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pull planning in construction

Building 201: What Is Pull Planning?

Most likely, you have been familiar with using the Critical Path Method (CPM) for scheduling your construction projects. After all, it is one of the most common, and traditional, construction planning techniques. A construction project needs to be scheduled, and the CPM method does make sense in theory at the start of many construction projects. Nevertheless, in practice, it’s not always the best fit and process for a project. Mainly, this is due to the fact that it revolves around one person deciding the schedule for the whole team and project. Even for the most seasoned project managers, it’s difficult to be the primary stakeholder designating all scheduling–and often it doesn’t provide the results project need.

But an alternative planning method is gaining mainstream popularity in the construction industry; pull planning. The rising substitute to CPM has been yielding solid results for many construction projects. One primary reason for pull planning’s success is that it prioritizes input from the entire team. As a result, this benefits the project by giving each team member’s expertise on what’s needed and how long each step will take.

While pull planning can help the project run smoother, it can take groundwork to lay out in the beginning. In our latest edition of Building 201, we dive into a thorough overview of the concept and provide you with a step-by-step guide to getting started with pull planning on your next project. 

So, How Exactly Does Pull Planning Work?

Pull planning works as a scheduling tool for the Last Planner System (LPS), which is based on a collaborative approach to managing a project. As mentioned, collaboration is the primary driver of pull planning. It shifts the process from focusing on an individual level to focus on the team. The method helps you get buy-in from everyone at the start of a project.

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In LPS, the “last planners” are the ones completing the work in the planning stage of the project. By doing this, LPS makes it easier to determine problems and helps the project run smoothly and stick to deadlines. If you’re also looking to learn more about the specifics of the Last Planner System, take a look at our blog, “An Intro to the Last Planner System.”

Planning in this way is most commonly used in tandem with lean construction, which finds ways to cut down on wasted time and resources by finding ways to be more efficient and productive.

How does pull planning make a construction project work smarter and simpler? It starts with the project milestones, such as the completion date and works backward from the steps that efficiently lead to those milestones. By working backward, teams prioritize the most critical tasks and figure out how different tasks are connected toward the final goals. Instead of working blindly, you plan precisely where you’re trying to go and how to get there.

You put a focus on tasks–clearly defining and sequencing them. On top of planning each step, you determine the method for requesting and receiving an action.

How Does Pull Planning Improve Productivity?

Pull planning boosts your construction productivity in the following ways:

  • Collaboration: The scheduling method encourages the whole team to work together, which helps the project work as one with improved communication and fewer competing interests.
  • Transparency: There is open communication, so everyone understands their own roles and how they’re doing, as well as what is going on with the rest of the team.
  • Optimization: By focusing on pull planning as a component of lean construction, team members learn to cut down on mistakes and optimize their practices.
  • Efficiency: Projects stay on time as team members have clear goals and steps to follow, with clear responsibility and communication streamlining the process.

Pull Planning Step-by-Step Guide

Generally, pull planning is created with the use of colorful sticky notes. While this method may seem simple or even old-fashioned (where’s the technology?), tools are emerging to help manage the project digitally.  In theory, though, the visuals of the sticky notes help you see every aspect of the project and allow you to adjust the tasks to create the right plan. Plus, there’s much more to pull planning than sticky notes, and the planning process should be carried out in a certain way to be successful.

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Here are the essential guidelines to get pull planning up and running for your next project:

  1. Involve the full team. First, get your team members on board for pull planning. Make sure every major player in the project is involved in the plan. Each one should contribute relevant project milestones toward project completion.
  2. Follow the milestones. Once you have project milestones in place, determine the phase plan, with the sequence and activities of each task, to fit those milestones.
  3. Set the schedule. Fit the activities determined in the phase plan into your schedule.
  4. Set durations. Determine the duration of each activity.
  5. Create weekly plans. Go over the phase plan and break it down into weekly work plans.
  6. Set daily morning meetings. To ensure the success of pull planning, collaboration needs to be carried through its duration. Daily meetings at the start of each day with foremen to go over the daily activities will be essential to keep tasks on track.
  7. Set weekly meetings. Also, hold meetings each week with foremen to review the weekly work plan and make adjustments as needed.
  8. Update the plan. Based on the weekly meetings, adjust the overall schedule.

Get Started with Pull Planning Today

Pull planning is an effective tool that has the potential to be game changing in a construction production process. It provides a worthy alternative to CPM that can improve project efficiency, helping keep it on track and cut down on waste. Nonetheless, it’s only one step. Using pull planning paired with lean construction as well as collaborative construction technology will help teams to reap the benefits of the technique truly.

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