So what’s it like to be a last planner? You know, that person who is in the heat of the battle everyday on a construction project? The one who is responsible for planning the work of their crew, ordering materials, coordinating with other trades, calling for inspections, full-time safety person, trying to keep pace with a construction schedule that they had no hand in creating? Whew, I’m tired just thinking about it!
I know what it’s like to be a last planner because I was one for most of my career. I was an apprentice carpenter, journeymen carpenter, carpenter foreman, and then a job superintendent for the first 20 years of my career in construction. It is a stressful and often times thankless part of the industry. We are the “doers” who are expected to get our work done in the worst of conditions and in the shortest amount of time. We are usually very good at our individual trade, but no one has ever taught us how to plan. Most of us have gone through an apprenticeship program where we learn about our trade. I spent 4 years in a carpenter’s apprenticeship program where I learned how to read blue prints, build scaffolding, erect concrete formwork of every shape and size, hang cabinets, frame complex roof systems, hang doors, install millwork… well you get the picture. The one thing I did not learn how to do was plan.
Later on in my career I was able to take a foreman’s training class, where I learned about leadership and how to plan our carpentry work and keep our crews motivated. What we did not learn was how to plan with the other trades we were dependent on to get our work done and those who were depending on us. That is the GC’s job right? That is what our schedulers, project managers, and most certainly, that’s what our superintendents are paid to do.
By the time I became an assistant superintendent I had become knowledgeable on how a building needs to be built. In the big picture I knew what the right order was to construct a building and I had developed a fairly deep understanding of the trades involved. What I didn’t know or understand was all the details that go into installing a network of HVAC ductwork, what all the tasks were involved in running pipe for a chilled water system, or how to install a piece of electrical switch gear. No I didn’t! I certainly didn’t understand it the way the electrical foreman did who was running the distribution crew, or the pipefitter welding pipe, or the tin bender hanging the duct work. So why wouldn’t we involve those folks in the plan?
Most of the trade foremen are planning in a vacuum. I know as a carpenter foreman I did. We don’t really know what the other trades are doing and what they are planning to do next. We plan for our crews and then things change daily, maybe even hourly. Areas that are supposed to be ready are not, fires start that need to be put out, material doesn’t arrive, some days we have too many people and other days we don’t have enough. We are constantly addressing a new problem and we have a hard time planning next week’s work when we are just trying to keep our heads above water and make it through the day. We give up on planning too far ahead because we have no confidence in the system we are working in.
The Last Planner® System puts a planning structure to this part of the construction industry that has been ignored by many for a long time. It allows the trade foreman to have a strong voice in how the work is planned and executed in the field. The foreman go from attempting to plan in their own individual silos to making reliable commitments to each other, and the Last Planner® System provides a way for those commitments to be verified on a daily basis.
When I adopted the Last Planner® System it made me a better project superintendent and I wish I had the opportunity to use it as a carpenter foreman. I could have had a few more Saturdays on the lake in the summer and a few extra days in the deer stand in the Fall.
How are your foremen planning their work today?