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Last Planner® System: 7 tips for running Look-Ahead Planning sessions

The Last Planner System is gaining traction in the construction industry as more building companies see the benefits of lean construction. 73% of firms report lower costs on lean projects, while 80% find their programmes finish on or before schedule.

But you can’t expect these results if you only use the Last Planner System during project execution. As the name suggests, planning is a critical part of the success model – which is why it’s so important to make sure your Look-Ahead Planning sessions run productively.

What is a Look-Ahead Plan?

The Last Planner System features five stages:

  1. Master Planning
  2. Collaborative Programming
  3. Look-Ahead Planning
  4. Make Ready Process
  5. Weekly Work Planning

The Look-Ahead Planning stage falls in the middle of the process and should occur around 3-6 weeks before an activity begins. It’s an opportunity to get all the project stakeholders together to run through upcoming tasks, pre-empt potential problems and look at where planning and execution can be improved.

Done right, Look-Ahead Planning will help you run projects on time and budget, eliminating waste and setting you up for smoother execution.

If you’re new to lean construction methods, you might want to check out this blog post before reading on: What is the Last Planner System?  

If you’re familiar with this lean construction methodology, here are some top tips for getting the most value from your Look-Ahead Planning sessions:

1. Keep a narrow focus

So many construction workers hate meetings because they drag on too long. Cover too much ground and you drag people away from their day-to-day tasks without making good use of their time.

Look-Ahead Planning stops you ‘boiling the ocean’ and focusses your team’s attention on the upcoming phase of your building or fit-out project.

Many project managers will pull the next phase of work from the master schedule before the meeting to direct people’s attention to the next batch of tasks. To support this process, you may want to invest in lean construction software with pull planning capabilities – like Asta Connect.

2. Set clear objectives for each session

Once you know your upcoming phase of work, establish what you want to get out of your Look-Ahead Planning session – and make sure everyone else in the meeting knows, too.

Start the meeting by stating your goals and objectives, and you can create a formal agenda to keep everyone on track. Common construction planning objectives include:

  • Setting weekly/daily plans for the upcoming phase of work
  • Understanding labour and material requirements for that phase
  • Sequencing workflow to make the best use of resources
  • Identifying and addressing specific challenges that will impact workflow

It’s helpful to map out how much time you want to spend on each objective to achieve a balanced outcome. In an hour-long meeting, it’s not uncommon for the first goal to involve a long discussion and the last to get a ‘quick five minutes’ at the end.

3. Encourage collaboration

What makes the Last Planner System different to other construction project planning techniques is its focus on collaboration. Every team member works together to overcome challenges and make good progress.

You can support this collaborative approach by encouraging an open, friendly atmosphere in Look-Ahead Planning meetings. Everyone should feel confident about contributing to discussions and feel their opinions are heard and valued.

Everyone involved in your project must attend Look-Ahead Planning meetings. You may also want to set some ground rules to ensure everyone gets an equal say – for example, nobody should talk over someone else, and all criticism must be constructive.

4. Focus on problem-solving

On the subject of constructive criticism, it’s very easy for a planning meeting to turn into a ‘moan fest’ about upcoming challenges. But the Last Planner System is solution-focussed; it’s designed to help project teams identify potential issues and take avoiding action.

In your Look-Ahead Planning meeting, it’s useful to map out what the major challenges are likely to be in your next phase of work and then collaboratively discuss solutions. This will help to mitigate risks and maintain momentum in your project schedule.

5. Match workload with capacity

The Look-Ahead Planning meeting is an ideal time to finalise short- and medium-term resourcing. By pulling the next phase of work from the master schedule, you can understand exactly which tradespeople are required – and how many.

It’s important to match workload with capacity to maintain your project timeline. Meeting with the whole team will enable you to agree on your resourcing levels and also check you have the right people available people for the next phase of your construction programme.

6. Understand dependencies

One of the biggest problems with construction project planning isn’t completing individual tasks; it’s understanding the impact of one task on the next. 91% of construction workers have been involved in a delayed project, and often, it’s because people are waiting around for the previous task to finish.

Look-Ahead Planning meetings can help you to create smoother handovers between project team members, as you can plan the sequence of work and group interdependent tasks together.

You also have an opportunity to plan your material requirements for the upcoming phase of work to avoid skilled workers waiting around for materials to arrive.

 7.Track and review progress

Continuous learning and improvement are a cornerstone of the lean construction methodology. While Look-Ahead Planning enables you to identify and mitigate risks early on, some tasks won’t go to plan.

Incorporating time to review previous phases and their successes and failures will help you continually improve your work. Make sure you’ve got the date of your next Look-Ahead Planning session in the diary when you wrap up the previous meeting and include some time on the agenda to review your action points from the last session.

 Want to find out more about the benefits of lean construction? Here are 3 ways the Last Planner System can drive successful project outcomes.

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