the left side of the wall and think left to right. While most participants catch on during the first session, and in “takeaways” at the end, indicate they really like the outcomes, one participant noted that he did not like planning backwards and preferred the old (CPM) way. Enquiring deeper, his response was because he had to think more which was more work and difficult.

The traditional method of construction planning using CPM (push) predominantly focuses on the 1st (owner), 2nd (designer) and 3rd (general contractor) planners to plan all the work. Regularly, this will be just one or two people. Their combined experience may only range between 30 and 70 years. They predict the crew size for each trade; what they will be doing and where they will be located during every working day of the project without consulting them. On the other hand, the LPS uses the Last Planners (superintendents, trade foremen and suppliers) to collaboratively plan their own work. Collectively, their experience usually exceeds 3, 4 or 5 centuries. The series of conversations at the wall re-sequences the work. This builds a network of commitments and results in reliability and flow in the process because they are planning their own work. Team member trust is building at each stage. As a consequence, the effectiveness and efficiency of the last planners creating reliable work schedules increases.

Observing the Last Planners plan made me think about how we plan our own lives. We organize our own lives more reliably than our work. Why is this? We manage to get the kids to school, get to work and finish on time, go to the gym and watch our favorite programs. We do all this well, because we have control of our own lives. In the traditional construction environment, we are reliant on the schedules made by others. If this was true of our own lives, I wonder how much more chaotic life would be? We are the best problem solvers and planners when it comes to our own personal situations. Maybe this is why LPS works so well for those that engage in the system. The Last Planners are now planning their own work days. Used properly, the LPS is almost bulletproof.

My takeaways this month relate to the role the internal and external facilitator plays in LPS. The facilitator plays an important role to keep things fast-paced, focused and engaging each participant in the process. The external facilitator can help train, mediate and ask the right questions while remaining neutral. This is essential if there are any issues rumbling beneath the surface. Internal facilitators are also crucial to LPS success. However, some participants reported that this role works best when it is rotated as it helps to build empathy in the group for the facilitator role, thus engaging the Last Planners in each session. From a participant’s viewpoint the biggest takeaway was understanding the needs of prior/subsequent work and project requirements better.

More details on LPS and a 5-minute video can be found at www.realignment.solutions

More takeaways next month.




Tags: last planner system, paul ebbs