Whitepaper: 08.15.2014

How to Improve Collaboration and Team Integration Using Pull Planning

by Ken McBroom, McCarthy Director of Planning and Scheduling

How can a hard-bid project achieve effective team integration without a contract specifically requiring it? How do multi-prime contractors, with no contractual obligation, successfully work together to complete a project? Collaborative Scheduling through the use of integrated Pull Planning offers an opportunity to achieve true team integration, helping ensure owners get the return on their investment earlier, or at least as planned.

While Critical Path Method (CPM) scheduling is the industry standard, there are concerns as to how accurate and reliable the approach is for forecasting the work on a daily basis. In CPM, subcontractors are told weekly or daily what they will do and when, creating a "Do it because I said so" atmosphere that often creates animosity and conflict among project team members.

Collaborative Scheduling through the use of Pull Planning, on the other hand, is an approach that maximizes input from those responsible for doing the work, where the team starts at the target completion date (milestone) and works backwards to identify and sequence tasks so their completion releases work. The question becomes "What do I need to start my task?" versus "What comes next?"

Benefits of Collaborative Scheduling
Collaborative Scheduling through Pull Planning has a variety of benefits to a project and the team members, including:

  • Constraints for tasks are identified,
  • Increased understanding of what is required to achieve the milestone (the whole picture versus just an individual’s piece),
  • One-on-one issue resolution between subcontractors, eliminating wasted effort of rest of project team, and
  • Workflow becomes reliable.

Pull Planning is best utilized when multiple parties need information and/or have tasks to be completed by others. To accomplish this process collaboratively, the affected team members for a milestone/scope of work assemble to identify and define how individual activities integrate with other activities on the project, focusing on handoffs, constraints and flow.

The value in Pull Planning is the meeting (collaboration) — building relationships, open communication and personal commitments/ownership of activities. The process begins with a specific milestone, and then the participants ask, "What additional information do we need from others?" Pull planning meetings are dynamic with all parties talking to each other and holding one another accountable in a collaborative environment. Everyone is standing up and interacting around the information, not sitting at a table talking about a paper schedule.

McCarthy’s Collaborative Scheduling takes Pull Planning from a tactical-level focus of the Last Planner System of mid-level (3- to 6-week schedule fragments) and weekly work plans, to a strategic level (the what), which includes creating the project’s milestone schedule and baseline schedule (Work Breakdown Structure). Pull meetings are used for all critical scheduling elements to maximize collaboration and create schedules that have complete project team commitment as they were developed in a truly coordinated manner, with active participation, teamwork and buy-in from all stakeholders.

In order to continuously improve upon the process and maintain a high level of collaboration, misses are tracked in a Variance Report for follow-up use in Root Cause Analysis, allowing for clear understanding of why it occurred and proactive implementation of corrective actions.

A Case Study: John Wayne Airport
An example of this process in action is the recently completed John Wayne Airport Terminal C Expansion project, which McCarthy worked on with Faithful and Gould and the ReAlignment Group, effectively implementing Collaborative Scheduling to achieve the desired outcomes.

John Wayne Airport, located in Southern California, is the only commercial service airport in Orange County. The Terminal C Expansion project was part of a $550 million capital improvement plan and was the first major upgrade since Terminals A and B opened in the 1990s. The Terminal C project was a hard-bid project with a 24-month schedule. McCarthy was responsible for a three-level, 282,000-square-foot new terminal that included six new commercial gates, new security screening checkpoint, three new baggage carousels and added international gates. 

As with most projects, a CPM schedule was contractually required and was used for both planning and payment purposes. While a critical project milestone for the airport was to have the new terminal fully operational prior to the Thanksgiving holiday travel season, a schedule update in April of that year indicated that Terminal C was not going to be ready by Thanksgiving due to numerous factors, but was anticipated to be open in January of the following year, three months behind the airport's goal and five months behind the contract completion date. It was at this point the team implemented Collaborative Scheduling through Pull Planning.

The critical path of Terminal C at the time Pull Planning was implemented was the life safety components, beginning with the startup of the nine air handler units, which in turn drove air balancing and energizing the fire alarm system. The project team gathered all of the major trades and implemented the first Pull session in late May with only 105 calendar days remaining in the contract. With all the trades gathered in the room, each trade was asked to write down on Post-It® notes all of the tasks they needed to accomplish in order to start up the first air handler, with one caveat – they needed to identify all constraints for each activity. In other words, the team, as a collective, had to understand how all of the various pieces would work together and make sure all could achieve a constant work flow. Out of this initial Pull session, the project team had a clear, documented understanding of constraints to achieve the milestone, flow of activities, and commitments by each individual of what they were going to do the following week.

After the first week of Pull Planning, the team re-gathered and measured their success. The team accomplished 83 percent of the tasks that were planned for the previous week. While there are no metrics for how the project was proceeding prior to Pull Planning, the entire team agreed that 83 percent was a vast improvement. According to a study done by Glenn Ballard with the Lean Construction Institute, the average percentage of tasks being completed on time without Pull Planning is around 54 percent.

The team then took collaboration one step further. They invited the owner’s representative to witness the Pull sessions to enable transparency of information and to report progress back to the airport executives.

As the Pull sessions continued, the entire tone of the project shifted. What began with not believing it was possible to open the terminal on time (with some thinking it simply was not possible), shifted to having complete confidence in achieving the Thanksgiving milestone. The key item responsible for this change was the ongoing reporting of the team’s (and each individual’s) Percent Promises Complete, or PPC. The PPC is simply a measure of how well the team was actually achieving the promises (commitments) made during each weekly Pull session. Very quickly, the team was consistently achieving a PPC between 80% and 90%, and ultimately started the first air handling unit just 33 calendar days from the first Pull Planning meeting.

Another complexity of this project was the contractual structure created by the airport in order to allow smaller contractors a chance to bid and execute the work. This resulted in multiple entities that were not contractually tied to each other, including a program management firm, three construction management firms and eight prime contractors. All of these entities ended up working in the same location at the same time.

One particular example of this complexity was the Common Use Passenger Processing System (CUPPS) scope of work. John Wayne Airport was the first airport to implement this system, allowing all airlines to be on the same computer system. However, while the CUPPS contractor and McCarthy needed to work closely together in order to get the terminal open on time, the two had no contractual obligation to do so. With the initial success of Pull Planning, the airport hired a third-party Pull Planning consultant to facilitate Pull Planning between the CUPPS team’s scope of work and McCarthy’s scope of work. Once again, Pull Planning was a success; the team of two independent prime contractors was able to plan their work and achieve a constant workflow in the process.

The result of Collaborative Scheduling was made evident when the airport successfully opened in time for the Thanksgiving holiday travel season. The benefits of this process facilitated continual schedule improvement on the John Wayne Airport project and achieved a heightened understanding of the interrelated dependencies each party has with others, thus fostering and maintaining a collaborative team environment.

Through Collaborative Scheduling, McCarthy is raising the bar on project certainty and productivity. In the age where the increase in technology can feel overwhelming at times, it will not and cannot replace the value of genuine relationships and open communication. Collaborative Scheduling, including Pull Planning, are effective tools that owners, contractors and subcontractors can utilize to get projects completed and in service as early as possible.

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