This is the first in a series of blog posts based on Language Action and how it applies to the project environment and is based on the teachings of Fernando Flores and Chauncey Bell. I have been a student of Fernando Flores in his Dwelling Program for the past year, and I have been working and learning with Chauncey Bell for several years.
At the heart of any lean transformation, or successful implementation of the Last Planner System, is the ability of teams to make reliable promises and activate the network of commitments on projects and within organizations.
For many of us we think about language as merely a means to report something that has happened to us, or a way to exchange information about a concern that we have. When we think about language in these terms our concerns are focused on the transaction – we care more about the RFI as a document and where it is at in the system or when the next revision to the contract will be ready for review.
But language is not merely a way to describe a past transaction. It is the way that we human beings create new possibilities, shape our futures, build trust, and coordinate future actions. When we begin to see language for what it is – for creating action – then we begin to focus our concerns on the relationships and the other human beings around us.
Let’s think about the typical project schedule. Before I started using the Last Planner System as a superintendent I was attempting to manage my projects using a traditional CPM schedule. The conversations on the project were always focused on the schedule, the knowledge of the scheduler who built it, and what the dates and activities were on the piece of paper. We were focused on the information and the perceived logic that a CPM schedule represents. When the schedule didn’t work, we said the “schedule is broken” and we need to “fix the schedule”. Our concerns were always on the schedule and the information represented in it.
Let’s compare that to pull planning – a popular part of the Last Planner System. In a pull plan session, we are focused on the human beings in the room and the history and skills that they bring to the pull planning conversation. Human beings standing shoulder to shoulder comparing the new work they have been presented with against past project experiences. They are using the skills that they have been honing on jobsites for years – negotiating, making requests and offers to other trade leaders, recognizing new contingencies, and most importantly making commitments to each other on what they will and will not do. Pull planning is effective not because of the sticky notes or the way they are organized on the wall. Pull planning is effective because it involves human beings engaged in a serious conversation of possibilities and action around inventing a new future together as a team to accomplish the common goals of the project.
Over a series of blogs in future Lean Construction Pulse newsletters I will explore the power of conversations with you and present new possibilities for future action that you can take.
Jason Klous is Principal at LeanProject and is a student of Fernando Flores. Jason is currently working on a PhD in Language Action at Nottingham-Trent University in the U.K. with a focus on Language Action and the project environment.