May 27, 2020

How Pull Planning Creates Schedule Certainty During Uncertain Times

When it comes to construction, surprises are generally discouraged. Predictability and certainty—of schedule, of budgets, and of quality—bring peace of mind. But as we continue to adjust to life during the coronavirus pandemic, certainty can seem hard to come by.

Not so on projects that employ pull planning for project scheduling. A component of the Last Planner® system, pull planning is part of a suite of tools used by construction teams that embrace Lean principles and integrated project delivery (IPD) methods. It is key to promoting collaboration, reducing waste, and delivering more value to all project stakeholders.

Improved Schedule Certainty and Results

On average, Lean/IPD projects are completed 30 percent faster and for 15 percent less cost than projects using traditional methods. Pull planning is a primary catalyst for these results.

Unlike on a traditional project, in which a construction manager creates the schedule in a vacuum, pull planning requires that all trades contribute to the scheduling process. Stakeholders start with the end goal and work in reverse, using color-coded sticky notes on an oversized timeline to identify—and commit to—key milestones. As a result, everyone understands how their work impacts other trades.

By sequencing the entire project in one place, stakeholders can identify dependencies and handoffs, anticipate obstacles, and mitigate delays. Wasted time and redundancy are eliminated, while just-in-time delivery, lead times, and resources are applied more effectively.

Pull Planning in the Time of Pandemic

In the best of times, pull planning is a powerful tool for promoting collaboration and accountability. But in the era of COVID-19, it is enabling project teams to more effectively tackle the unique challenges posed to jobsites during the pandemic. Here are three reasons why pull planning worked yesterday, still works today, and will continue to work in the future.

  • Focusing on needs versus tasks keeps the project on track. Last Planner works on the principle that a “customer” expresses a need and “performer” meets that need. But with disrupted supply chains, social distancing, quarantined crews, and decontamination requirements, the needs on a project may change by the day, if not the hour. In this situation, pull planning serves as the glue that holds the project together. Why? Because stakeholders are acutely aware that they don’t just have “a” job to do—their work is part of a bigger picture and a key component to project success.
  • Accurate scheduling supports lower trade densities. Pull planning delivers more accurate timelines and plans than on a traditional project, which creates a smoother workflow. As a result, trade stacking is eliminated, enabling the parade of trades to easily maintain six feet or more of separation while on site.
  • Improved schedule visibility limits exposure. By its nature, the pull planning timeline is highly visible. All project stakeholders know what needs to be completed and when. And when the trades have met their commitment to complete their tasks, they leave the site. There are no questions about next steps and no need to linger on the site, thereby limiting exposure to others.

Overcoming Obstacles Through Innovative Thinking

Pull planning requires a high degree of collaboration. But the good news is, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to be in the same room at the same time. At Miller-Valentine, we have started using digital work planning tools and online meeting platforms to make our pull planning sessions virtual. This has enabled us to continue pushing forward while promoting the safety and security of our trade partners.

Continuous learning, innovative thinking, and accountability are bedrock components to the Miller-Valentine experience. We will continue to seek solutions and adapt our processes to benefit our customers and our project partners as we all navigate this new normal together.

Interested in how a Lean/IPD approach can deliver measurably better results on your next project? Contact Greg Fox or call 877.684.7687.


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