One of my favorite and a podcast that ended up influencing me quite a bit was with Gregory Howell. At the time, Greg was the managing director of the Lean Construction Institute (LCI), a non-profit organization devoted to production management research in design and construction. The Last Planner® (sometimes referred to as the Last Planner® System) is a production planning system designed to produce predictable work flow and rapid learning in programming, design, construction and commissioning of projects.
Joe: How does the name “Last Planner” relate to the planning system?
Greg: There’s always somebody who is the person who makes an assignment. Lots of companies say, “Why don’t you call that Foreman Planning?” The reason we chose a different and outside term was we wanted to talk about the function. That is the last person who makes an assignment, as opposed to the necessary position within a company. Because sometimes it’s the foreman, sometimes it’s the general foreman, sometimes it’s an office.
Calling it “Foreman Planning” would in a way blind people to the real function of this person, so “Last Planner” seemed like a good idea at the time. That’s why we chose it. We wanted to distinguish it from traditional positions in construction.
Joe: You talk about Pull Planning. Can you help someone get their arms around what Pull Planning is?
Greg: Sure. There are two ways to advance stuff on a project or probably anywhere. One is by push where you advance stuff based on some schedule. Whether or not the project is ready for order or not, the schedule says this should be delivered to the site, and so we deliver it.
Pull is when you advance stuff when the site is ready to use it or the next station is ready to use it, and in that case, you signal from the work site, and I’ll use that because that’s where I live. You signal back to the logistics chain saying send me the beams, and that’s a request. A pull signal can be understood as a request, and something that really informs our approach to Lean management is something called the language action perspective, and I won’t go very far in this.
There are some actions that we take in language. I make a request. You asked me if I would do this podcast. I made a promise. We set a time. We set conditions that it would be done in about 30 minutes, and so you made a request, I made a promise. It will reach a point, I’ll say I am done, and all of that speaking is the action. I request is the action.
When we begin to think about pull as a request, then we understood that we were designing a system that fundamentally was promise centered. You can say we’re designing the production system. You can also say it another way, we’re designing a project as a network of commitments, a series of request promise cycles that are designed to deliver the big promise that somebody made to a client.
So that’s where that language comes from, and there is a significant body of knowledge about that. We think it’s a more important approach to – I’ll call it human resources than the kind of traditional motivational approach. We think people do their darndest to do what they promise and if we can learn to speak more clearly and listen more sharply for requests and promises, we can do a much better job.
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