Who is more likely to know how long the plumbing on a building project will take: the plumber or a project manager? It seems intuitive that the plumber would have the best insight into how much time the job would need. Nevertheless, traditional project management techniques largely ignore the plumber’s opinion. And this is something that the Last Planner System ® aims to address.
The Last Planner System was developed in the 1990s and aims to improve construction project management by encouraging greater collaboration between specialisms in order to produce more accurate planning. It is a form of lean construction which is currently used by around 15% of builders in some form or another and is growing in popularity.
So, what is the Last Planner System and how should you get started with this system?
What is the Last Planner System?
The Last Planner System was developed by US construction professionals Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell who also founded the Lean Construction Institute.
The pair noticed that in traditional construction management, projects are planned from the beginning by project managers who forecast how each stage of a project will progress. The project manager will usually work either at the architect’s firm or for the contractor. Project stages can be meticulously planned, yet the dependence on forecasts is risky. As soon as something goes wrong in the forecast (a delivery is delayed, there is a labour shortage, poor weather halts work, etc.) the entire project can be knocked off course.
The Last Planner System tries to address these problems. The system does not replace the need for an overall project plan. Instead, it brings professionals from each stage of a project into the planning process as the time they are involved approaches. These individuals are the ‘last planners’ and they can help define more accurately how long each stage of a construction project is going to take, identify any potential issues and make sure work is completed on time.
The Last Planner System works in large part because it focuses on collaboration and setting expectations. It gets different project participants to attend meetings and really commit to tasks at each stage.
Learn more: What is lean construction?
5 steps of the Last Planner System
The Last Planner System takes a comprehensive approach to construction project management. At each stage of the project, it encourages collaboration, interaction between project members and gets teams to commit to specific delivery schedules. The Last Planner System involves five specific processes:
- The Master Schedule
Just like traditional construction project management, this stage involves planning a schedule for the entire project and identifying key milestones. Initially, the architect, customer and general contractor define the Master Schedule.
- Phase Planning
This is where the Last Planner System is different to traditional construction management. In this part of the system, the teams involved in each of the key project milestones collaborate with one another to plan exactly how they will complete their phase on time. Teams might use the concept of ‘pull planning’ here, where they work backwards from the milestone deadline and ensure they can complete their responsibilities in time for the next phase to begin.
- Look Ahead Planning
The Last Planner System continually asks project members to look ahead at each stage – usually thinking ahead by four to six weeks. On a weekly basis, team members look ahead at likely causes of constraints and delays and think about how to overcome these.
- Commitment Planning
The Last Planner System relies on a degree of peer pressure. By this, we mean that each week, individual teams can commit to getting certain tasks done. Because they must meet in person with colleagues on other parts of the project and say what they will do, it incentivises them to complete the work they’ve promised to deliver.
- Continual learning
A final aspect of the Last Planner System is that teams meet up frequently to discuss what has gone well and what went wrong in order to learn and improve.
Benefits of the Last Planner System
Studies have found that the Last Planner System improves planning, encourages better site management and enhances communication and coordination between project members. Through weekly meetings on-site, everyone has a much clearer idea of what they need to do. They can also raise and address any concerns and issues before they get out of hand.
The Last Planner System also provides a relatively straightforward way to bring lean construction techniques into your projects. With this system, contractors can gradually introduce lean project management techniques into their work without radically transforming existing behaviours.
How to get started with the Last Planner System
Implementing new approaches to construction project management can be challenging. However, with some fairly simple steps, you can begin to benefit from this lean construction approach.
- Trial the system on a small project
The ideal way to start using the Last Planner System is to trial the approach on a small project. Communicate with all stakeholders that you plan to begin using this approach and explain the purpose and benefits to them. Getting people on board with a new way of doing construction management can be tricky. Therefore, trialling the system on a small-scale project provides a good testing ground.
- Use technology that supports lean construction
Tools like PlanRadar are ideally suited to lean construction methods like the Last Planner System. The application is ideal for Phase, Look Ahead and Commitment planning because it allows the project manager to assign specific tasks and pinpoint them on the construction model. It also supports communication between different contractors and means everyone is on the same page.
- Test, measure and scale-up
Once you have tested the Last Planner System on a project, it is important to measure its success. Did project stakeholders seem to communicate better? Was the project delivered on time? Were there fewer snags? From this experience, you can then scale up to larger, more complex projects.
Innovating with construction project management
The Last Planner System is a significant innovation in construction management techniques and is seeing growing interest across the industry. As with so many innovations, the first movers often end up outperforming peers who arrive later. So, is it time for you to trial the Last Planner System?
Founded in 2013, PlanRadar provides innovative mobile-first software solutions to the construction and real estate industries. Our app is available on all iOS, Android and Windows devices. So far, we’ve helped thousands of customers around the world to digitise their workflow.