How Pull Planning Will Help Your Construction Project Stay on Target

Large-scale construction projects mean a lot of moving parts, and building a realistic schedule can be a challenging task – particularly when it’s one left to a single project manager. Pull planning can alleviate this pressure by incorporating stakeholder input to strengthen the Critical Path Method scheduling process. This scheduling technique increases efficiency, reduces extraneous costs, and lessens the need for change orders as the project progresses. While pull planning isn’t the only scheduling method available, it is certainly one your team should consider.

Defining Pull Planning

Designed to be a collaborative process, the pull planning technique draws upon information from all stakeholders to create a coordinated plan for your phase of work. It begins with identifying a phase completion milestone, then works backward to fill in the necessary activities. 

Crucially, pull planning requires collaboration from the entire team to effectively develop a schedule. This team focus means generating buy-in from all stakeholders and promoting a feeling of comradery and accountability during the execution of the project, particularly between the general contractor and key subcontractors. 

This holistic approach to planning engages proactive problem solving, allowing schedulers to anticipate obstacles and allocate resources accordingly. As you can imagine, this means pull planning has a number of benefits including:

  • Reducing the number of change orders needed
  • Improving efficiency, collaboration, and communication
  • Keeping projects on time and on budget 

The Role of Sticky Notes in Pull Planning

Although you can use software to run a pull planning session, the concept originated with something simpler: colorful sticky notes. These little pieces of paper make it quick and easy to visually categorize different steps, resources, and milestones and are easy to move around as you and your team collaborate to create a schedule. 

Before hosting your session, be sure to establish a clear template for teams to use when filling out the sticky notes. Important information should include subcontractor name and trade, activity description, activity duration, and the major tasks and/or trades that must be completed before the activity can start. 

Next, define a different color for each trade. This will help the team easily identify big picture trends in the project, such as trades that are needed prior to dry-in, those that don’t need to mobilize until after the MEP inspections are complete, trades that overlap one another, and more.

Prefer a digital solution? You can use programs like Touchplan or VeilSun too.

Hosting a Planning Session

1. Gather Your Stakeholders & Explain the Session’s Goals
To host your pull planning session, you’ll first need to gather your key stakeholders and set some ground rules. One of the most important benefits of pull planning is enhanced unity and alignment across the project team. As the facilitator, be sure to prepare the teams you’re seeking input from so they clearly understand the purpose of the session, the information you expect from them, and how their information will fit into the schedule. Armed with this knowledge, teams will be able to respond to questions more accurately and foster a stronger sense of accountability.

We also recommend that facilitators of pull planning sessions start by discussing big picture project goals, objectives, and scheduling specifications with the project manager and superintendent. Some of the key discussion points to keep in mind are:

  • Contractual milestones
  • Period of performance
  • Phasing efforts and turnover sequence
  • Notice to proceed
  • Project calendars
  • Weather contingency
  • Temporary and permanent power

2. Identify Key Milestones
Now that everyone is on the same page, you’ll work to identify major milestones or phase completion dates that the schedule is trying to achieve. Once these have been identified, it will be easier to narrow down the trades and specific activities that will be required to achieve these milestones.

3. Schedule Activities & Set Durations
Then it’s time for the sticky notes: The initial set of cards must contain the key milestones identified in the step above, placed in the appropriate order. For example, the first major milestone may be notice to proceed, followed by dry-in, and finally substantial completion. Once these cards have been created, the representative from the key subcontractors in attendance must fill out their cards with relevant activities needed to go from one milestone to the next. Make sure that each card contains enough information to be useful as the baseline schedule is built. This is where the templates you created before the session will be helpful.

Once all the cards are posted, the facilitator will ensure all activities are in a logical sequence and that durations align with industry standards or his/her experience. Conflicts may arise during this step; however, having the respective subcontractors in the room together make it easier to identify a solution. This is a major advantage that pull planning offers over traditional methods of schedule development, where logic is determined in a silo without as much collaboration and team input. Once all the cards from each trade have been placed in the right order, photos of the boards are taken to record the session and incorporate findings into the baseline schedule.

Maintaining Collaboration Beyond Pull Planning

Although the sticky notes are perhaps the most recognizable aspect of pull planning, the process does not end once they’ve been stuck to the board. The sense of comradery and collaboration should be maintained throughout the project. Frequent check-ins with the team to discuss daily and weekly priorities will help keep you on track.

Using Pull Planning for Your Next Construction Project

While some teams may be reluctant to spend time on pull planning at the start of a project, a clear, actionable, and realistic schedule is vital to success. Where lack of thoughtful planning upfront can lead to unforeseen delays down the road, investing in accurate scheduling can increase efficiency and reduce waste.

We’ve helped teams around the globe implement pull planning to cut costs, streamline projects and deliver on time and on target. Get in touch with us to see how Peritia can help you schedule for success.

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