Understand the Pull Planning Question

The first installment in the Pull Planning Primer explored the confusion people have between the activity they can observe and the outcomes they are pursuing with 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” 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.


I have had problems with getting all the contractors involved to work backwards. In order to make it work I used a calibrated time chart and posted all the sticky notes on there from beginning to end and then worked backwards checking all the logic and prerequisites. Am I losing any value or information by doing it this way. Beginning to end and then reverse review?

Tucker, you are losing value. The step-by-step process of going backwards is the “pull” on the upstream performing groups. By doing it this way only that work-in-place that is required for the follow-on work gets on the plan. When it’s done the way you described, people find a way to include everything that people want to do. Invariably, that puts waste in the plan.

Problem we (GC/CM) encounter often is that each subcontractor has few layers above Last Planner and securing Last Planner for Pull Planning is very difficult..
– For example structural steel subcontractor has project manager for our project who is working with their estimators in pursuit phase and provides input for GC’s proposal schedule – sequence and duration of activities. That input is heavily influenced by sub’s need to win contract with us.
– Once we/ they have contract, sub’s project manager is busy with shop drawings preparation, ordering of materials, fabrication drawings and production planning. And at that time we ask them to participate in pull planning session. They usually send their operations manager or general erection superintendent for the area. S/he is generally very knowledgeable but does not completely understand specifics of our project and site.
– We usually don’t have access to Last Planner until shortly before erection starts. Good Last Planners are scarce resource moving from project to project. Often Last Planner does not know big part of his erection crew and site/ crew specific production rates before he tests them at the beginning of erection. Often they have to “weed” their crew from non performing members and go thru learning curve. Measuring and improving first run becomes extremely important to establish reliable productivity rate for the rest of erection.

It seems that subcontractor’s understanding of their part of the project is “naturally” advancing thru am phases and my experience is that trying to accelerate this process is usually uphill battle.

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