More often than preferred, the Project Manager or the Project Controls Engineer is regarded as a watch dog. He looks like the bad guy, raging when the work isn’t progressing as planned. He always tries to PUSH his – sometimes unrealistic and overly complex – planning to people executing the work.
These people responsible for execution feel disconnected with the schedule, it is not their schedule and they certainly did not commit to it.
LEAN Scheduling – part of the Lean Construction approach – is a philosophy aiming to shift the responsibility of planning “what” is done “when” to the people executing the work. The experts know their trade and are able to manage their own work and time, thus encouraging flexibility. These experienced specialists are referred to as the task executors.
LEAN Scheduling transforms planning in a PULL effort based on a couple of key words:
- He knows what SHOULD be done : Project Timeframe and high level (phase-)planning
- He knows what CAN be done : He is the expert
- He commits to what WILL be done : The social promise
- He DID what he promised : Continuous improvement process
We would like to touch upon this subject in order to make people think about the ownership of the schedule. Shouldn’t the traditional planning method (PMI) always be adopted as it – theoretically – optimizes the cost and time factors? What with detailed activities that are difficult to estimate, should those be able to change your entire schedule-logic and duration?
In practice LEAN Scheduling is implemented at the following levels.
The central Project Management team provides the Master planning, a set of key milestones based on phases and deliverables – often strongly connected with the contract. This, of course, is the project bible and sets the boundaries for all other to move within.
For each phase of the project a planning is set up. Here lies the key ingredient for LEAN Scheduling to be effective: collaboration between everybody involved in the phase. This planning is often developed in a war room with post-its or other aids and may be set up based on backward planning. In order to have a realistic phase planning, buffers should be strategically added cfr. Risk Analysis blog post.
Look-ahead schedules provide insight in what should be done and help prioritize work. Usually a 5 to 6 week look-ahead of the current phase is planned in detail. A special focus is needed to try to eliminate the constraints that are currently impeding work to be executed. Examples of constraints are: contract signatures, approval processes, slow IT systems and many others that keep you from starting/finishing or are prolonging the task. The list of all activities without constraints will create a backlog of workable tasks. Constraint analysis (removal) is an integral part of LEAN Scheduling. The main objective is to maximize the flexibility so that the task executor can (promise to) execute work as he sees fit. This paves the road to efficient problem solving on the work floor and during the weekly work planning meetings.
Weekly Work Planning
All activities planned in the look-ahead are to be committed in a certain week by the task executor. Every week the Planned Percent Complete (Cfr. other blogpost) is calculated and analyzed, after which variances are identified and resolved. If a certain activity was not completed as promised by the responsible, a continual improvement process is set up to learn and improve.
This is the core of LEAN Scheduling : These weekly planning meetings revolve around a couple of key questions:
- What will I do?
- When can I do it?
- When will I do it?
- Why didn’t I do what was committed?
- What can be done to improve and keep my commitments?
LEAN Scheduling is a philosophy that helps solving a common caveat that we encounter in project controls. Its foundation is to increase the buy in from everybody involved in planning, especially the ones who have to perform the work. Being told exactly what to do when by a project manager promotes disconnection from the project. When the task executors made a commitment to perform a task, the schedule responsibility lies with them. If a promise could not be kept, the reason for missing the commitment should be registered in an extensive lessons learned library.
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