Originally published 10/10/2019; Updated 11/19/2021
No matter the size or scope, every construction project seeks to benefit from strategic planning and efficient execution. Even before the global pandemic made physical distancing necessary, construction companies were in need of a better alternative to the traditional sticky-notes-in-a-room solution. Enter digital pull planning.
With this software, construction companies can achieve strategic planning goals in a cost-effective, easy-to-implement way – even if your team members are remote. Plus, pull planning software lets you move faster and gives your trades real-time access into what’s going on. This blog will highlight six steps you can follow in order to keep your construction project on time and on task from start to finish, no matter where your team meets.
1. Break Your Project into Bite-Sized Chunks
When looking at your project as a whole, you should start off by identifying smaller targets, phases, or milestones and then assigning target completion dates to each “chunk.” Once published via your software, everyone will know what the chunks are along with their associated due dates. Consider how much more efficient and effective this is versus living in some spreadsheet or sticky notes wall—the software simply does it all for you.
This approach also is more durable and makes the entire project more cohesive by tying things together. This will allow you to survive the pull and the associated realities of what’s happening on the ground by aligning them with the ongoing schedule in a living document. Best of all, smaller chunks reduce errors because everyone sees them. The more eyeballs on them, the less chance there is for mistakes.
2. Schedule a “Pull Session” for each “Chunk”
Pull only one “chunk” at a time and then invite all internal stakeholders and trades, including the Foreman, Superintendent, Design Lead, Owner’s rep, Trade Lead, Scheduler, Project Manager, Safety officer/lead, and QA/QC. Planning with sub-pulls fixes the pain of getting everyone in one room together and can make planning video conferences more manageable. Also, pull planning software can help you get granular with your sub-pulls and set it up so you have a date for plan + subs = location. The software then sends reminders to everyone about the pull and emails that give a way to confirm they will be there.
3. Once Together, Start by Defining All Activities
The traditional way of defining all activities was done with “sticky notes” on a board. And, while decidedly low tech, this method still works. However, it’s not the most efficient tool for today’s collaboration-based workforces and the current need for physical distancing. Pull planning software on a shared screen is way easier to set up, and easier to view collaboratively across teams while in isolation.
In defining each activity, you should identify a “Promise,” a “Need”, a duration, and the number of people involved in that activity. You should also break them up by trade and order them under the trade from first thing the trade needs to do to last thing. Identifying this logical progression makes
4. Create a Snake
This isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. The head of the snake is your goal / milestone / phase / end date. From that starting point, you order activities behind the target from last activity to first activity, thus creating a snake.
One of the big advantages of creating snakes with pull planning software is you can formally create dependencies that translate to the project plan. Not only are they easy to create, they’re also easily saved and easily manipulated, allowing you to move items around and back-and-forth. Pull planning software creates quick updates across all of the dependencies, saving you the mess of moving stuff around manually.
5. Put It into a Timeline
Now that you’ve created your snake, it’s time to grab from its tail and create a timeline from first task to last. It should be noted that the timeline shouldn’t extend beyond the Target Completion Date. It’s also imperative for stakeholders to discuss what activities can be done on the same day as other activities in order to ensure maximum efficiency.
In creating a timeline, there’s simply no comparison between pull planning software and using the traditional whiteboard. With the whiteboard, it’s hard to tie everything back to the milestones and it’s nearly impossible to see a task that takes multiple days. But software gives you a timeline view and can tell you where you are within the timeline in relation to the ultimate target date. Plus, software makes populating time across multiple days incredibly simple. It also helps highlight the interdependencies within the context of a calendar and prevents things from sneaking into the timeline in the wrong place.
6. Finalize and Publish
This is the final step for you to take one last look and make sure everybody agrees on the schedule before you publish and distribute it to all of your stakeholders.
With the traditional whiteboard, people would take a picture at this stage and then either drop it into a spreadsheet, or worse, do nothing with it. With pull planning software, publishing generates a schedule that can be managed on a daily basis. For example, a super could come in and see all activity that needs to be done or any sub can see their activity and mark where they are. They can also reschedule tasks based on unforeseen circumstances. And, because of the dependencies we created earlier, this action automatically reschedules all the associated down-steam tasks.
Once published, the software allows the schedule to easily be printed right then and there, or even zoomed and printed at different levels. It can also filter to show whatever you want as well.
Things to Keep in Mind for an Effective Pull Planning Session
It’s clear that pull planning software can revolutionize the way construction companies approach their projects. But that doesn’t mean every company has to adopt a cookie cutter approach. One company uses the software to the side and doesn’t actually integrate with the trades (strictly based on their own choice). They simply try to mirror the live pull and then finish it after the planning meeting. Yet another company utilizes a big screen where they use the software and update as they go.
One thing to consider is that it is preferred for two people to manage the pull. One, you need a facilitator, the person leading discussions and getting agreement between subs. And two, you need an operator who is actually entering everything into the software and doing the admin work. Having two people is the best way to keep the flow going and underlies several of the major selling points of using software: it’s faster, it’s more flexible (you don’t have to move sticky notes around) and it’s more powerful (because you can manage sub-pulls as well as the main pull).
A word of caution: these pulls can take a long time, so you need to be careful about planning too far in advance. It’s been shown that the further you get out, the higher likelihood the planning will fall apart due to a myriad of other obligations, hangups, surprises, etc. In short, don’t pull too far ahead or it can be derailed by a lot of things.
Pull planning software like QLean can allow you to re-vision and do multiple versions of one pull. It helps with re-pulls by looking at the previous version, copying it, and using it as a starting point for the update. It may not seem like a glamorous feature, but it’s highly useful, especially compared to other software like Touchplan. According to users, QLeans’ revisioning, easy predecessor management and scheduler also all favorably compare to what’s offered in Touchplan.
To learn more about the advantages of pull planning software and to learn more about running a remote pull planning session, schedule a demo with us!