Three Guidelines for Last Planner Excellence

When many people hear the words “Last Planner” they think pull planning. That’s understandable. The act of collaboratively designing the work can be a lot of fun, especially when a wall full of Post It Notes in multiple colors makes it apparent that a great deal of work has been accomplished and a path toward success has been made clear.

Yet having a plan, as teams discover, is not enough. Without the fundamental work of weekly commitments and daily adjustments those pulled phase plans go awry, and often team cohesion can break down. It’s daily execution of the work, informed by clear weekly commitments that establishes whether excellence has been achieved.

That Last Planner System was developed in stages, and it is no accident that the first stage was weekly commitment planning. As Glenn Ballard documented in his 1982 paper, Crew Level Planning, recognized as a flaw in the project planning process was that the people closest to the work were not engaged in planning the work. Greg Howell and Glenn were able to realize significant productivity improvements by focusing on weekly commitments. It was only after years of work, when crew proficiency at weekly commitment planning excelled beyond the ability of senior managers and first planners to support the work, that it became apparent that make ready work and ultimately collaborative phase planning were required to support weekly planning.

It is important to understand that weekly commitment planning is the fundamental Last Planner practice. With that understanding, here are three guidelines for effective weekly commitment planning.

  • First, last planners must prepare weekly plans and engage in daily huddles consistently. This might appear obvious, however occasionally someone other than last planners will take the pulled phase plans (or worse, substitute their own judgment) and issue weekly work plans as directives. That someone is one layer removed from the work and not able to make reliable commitments. Crew level planning only works when the crews are really doing the planning.
  • Second, weekly commitmenttasks should be specific as to what work is being done, where the work is being done, when the work is starting and completing, and who is responsible for the work. Vague descriptions of any of these qualities renders the planning commitment useless. Only specific descriptions of tasks allow for the learning necessarily part of lean projects.
  • Third, weekly commitment plans must include all the commitments and workable backlog for the week. Weekly plans that capture only some of the work leave open the possibility that critical work will be missed and the project will be delayed. This requires weekly plans be in a format that captures all the commitments. While sliding boards with multiple colors of Post It Notes look cool, a project of any significant size requires far more tasks than the space available on these boards allows.

If a team is going to implement the Last Planner System on their project, then their goal ought to be to become outstanding in its use. Last Planner success begins with effective weekly commitment planning, aided by daily adjustments to the work and a consistent focus on learning from planning failures. Make the commitment to excellence.

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