Pull Planning Essentials

Pull Planning is a process that gets its name from the idea that the planning of a project starts with a future goal or milestone in mind and pulls information from that point to the start of the project. This means that each task gets defined in reverse order to accommodate everything that needs to be done within a set period of time. It is a highly cooperative lean construction technique based on the premise that getting all the right people in the room helps to create a more informed and comprehensive plan.

An intro to Pull Planning

In the 1990s, Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell performed research on improving construction industry practices that were later codified into the Last Planner® system. They defined a system that relies on addressing the terms-- Should, Can, Will, and Did. Each term represents part of the planning and execution process. Should is the plan in its ideal form, Can is the work that can reasonably be accomplished in a period of time, Will is the commitment to complete a task at a certain time, and Did is the review process for seeing how it all went.

Pull Planning - The “Should” of a project

Pull Planning is part of the “should” category of the Last Planner® system; it defines the ideal path a project should take. What makes this kind of planing different is that the definition of “ideal” is worked out in granular detail from the beginning by bringing together all the stakeholders. Stakeholders are all the people on a project who have some kind of role to play in the process.


The expectation is that all stakeholders come together in a meeting, often quite long, and hammer out the details of the project, including timelines, due dates, and requirements. This is often visually represented in an analog form using low-fi tools like sticky notes plastered all over a wall. The stickies form a giant map of the project, and can be moved, or adjusted as people see how each piece fits together, and what interdependencies become apparent.


This is a highly collaborative work process in which everyone must be active participants, thinking critically about the tasks that make up their role.

Recommendations for Pull Planning

Pull Planning is a technique that has been adopted by many, but not all construction firms. For those that have adopted it, the implementation can be uneven. In a study of different pull planning sessions at a variety of agencies, it was discovered that some improvement can be made by those who would initiate a pull planning process. Below are some recommendations for how to get the most out of the experience:

Know what you’re doing, or find someone who does

According to the study, some firms try to execute pull planning, or lean techniques generally, without always understanding how to do it. Since it’s a highly collaborative process engaging a wide variety of stakeholders, lack of knowledge for how to best run the process can hurt more than it helps. One recommendation is to make sure that your organization has sufficient knowledge, either in-house, or through a lean construction consultant. Depending on the size of the organization, you may need more than one consultant to get most out of Pull Planning sessions.

Software for scheduling and planning

A top recommendation is to make sure that you have the right software to help facilitate the Pull Planning process. Software automates tasks relating to the schedule and plan that can be input more easily than with a manual method. Good project management software will also update your costs as things are moved around in the planning stages. Software is especially important for large scale projects, but can also help smaller projects.

Pre-planning session

The authors of the particular study cited above, recommend a pre-planning session to prepare the items that will be used in the pull planning session, like sticky notes. The reason for this is that it reduces the time people will have to concentrate while in the session. It’s important to work with people’s tendencies, which include limited attention spans, and usher them towards a more productive experience.

Think about practicalities

If you plan on having a long meeting, remember to include and define break times that everyone can plan around. This can help with the practical, but inevitable problems of people checking their phones or answering their calls. If people understand there will be a break time, they are less likely to be anxious about important calls they need to make throughout the day.


It’s also good to make an honest assessment of people’s ability to take in a large amount of information. Think of how to make that easier, including giving people name badges so that the burden of remembering everyone's name and position in the company is taken off. Other practicalities, like having useful assistive media ready on TVs or computers can also help people along in their process.

Conclusions

Pull Planning is an important methodology that yields results in improving processes and ultimately on the bottom line of construction firms. By some assessments, the results are mixed as the methodology becomes more widely adopted. These mixed results often have to do with a knowledge gap for what it means to engage in a deep and collaborative process. In seeking efficiency and increasing profits, it’s important to include pull planning as a tool that, when properly applied, can change the dynamic of an organization dramatically.

 

Are you looking for ways to improve your pull planning process? Check out Trestles Labor Management System (TLMS®) to get your plans on track! 

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