Pull Planning, in simplest terms, is a technique that is used as part of the Last Planner® System to develop a coordinated plan for one phase of a project. However, with practice, Pull Planning should become much more.

The purpose of pull planning is to design a project-based production system in conformance with lean principles. Like all aspects of Last Planner, it is a collaborative approach that includes those who are directly responsible for supervising the work on the project. People mistake merely scheduling a phase of work from the end working backwards for the intent of pull planning.

One of the keys to success in designing a production system based on lean principles is to get all of the work experts who are supervising the work, we call them last planners, to engage with each other to collaboratively work out a plan for the phase that includes the best of the alternatives available to them. Facilitating that conversation can be a challenge if you aren’t starting out with the right question. What question?

HOW WILL WE DO OUR WORK TO MEET THE CLIENT (OR PROJECT) MILESTONE?

Looks simple. Let’s break it into its parts.

WE

“We” is a specific group of people who are managing the work of others. “We” is not any trade foreman or design lead, nor is it the supervisor’s supervisor. It is the person who will show up everyday with his/her workers who will perform the work in that phase.

You cannot substitute people in this planning conversation. You need the people who know the staff and what that staff is good at doing and what they are not good at doing. It is only with deep knowledge of the people that a last planner can engage with others in evaluating alternative approaches to choose an approach with the greatest advantages for all the trades in that phase.

“We” is also a collective of last planners. Change out one last planner for another and the resulting plan will likely be different.

OUR WORK

What is it that “we” are doing? Starting with a particular discipline, the last planner has to know the scope of work in the phase. There’s no showing up to a pull planning meeting without having studied the work of the phase. It won’t do. Last planners must know the scope, the materials, the hours planned for the work and the equipment or information that is available to them or that is needed. But it doesn’t end there.

“Our work” also means the work that others will be doing. Why? Because completing the work of one trade creates the conditions for beginning the work of other trades. Last planners need to understand what the starting conditions are for their work. This allows them to make requests and negotiate hand-offs during the pull planning conversation.

MEET THE MILESTONE

We can’t know what work we have to do without understanding what has been promised to be in place. Sometimes this comes from an explicit promise to a client. Other times the milestone definition is established by the project team for managing the project. In both cases, we can describe the milestone as a set of conditions that must be satisfied for successful completion.

Last planners must understand the conditions of satisfaction (COS) to do a good job in the planning of the work in the phase. And, that is not enough. Why are those COS important to the job? One answer to that is the completion of every milestone sets the stage for doing something different in the next phase. Knowing what is to come next and why it is important to the client or the project creates the context for pull planning in the phase.

That wasn’t difficult. Add these items to your pull planning preparation checklist:

  • Invite the people who will be the last planners
  • Share the conditions of satisfaction for the milestone with all the last planners
  • Brief the whole group on all the work going on in the phase
  • Have each last planner study their scopes

Remember, don’t let people lose sight of their role in pull planning. Throughout your pull planning sessions remind the last planners they are there to answer the pull planning question.