Three Reasons Why the Last Planner® System is Essential for Efficient Design Management

The design and construction process is usually complex, uncertain, and requires the input and decisions from many stakeholders in multiple organizations to produce the final asset that is “ready for operation”. Often, stakeholders are engaged late in the process and the inventory (drawings, documents and products) that is produced is either incomplete, inaccurate, inadequate or wrong. The poor communication that is common between disciplines results in uncoordinated actions. Ultimately, this causes rework in design and construction to correct the inconsistencies between what people “thought” was needed and what “was” actually required. However, hope is not lost. The Last Planner® System – a production management tool – is an antidote to many of these issues faced by design and construction teams and is a gateway to many of the desired lean behaviors required for successful project delivery. Let’s take a look at three reasons why Last Planner® is so useful in design.

1. Simplify Design Management Design management is made easier using Last Planner® because each design team member develops a greater understanding of the roles, responsibilities and actions of each discipline through the conversations, collaboration and good communication that evolve around the wall (Last Planner® visual work board). All of the activities, decisions and important milestones for each discipline are displayed visually on a wall with multi-colored Post-It® notes. Each discipline creates their own tags in a unique color which relates to their specific activities or tasks. The design team becomes familiar with each other’s work and can begin to understand what, where and when information is required, and who needs it. As a result, everyone (including the owner) can see how the project scope, decisions, submittals and approvals etc. can impact the schedule.

2. Better Communication and Coordination Combining Last Planner® with Building Information Modelling (BIM) during design creates even greater efficiencies. Similar colored Post-Its® are used that match Revit colors. These colors then follow through to the construction phase with the respective construction disciplines. The conversations and collaboration around the wall, in addition to each discipline’s Post-It® notes, helps to quickly raise any issues that will impact the design, procurement or construction process. This can eliminate unnecessary work or rework (waste) and highlight any potential show stoppers in the design or construction phase. This can also be referred to as delivering “bad news” early.

The early engagement, better communication and coordination of the team (designer, builder, specialty trades, owner, etc.) using Last Planner® in design and (pre)construction can significantly reduce schedules. Drysdale reported how Last Planner® facilitated better communication and transparency in the design phase of a UK Highways Agency project and improved the reliability of commitments by 34% which in turn further reduced an accelerated design schedule by one month.

3. Improve Schedules by Reducing Rework Put simply, using Last Planner® reduces schedules by improving the reliability of workflow by engaging with the people doing the work to make commitments to deliver their work (information, material, inventory, product, etc.). Understanding the work of others and what, where, when and who is required to complete a task helps to make the project flow and identifies any “bad news” early at the wall rather than in the field. If we fail to plan, we are planning to fail. Using Last Planner® in design reduces time, effort and subsequent rework. According to a study by Hwang and Yang in 2014, rework can account for between 2 – 12% of project costs. An informal study by Glenn Ballard revealed 50% of design time was spent on unnecessary design rework. Furthermore, Love identified that 50% of rework is a direct result of design changes and that indirect costs can be as much as six times the actual cost of rectification. Thus, there is a lot of opportunity for eliminating waste.

The Last Planner® eliminates rework because the work being handed-off between designers and contractors is clarified at the wall. If the hand-off is not correct, then a correction will occur there and then, ensuring the defect does not travel through. Last Planner® also defines accountability through the visibility of the wall.

“Good communication between designers and contractors can prevent the occurrence of rework.” - Hwang and Yang (2014)

Last Planner® plays a big part in reducing rework, associated costs and creating efficient schedules. It was developed by Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell and has been in use since 1992. It is fast becoming “the production management tool of choice” by many owners, designers and builders here in the United States and around the world and can be used in almost any type of project. However, even with all of the benefits that have been documented in dozens of research papers in the IGLC collection, Last Planner® has yet to become the industry standard. The deeper I go with Last Planner®, the more I wonder: why?

The next post will take a deeper look at the elements of Last Planner® which are required to make it effective - milestone scheduling and the phase pull (pull planning), make work ready (6 week look ahead), weekly work plans and learning.

This article originally appeared in Lean Construction Blog.

This post was written by Paul Ebbs.