The Art of Collaborative Planning

The Art of Collaborative Planning

As ‘Lean Construction Consultants’ one of our common forms of intervention, and one lauded as instantly beneficial, is Collaborative Planning.

Collaborative planning seeks to capture the specialist knowledge of team members to create a coordinated, realistic, predicable and resourced construction plan.   Successful Collaborative Planning will create flow of resource in a highly coordinated manner.

The four stages of collaborative planning are:

  1. Master Planning
  2. Ready To Build
  3. Weekly Planning
  4. Daily Planning

For the purpose of this ‘blog’ I will mainly be discussing the Master Planning stage.

1One of the key benefits of Collaborative Planning is that you are agreeing with each supplier the appropriate resource levels for a specific activity, usually in a small area, or batch; this ‘batch’ can be extrapolated out for all trades across the whole project.

Why is this so important?  The importance of understanding resource is that most, if not all project periods, are not determined by a critical path of the process steps but on the flow of resource in a given sequence.

We programme projects with quantities and approximate sequence of summarised activities yet we manage them by deploying trade / discipline gangs in a given sequence.  For example we may show electrical first fix progressing ahead of boarding on a project Gantt Chart, however this apparently simple sequence will involve complex interaction between numerous trades and specialists in a given sequence and if not properly planned and managed weeks can be eroded without any realisation of the opportunity that is being lost.

The opportunity to improve and optimise productivity is in ensuring each trade starts as early as possible and then has continuity of work and completes each batch or zone as they proceed; ready on time for the next trade (The Next Customer).

2On a macro scale we know that the frame follows the substructure; the envelope follows the frame and the finishes follow the envelope.  Typically each of these main phases will be broken down on the Construction Gantt Chart to a level of detail that still includes long bars; the flow of works is represented by the overlapping of these long bars, indicating for instance that ‘Activity B’ starts about two weeks after ‘Activity A’ has started.

Collaborative planning of these key milestones that release the next stage, are of great interest to us. We seek to understand when earliest can this next stage be released and how to maintain the flow of resources thereafter. We are also greatly concerned with what all the process steps are to reach this milestone.

By focusing on this we are seeking primarily to eliminate ‘Waiting Waste’ by creating flow with resource. Collaborative Planning also contributes considerably to the elimination of other wastes such as ‘Defect Waste’, ‘Overproduction Waste’, ‘Inventory Waste’ and the waste of ‘Underutilising People Knowledge’, by capturing that knowledge.

Instead of a lone Project Planner or Project Manager building up a programme and imposing it on the team, the Collaborative Planning sessions capture hundreds of years shared construction experience around a table and apply that knowledge in building a programme which the team owns.

The need to focus on the ‘next customer’ and eliminate ‘waiting waste’ relies on batching the project into small areas to generate flow.  In simple terms halving the batch size will reduce the programme by about 40% – with the same resources!!!  The downside is it doubles the critical interfaces with the trades, which demands better management and better communication.  In other words it demands collaborative planning.

3Theory and our own experience dictate that the best time for Master Planning is well in advance of ‘cutting the sod’, with a mature design and all the suppliers and consultants available for the session.  This collaborative planning panacea is a rare flower indeed, one that will only blossom in the fertile soil of two stage collaborative working and with a Client with the wisdom and will to make it happen.

Even if it is the Client intent to engage his main contractor early in the project development stage, the main contractor or his commercial procurement team may not willingly enter into the same relationships with their supply chain. In the last 5 years the Industry has taken backwards steps with regards to collaborative working, with lowest price in an aggressive market place dominating.  Contractors with low margins feel the need to play the market as long as possible before appointing subcontractors leaving little opportunity for planning with the supply chain before starting on site.

With the active promotion of BIM by the UK Government, early engagement of the specialist supply chain may become more commonplace and 4D BIM construction models will demand a more integrated approach to the planning of projects.

The good news however is that there are still significant benefits in planning workshops with specialists no matter what the stage of the job. Within one hour of sitting down coordination issues, risks, opportunities and problems start popping out of the dialogue; matters that might cause a delay or quality issue if picked up later, which is invariably the case without a collaborative approach.

Accepting the constraints of current procurement methods, I have found through experience, that the Master Planning needs a series of workshops. The number of which depends on the size and complexity of the project and on the timing of suppliers becoming involved in the project.

Facilitation of the workshop needs to be carried out by someone who can ensure no single party dominates with all suppliers being given their say and an opportunity to raise issues, which should be captured with allocated actions and timescales.  All protagonists should approach the workshop in a proactive, open way and the facilitator should allow for mutual trust to be developed and nurtured.  In my experience I have found that most suppliers will participate in an open and proactive manner, irrespective of their contractual status, provided the main contractor encourages this approach.

Facilitation of the process is a skill that needs practice and the right attitude, one of objectivity and fairness to promote the mutual trust that is needed to get the right answers and the right plan.