Tag Archives: Lean

The Last Planner and other Old Ideas

I never ceased to be amazed by the number of people who either have no knowledge of project management history and established practice or chose to ignore established practice in favour of a new fad that is the old practice recycled. Given modern project management is less than 60 years old this is a worry (for more on this see The Origins of Modern Project Management)

One of the more annoying ‘new ideas’ is the Last Planner® this methodology has at its root, the idea that the best people to involve in the planning process are the front line supervisors and team leaders who will actually have to do the work. This is a really great idea that has been used by good schedulers since the 1960s. Certainly when I was learning the craft of scheduling construction projects in the early 1970s one of the key messages from my teachers was that there was no point in developing a schedule unless; (a) the foreman though the sequence of work was best and (b) the foreman understood what was involved in the work. In effect my job was to make sure the foremen totally agreed with and understood all of the work implications in the schedule. As a bonus the foreman also was likely to know more about what was involved in doing the work than a green scheduler so we ended up with a realistic and achievable schedule.

Fast forward 40 years and a whole new idea called Last Planner® is being marketed with the idea the front line supervisors should be actively involved in scheduling the work using techniques such as affinity diagrams (Last Planner calls this post-it-notes stuck on the wall). There’s nothing wrong with the ideas in Last Planner® it just not new – the fundamental processes were being used by skilled schedulers 40+ years ago.

The reason this sort of recycling is seen by so many as ‘new ideas’ has been canvassed in A Brief History of Scheduling – Back to the Future. The advent of desktop PCs virtually wiped out the scheduling profession.

Similar adaptation of sound ideas from the past can be found in the concepts of ‘Light’ and ‘Lean’ project management. Both of these seem to be mantras of the Agile software development community (no guys – Agile is not a project management methodology, it is a way to develop software: see Agile is NOT a Project Management Methodology and two later posts).

Lean manufacturing was made famous by Toyota. Some of the key principles such as minimising unnecessary movement and waste, simplifying process and continuous improvement have huge potential in both software development and project management. But Lean is Lean, it was developed by Toyota and can be adapted to areas other than manufacturing. It’s a good idea but it was not invented as a part of Agile.

Light is a different philosophy focused on minimisation of unnecessary overhead. Complex plans and processes should be simplified, but only to remove excess complication, not to remove core requirements. This philosophy is certainly a part of Agile but again hardly revolutionary. Its roots can be traced back to the ideas of Scientific Management in the early 1900s and Parkinson’s writings in the 1950s.

Perhaps as the song goes; ‘everything old is new again’? Or maybe only a few of us have been around long enough to either remember the song or know our history?? At least a few of us old time schedulers will be able to kill off a few more brain cells in Boston next week (by the moderate use of good wine and beer) at the PMI COS conference ‘Revolutionary Scheduling’. It will be interesting to see all of the new ideas as well as adaptations of old ones.