The Discipline of Managing Promises 1

In the podcast, We don’t use a Transactional Contract for Marriage, Why for Projects?, with Alan Mossma of The Change Business we discussed The Promise Conversation Cycle. Alan had this to say about it.

Think of a customer and a provider, or a potential provider. The customer makes a request to the potential provider. That request, in a well-run system, will initiate a conversation, a negotiation about the conditions of satisfaction of that request and the date by which those conditions of satisfaction ought to be met. As part of that conversation, the provider may need to go and talk to other suppliers of their own and have a similar conversation to this conversation that we are talking about.

Promise Conversation CycleIf I’m the provider, I might need to go to my material’s supplier and say, “Can you supply?” Make a request and the material’s supplier then wants to clarify conditions of satisfaction, the delivery date and so on.

We get to a point where one of three useful things can happen. The first is that I as provider say, “Yes, I can do that.” The second is that I can say, “Yes; I can do that, provided you let me have the specification or the drawings or whatever it is that you want me to work with by this date.” There’s “yes,” “yes, if.”

The other useful response is “No; I can’t do it.” Because that’s a very clear signal to the customer that they’ve either got to change the deadline, they’ve got to change the conditions of satisfaction, or they’ve got to find somebody else who can do it. I’ve got early warning as a customer that something needs to shift.

But, let’s suppose I said, “Yes.” I then go ahead with production. I’ve made a promise and now I set out to fulfill that promise. Once I’ve delivered on the promise, it’s important that I declare completion. When I’ve declared completion, it is a signal to the customer to show him or her that I have done what they wanted done. Hopefully, at the end of that process they will declare satisfaction.

Now, this promise cycle is completed entirely in language. There is a request, there is the negotiation, there is a promise, there is a declaration of completion, and a declaration of satisfaction or dissatisfaction as appropriate.

What is missing, in my view, in a lot of construction, is that because of the critical path method, there is not enough time spent on managing promises, managing commitments. It’s all coming from directives. You will do this. You will do that. So that the project manager is telling people what to do rather than ensuring that the people on the project understand what needs to be done, so that they are in a position to make offers and to make promises about what they will do.

The collaborative planning, collaborative programming, make ready, are foundations for Last Planners to make promises about the work that they will do next week, because they’ve got direct involvement in preparing the work to be done.

A transcription of the entire podcast: A Lean Project Planner.

What intrigues me about this concept is its ability to plan around uncertainty through a collaborative structure. I doubt outside of the construction world many will implement this step by step. However, The Last Planner® provides an excellent roadmap to begin your journey. Taking it a step further, The Promised Conversation Cycle provides a discipline for your conversations. Can you promise anything you are uncertain about? Of course not, that is why this conversation is the key component of The Last Planner. If we are going to create collaboration, a social process, we must define and adhere to a structure that builds trust and removes uncertainty in an uncertain world. Working through the deliverables, even though there will be failures at times builds the team structure. The planning process becomes a ‘personal thing” with shared responsibilities.

Alan Mossman discussed his latest updates in the Last Planner® – 5 + 1 crucial & collaborative conversations for predictable design & construction delivery (outstanding PDF created by Alan) and writings on The Last Planner® System (LPS).

The Last Planner® was created by Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell co-founders of the Lean Construction Institute.LPS was developed by Dr Glenn Ballard & Greg Howell. Last Planner is a registered trademark of Lean Construction Institute (LCI) LCI, Ballard & Howell are happy for organizations to use LPS to support project delivery and would appreciate it if they joined LCI. For more info see “The Last Planner System” page on the LCI website.