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October 2011: Better Planning for Better Project Execution

October 2011: Better Planning for Better Project Execution

By Derek Carpenter, VP of Preconstruction Services

Is it possible to deliver projects faster than we previously thought?  Faster than a conventional schedule generated with “subcontractor input” or created in a silo by the general contractor?  With an equal or better quality of workmanship?   The answer is YES and it is happening today!


It is possible to dramatically improve project execution through a technique called Pull Planning (PP).  This planning technique has been given added traction through its connection to Lean Construction Institute (LCI) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) practices.  Other techniques such as the ‘Last Planner System’ and ‘Reverse Phase Scheduling’ employ very similar practices.

In its simplest form, the PP process involves these key steps:

  • The project leadership (owner, architect, contractor, and lead trades) sets key project milestones (steel erection, window installation, etc.);
  • The project team (project manager, superintendent, subcontractors, etc.) then prepares a more detailed schedule;
  • Then every few weeks the project superintendent, the subcontractor foremen, key vendors, owner, architect and anyone else who will be onsite doing work is assembled for a detailed project staffing session.


The project staffing step is the difference between PP and more conventional scheduling methods.  In this step, we plan backwards and only do it for the next few weeks of work.  We start with a specific project milestone objective like steel erection.   Then we ask the question, “What is the last thing that is needed before the steel is fully standing?”  And what must be done for that to happen?  And before that?  And so on.  We are planning to a result (standing steel), not a date.  Each of those needs is put on a sticky note and posted on the wall for all to see.  This allows for easy adjustment as the group may require, until there is agreement on the activities, sequence, and constraints.  This level of communication is rarely completed in a conventional schedule.

Then the really powerful things happen.  Personal commitments are exchanged and a sense of trust is generated.  The people who will be doing the work start talking about what they could do to help each other complete their tasks earlier and/or more efficiently.  In the traditional plan/schedule model, the general contractor receives a commitment from each sub, usually at an upper management level, to accomplish tasks at a specific time.  In Pull Planning, the supervisors on the job make commitments to each other to accomplish tasks leading to an agreed short-term goal.  Accountability is to one’s peers, who are on the job and able to directly observe your performance, as opposed to having accountability upstream in your own organization, and then more remotely to the general contractor.  Meeting commitments becomes more personal, and facilitates stronger relationships as members of a team accomplishing shared goals.  What are the roots of PP?  Many of us were looking for a way to improve project execution.  Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) is a fundamental to process improvement and many believe it is this approach that helped lead to PP.  The concept of directly involving those doing the work and incorporating a feedback loop for continuous improvement are evident in both PDCA and PP.

Pull Planning results in the following tangible improvements in project execution:

  • A much higher percent of commitments are met. Data from the LCI shows that when a foreman promises a GC superintendent that certain tasks will be completed this week, only 54% of these activities are actually done this week.  With the peer-to-peer commitment of PP, the LCI data shows that over 80% of promised work is completed!
  • Smarter ways to accomplish the work are identified. The planning exercise directly involves those most knowledgeable and capable of accomplishing identified tasks, and actively seeks their input on the best way to get the job done.  It is in no way surprising that better ways to sequence and perform the work are the result.  The sticky notes provide the flexibility to “move things around”, and this simple visual tool keeps team members involved in the process and produces better and better ideas for achieving the milestones successfully.
  • Better Safety Records. By incorporating the individuals with the responsibility to achieve the work in the planning, everyone is fully informed about what will be happening on the project.  Making hazard identification and best safety practices a topic of discussion on each task to be performed results in better safety performance.  This, in turn, promotes productivity and teamwork, creating a virtuous circle that benefits all involved.  Studies have shown that it is possible to build projects more rapidly and safely by incorporating these techniques.

On the recently completed Phase I of the Celgard Concord facility, we used Pull Planning to hit a targeted completion date that few thought could be achieved.  Myers & Chapman’s superintendent, Vince Maizy, organized the project staffing meetings with his team of subcontractor foremen on a weekly basis.  This team worked together and accomplished amazing things:

  • The building shell was erected and dried-in within 90 days.
  • 80,000 square feet of space was added to the contract scope of work without extending the completion date.
  • The structural and utility components of the production lines were incorporated into the shell building scope of work.  This reduced costs and shortened the building commissioning phase, allowing production to begin earlier.
  • Upfit of the entire office and lab space (approximately 50,000 square feet) was completed in less than 45 days!

“Myers & Chapman did an outstanding job for us during the construction of our Concord, NC manufacturing facility.  Derek, Gaius, Vince and the rest of the team met an aggressive schedule and were flexible and accommodating throughout.  They overcame every obstacle that came their way and were always looking after our best interest.  I’d recommend them to anyone.”

– Marcus Childs, Concord Plant Manager, Celgard, LLC

Pull Planning is delivering better results, and we’re continuing to work to improve the process.  Please engage in the conversation with any of your knowledge or experience with this approach and help us continue to make it better.