When developing a construction schedule, as in most other endeavors, a little advance planning goes a long way. Can you count the number of project managers who have that old plaque reading "PLAN AHea. . .d" or some version of that advice prominently displayed?
Anticipating contingencies and possible slowdowns is not always easy. The old fashioned way involved timelines scrawled on flow charts, usually with lots of colored arrows, blocked-out dates, and accompanying notes. Then came various forms of critical path analysis, usually focused on the least amount of time needed for each portion of a job. The critical path may have been easy to track, but often required major adjustment along the way, moving from project onset toward completion.
Pull Planning Begins with the Goal
Football coaches have long recommended that players "keep your eyes on the goal." Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that project planners now find some benefit by starting at the end to develop phased timelines for effective work schedules.
If that seems counterintuitive, think of it this way. By working backwards from a designated completion date, and by involving all the "players" from the very beginning, it becomes obvious when specific tasks must be begun and completed, what crews are required onsite during each phase, and how the project as a whole must evolve.
Getting specific input from each responsible crew chief or subcontractor is a bit like choreographing football plays. Some positions might have to be shifted, timing may require adjustment, and there may be some crowding, but everyone involved can see the big picture. It is generally easier to forge a cooperative spirit when each player visualizes how one part relates to the whole effort.
Putting People Back in the Process
There is increased recognition that engaging people more effectively contributes more to project success than any other factor. Pull Planning is basic and easily implemented. It involves every key player in the planning process and eliminates miscommunication. It relies on realistic estimates from those who know, rather than on the "least possible" time of the critical path method. It is imperative that all of those key players buy in to the process, however. A breakdown in the planning stages can defeat the effectiveness of the planning and jeopardize the scheduling.
How, exactly, does pull planning work?
Don’t laugh—instead, visualize your elementary-school days when the teacher color-coded instructions and assigned tasks to various teams.
The best and easiest way to navigate through a pull planning session, even for multi-million dollar projects, is with a hand-drawn timeline or giant calendar on a wall-sized white board. Colored sticky notes are then used to denote specific aspects of the job for each required trade. It becomes easily evident and graphically important as specific tasks are added and the timeline begins to fill up where the priorities are, in what order jobs must be completed, where schedules overlap, and how a delay in any area might affect the next portion of the project.
Interaction promotes "global understanding," resulting in better rapport, more cooperation, and increased communication.
Key Points to Remember
While pull planning seems simple, it is actually a sophisticated motivating tool designed to build team spirit. You may find that it becomes one of your most effective building solutions because it answers the basic question, "What must be done, and when, to reach the goal before time runs out?"
There are four basic requirements:
- Get input from the proper people. Consult with the people who get their hands dirty, not those who sit at their desks and field phone calls. You want specifics about workers and machinery. Insist on realistic estimates and achievable timing.
- Do your homework. Assure that everyone you include in the brainstorming session has ample time to prepare and bring experience and facts to the session. You don’t want guesses and uncertainty—about timing, tools or scope of work.
- Be specific. Foster a sense of ownership in the project, by outlining not only the goal, but by detailing how the work will proceed. It is important that each trade knows its place in the progression; it is also important to identify benchmarks.
- Define Conditions of Satisfaction at the outset. These, in effect, are the rules of the game. The play book then specifies where each player must be and when, and exactly what role to play in ensuring success.
No matter the size of the project, a little planning can go a long way. Need help optimizing your own scheduling? You’ve come to the right place.