What Is the Last Planner® System?
The Last Planner® System (LPS) is a realistic way to collaboratively manage project-based production. It enables issues to be identified and resolved and increases the chances that workflows and projects are completed on time. Simply put, LPS is exactly what its namesake suggests, a system that engages last planners—the people ultimately responsible for getting the work done—in the planning and efficient execution of a project.
Developed by Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell, LPS was designed to produce a predictable workflow with rapid learnings for continuous improvement. A common misconception is that teams need to subscribe to all parts of Lean construction and its principles before using the Last Planner® System. While Lean and other theories like Agile Construction Management are useful to understand the origin of LPS, the only requirement to get started is a team’s commitment to working together and becoming more efficient by adhering to the Last Planner® System.
LPS is useful at any stage, from design through construction, and everyone from owners and project executives to trade partners and superintendents can use and benefit from using LPS. The outcome of enacting the Last Planner® System is a continuously improving project workflow with increased team accountability and commitment.
If you’re looking to get started using LPS, we break down the five stages of the system below and provide tips on how you can implement it today. Please note that all projects are unique and therefore, each of the following steps and recommendations should be customized to the project scope and team.
Breaking Down the Last Planner® System
LPS is made up of five components:
- Master Scheduling
- Phase Scheduling
- Look Ahead Planning
- Commitment Planning
1. Master Scheduling
What it is: The process of building a schedule covering an entire project start-to-finish. It involves identifying and planning for high-level milestones that end up defining phases of work and their relative overlaps.
When to use it: Master scheduling should start as soon as is practical, with the master schedule being further refined as project details come into more focus. It is not essential to have the entire master schedule complete to the same level of detail from the start. What matters is that the full project is captured and that the earlier phases are better defined.
Why do it: The master schedule is the basis for all other planning during the project. It sets the milestones and phase durations for the project. All future detailed activities will be built out in the following steps.
Who is involved: During the conceptual and design stage, typically the construction manager/owner’s representative and the architect are involved. Once the general contractor is aboard, they take the baton.
How to get started: Teams should get together and identify the project’s milestones first—this is what all other work will be based off of in the master schedule.
2. Phase Scheduling
What it is: The collaborative planning process of defining and sequencing tasks to complete phases of work established in the master schedule. It is often done using a technique known as “pull planning” where teams work backward from a clearly defined milestone, identifying in detail the tasks required to complete the milestone as well as the conditions of satisfaction for the handoffs between the tasks.
When to use it: Typically six to twelve weeks ahead, depending on the lead times required to remove constraints.
Why do it: Phase scheduling often produces better plans because the people involved in actually doing the work are the ones planning it. Phase scheduling also develops a strong sense of ownership for the plan across the entire project team, which leads to improved reliability and accountability.
Who is involved: The last planners. During design, it’s the design team leads or the actual designers. During construction, it’s the general contractor project team and trade contractor foremen. Lean leaders often join to support and discuss as well.
How to get started: Project teams should have an in-person planning meeting to sequence out the phase work. (Each participant should detail out their own work beforehand.) A facilitator, often the lead architect (for design) or the project superintendent (for construction) should lead the planning conversations while team members sequence out their work together. Software like Touchplan offers a virtual planning environment that makes real-time collaborative phase scheduling a breeze.
3. Look Ahead Planning
What it is: A way to identify and clear constraints preventing upcoming work from being completed as planned before these constraints become a problem.
When to use it: During weekly meetings. Ideally, the team is reviewing work planned four to six weeks out to remove any potential obstacles.
Why do it: To ensure work is ready to start when planned.
Who is involved: The last planners.
How to get started: Have everyone consider their upcoming work and spend time identifying constraints that could hold them up if not addressed. Record these constraints and assign specific people to run each to ground. Follow up weekly to make sure progress is being made. For instance, Touchplan has a tailor-made constraints module that simplifies the process of identifying and tracking constraints.
4. Commitment Planning (or Weekly Work Planning)
What it is: A way for teams to regularly meet, talk about current and future work and collectively commit to getting next week’s work done.
When to use it: The best practice is to have teams meet once a week to discuss their work and make commitments, then to meet briefly in daily huddles to ensure everyone is tracking to the plan.
Why do it: Team members refine their plan for the upcoming week one last time before committing to getting their specific tasks done on specific days, with the goal of ensuring that team members who follow can count on being able to start their work on time.
Who is involved: The last planners.
How to get started: Schedule a mandatory weekly time for project teams to connect in person and be prepared to commit to what they intend to accomplish over the coming week. Solutions like Touchplan enables team members to instantly transform their phase scheduling tasks into detailed weekly tasks, make further refinements as necessary, and then capture and track everyone’s commitments automatically, greatly reducing time spent in these weekly meetings.
What it is: To constantly improve, teams must regularly take inventory of what went well (plusses) and what didn’t (deltas) with the previous week’s plan.
When to use it: Immediately following completion of the prior week’s plan.
Why do it: This crucial step is how teams identify root causes of plan failures and figure out how to prevent them or plan around them for the remainder of the project. The idea is to take lessons learned and immediately adjust the rest of the plan to accommodate the lesson learned.
Who is involved: The last planners.
How to get started: With Touchplan, for instance, the Percent Plan Complete (PPC) is automatically calculated based on the proper execution of the previous steps. Evaluating the PPC and reviewing the associated variance reasons give context to what happened. Teams should then work through a process known as “5 Whys” to get to the root cause of any identified problem, and then, once the root cause is known, develop countermeasures to prevent reoccurrence.
How to Get Started Using Last Planner® System Today
It is exciting to discover a new process that will take your company to new heights, but also daunting to get buy-in and widespread implementation. Here are a few ways to get the idea of the Last Planner® accepted within your organization and spreading to every project team.
How to Spread the Last Planner® System in Your Organization
Getting LPS to spread like wildfire takes five steps:
- Convince decision makers about the benefits
- Pick a project or a team to use Last Planner®
- Find a tool that will make Last Planner® easy to learn and quick to apply
- Commit to consistent implementation
- Measure and report results to validate the benefits and garner interest from others
1. Convince decision makers of the benefits.
Before you address the possibility of adoption, it’s important to answer the question, “why do we want to do this?” Start by clearly announcing problems—productivity, labor shortage, confrontational nature of the industry or lack of industry advancement—and then propose a solution and its benefits to overcome them. If you’re ready to get started, here are some tips to help your organization adopt a new idea:
Become an expert on Last Planner® and the Lean theories behind it: The better you know the practice of LPS and why it was established, the more you and others will become invested in its potential. Understand how LPS works for individual projects as well as the whole company and use this guide to get the process started. Also, educating yourself as an expert will give you confidence and lead to others having confidence in you (and could land you in the driver’s seat of the LPS application).
Discuss the idea and tools to implement the change early and enlist others in the process: Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Keep that expression in mind when you’re pushing for acceptance of a new idea and tool to support it. Start using your expert-level knowledge on Last Planner® and Lean by being vocal in your professional circles. Talk the idea up to other influencers and encourage forward thinking. When the organization starts to hear about a more productive way to operate from several people, accepting it—even for a trial—will be inevitable.
Articulate how LPS will positively affect project outcomes, teams and individuals: A huge part of becoming an expert is learning the benefits of properly applying the Last Planner®System. Allowing teams to be as efficient as possible and advancing projects faster than others in the industry is a monumental promise that LPS has seen work time and time again. In addition, sharing the worst-case scenarios if the company chooses not to adopt will also spark conversation.
Understand your audience and their communication style to get, then confirm support: An effective concept to remember—know your audience! Are they better in casual conversations or formal meetings? Does data or emotion drive them? Do they need the support of others to make a decision, or is it their decision alone? Using these relatively simple tactics can make all the difference. Once you’ve distributed the information, get key decision makers to affirm that they’re ready to put LPS in place.
Follow up with any comments, questions or challenges: It’s so important to offer time for additional remarks so everyone’s voice is heard. Use your LPS expertise to wrap up the conversation by addressing any fears or objections and in the future, be sure to use those points as key measurements to show that LPS is working.
2. Pick a project or a team to use Last Planner®.
If you sense that applying LPS across all projects is a monumental challenge for your organization to undergo, select a project or two to test it out with. Look at tapping projects that have project managers and superintendents that are looking to improve their process immediately.
3. Find a tool that will make Last Planner® System easy to learn and quick to apply.
There are manual ways you can apply LPS, but they yield inconsistent execution and results and mass confusion—negating the benefits you carefully explained and committed to. Manual or analog execution is also unreliable and very time-consuming, not to mention easily abandoned. To get the most out of your adoption of LPS, seek out a technology option that allows project teams to be connected to measure, validate and continuously improve their building process in real time. Be sure to check out ease of use, as you want all project team members—from trade partners to owners—to be able to access and operate the tool.
4. Commit to consistent implementation.
Once you have a project team and tool selected, it’s time to start using LPS. Recognize that there must be a commitment from the entire team to apply and embrace the system and technology. Solutions like Touchplan have excellent training programs to ensure everyone is introduced and ready to use it on their own, while also providing ongoing coaching for any newcomers.
5. Measure and report results to validate the benefits and garner interest from others.
The purpose of rolling out LPS slowly is to prove the benefits to get the rest of the organization excited and on board. It’s important to learn, apply, refine and execute for project teams, but sharing the data is equally important. Be sure the measurements are visual and simple to understand and access. When selecting your tool to apply LPS, take into account its reporting capabilities, too. Ensuring effortless visibility into key metrics will help put company-wide LPS application on the fast track. Showcasing consistent reports of project teams becoming more efficient (and therefore winning more projects), will make widespread interest inevitable. With the entire organization committed, rest assured more projects will be won that lead to company growth and increased profit growth rate.
Improve Your Projects with the Last Planner® System
It’s understandable that learning and then campaigning for a new idea in your organization can be challenging. However, it’s important to realize that there are mounting obstacles that no company in construction can escape, like the lack of labor, rising costs and the increasing complexity of projects. Those that refuse to acknowledge these changes and learn about and implement safeguards, like the Last Planner® System, will watch others in the industry advance and innovate while they are left behind.