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The Rules of Lean Project Management as I See Them

Part 1: The Last Planners

Lean manufacturing programs like ”Achieving Excellence” are being implemented at an increasing rate now in North America. They promise to improve competitive positioning and increase profitability in the global economy. In their pursuit of excellence, more and more companies are also looking to Lean Project Management (LPM) as the next big thing to implement to better manage non-recurring activities.

Hence, the words lean project management are used all over the place by a lot of people nowadays. LPM is really not well understood, however. In this context, a few blog entries presenting the main rules of LPM, as I see them, might help us all better understand under what conditions project managers can really claim to use and live by lean principles.

Last thing comes first in LPM. So I’ll start with the “Last Planner.” The worst I heard about this is that it was a software package. So I guess some explaining is necessary. The Last Planner is a principle originally promoted by the Lean Construction Institute1. Its systematic use “Last Planner System” was developed by Glenn Ballard for his PhD thesis2. The last planner is defined as the person who will execute the planned work in a project. One of the most important last planners is ultimately the end-user of the product of a project, because he is the one who will materialise project benefits.

Simply put, the last planner approach states that “the one who will execute the planned activity is the one who must plan the planned activity.” As simple as that! Why? Project success is achieved through a series of planned promises made by some people who work very hard to meet the promises they have made! As we all well know from our failure to make our spouses, best friends, children, etc., keep promises we have made for them, making promises for others does not work. And this becomes a certainty when we try to make promises for the almost pure strangers around us, like our employees, co-workers, collaborators and business partners, regarding how they use their time. .

This principle of the last planner first came from the realisation that centralised planning did not work for construction projects, among others. Project managers using centralised planning have to admit that, very often, a time comes when the project is in complete turmoil, with the building falling apart, water pipes bursting, the construction workers and very expensive machinery waiting (while being paid for) for conflict resolution. They finally realise that it would have been less costly to win the collaboration of their stakeholders while they were at the planning stage than later while witnessing destruction work. So the last planner principle is about getting the right people making the right promises as early as possible. It is about negotiating a plan that people adhere to because part of it is their personal plan, their sacred promises for which they truly feel responsible. And more important, both the project and its last planners are bound to benefit from those promises, a sine qua non condition to meet for effectively building and mobilising project teams.

So LPM rule No. 1 is: The one who executes the work is the one who plans the work


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