On Friday, December 2, 2016 Capital Planning and Development hosted a Choosing by Advantage and Last Planner all-day workshop in the HUB with David Umstot from Umstot Project and Facilities Solutions, LLC.  Approximately 40 UW Staff members were in attendance from Major Projects, Special Projects, Office of the University Architect, Design Services, Campus Engineering, and Business Services.  The icebreaker exercise revealed that the staff in attendance had 1,004 years of experience. This was a workshop record and highlighted the impressive amount of knowledge, experience, and insight the University has related to design and construction.

Choosing By Advantages

The workshop began with an overview of the Choosing by Advantage (CBA) process, emphasizing this as an alternative to pros and cons decision making. With pros and cons we are double counting because the pro can be derived from the con and vice versa, so CBA moves us away from “unsound” decision making towards a “sound” approach.  To be successful at utilizing CBA it is important to first understand the following terms:

  • Alternatives – Two or more options associated with a construction method, material, design strategy, system, etc, from which one must be chosen.  Ex. Canoe A or B
  • Factor – A single element of the alternatives that will be evaluated.   Ex.  Weight
  • Attribute – The characteristic of the alternative that is associated with the factor.  Ex. Canoe A = 65 lbs / Canoe B =75 lbs
  • Criterion – It is the decision rule for that factor.  These can be categorized into “must” and “wants”.  Ex.  Less weight is better
  • Advantage – Beneficial difference between the attributes of an alternative and the least desirable alternative based on that factor’s criteria.  Ex.  Canoe A is 10 pounds lighter

The workshop guided participants through four examples of the CBA process from very simple, choosing a tent site to evaluating a recent CPD RFQ.  Many people enjoyed this process because it gradually introduced complexity into the process as the participants became more comfortable with the terminology. Once the chart (see workshop documents) is filled out it is important to add visual cues like highlighting, circling, or underlining to identify the alternatives with the greatest advantage for each factor, as well as the least desirable. 

As we progressed through the examples we began to introduce a weighting system into the process to prioritize certain factors over others.   The weighting process should be done after all of the other information has been established because some factors might have little variability between alternatives so it is of little value to provide significant weight to those factors. 

Weighting in CBA starts with defining the “Paramount Advantage” or the factor that equates most to a successful project outcome and gives the most desirable alternative a weight of 100.  You then work backwards for each factor and alternative giving them a weight below 100 based on their importance relative to the needs of the project and customer while taking into consideration how it relates in terms of importance to the Paramount Advantage.   The least desirable alternative for each factor is given 0 points because they have no advantage.  Like decision making this is a subjective process, so weighting needs to be completed through committee with all stakeholders present. 

One of the most challenging aspect of this process is to not consider cost until the end.  An ideal alternative should be established before cost is integrated into the decision making process.  Cost also needs to be evaluated based on the differences in points between the alternatives. This results in the question, is the impact of cost significant enough to shift the weight totals resulting in choosing a different alternative? 

For workshop examples and additional information regarding Choosing By Advantages, visit the following links:

Last Planner System

For the second half of the day, the group went through the process of Last Planner with an overview of the processes and an exercise that allowed the group to experience first-hand the Milestone and Pull Planning Process.  Using Last Planner is a bottom-up collaborative approach to scheduling that supports shared ownership of the overall plan with each trade’s commitments to their specific tasks.  This system becomes more powerful when the design and construction activities are integrated into the process resulting in greater efficiencies.  The goal is to reduce the amount of work flow variability in a project that normally results in delays, change orders, and increased costs.   The following is a list of the elements that are a part of the Last Planner System:

  1. Master Scheduling - setting all of the milestones in a project.  Milestones have a 0 duration.  Ex.  Foundation Completed, Site Work Finished, …..
  2. Phase (Pull) Planning – specifying the sequence of tasks and handoffs needed to achieve project milestones.  Information included are duration times, constraints, predecessor tasks, number of people per crew, and the responsible trade. 
  3. Make Work Ready Planning – This is a day-by-day 6 week work plan.  It provides more detail to the schedule established in the pull planning process. Planning needs to be more detailed the closer you get to the work. 
  4. Weekly Work Planning – This process consist of daily meetings and a weekly meeting to evaluate the progress of the daily schedule for each trade.  All involved trades are present. 
  5. Learning – Measure “Percent Promises Completed”, conduct root cause analysis and act on reasons for failure to keep promises. 

The order of elements above is important because they need to be completed in that order.  All of the above elements require all people who will be doing the work to be present and involved in creating the schedules using structured sticky notes.  Each trade or stakeholder is provided their own sticky note color to aid with visualizing responsibilities and task ownership during each phase.  One thing to note, is that this process discourages the use of the term Sub-Contractor because of its stigma and doesn’t align with the ideas of collaboration.  Instead, use the term Trade Partner.  

After the group went through an overview of the Last Planner System we conducted our own Master Scheduling and Phase (Pull) Planning process using an example provided by David.  Some characteristics to note with these processes are as follows:

  • Changing Project Priorities = Bad Planning 
  • All Milestone tags are shifted 45 degrees to be diamond shaped.  This helps differentiate them.
  • Immediately establish a project constraint log to track and resolve during the Last Planner process and throughout the project.
  • Do not move another trade’s tag. Instead, make a request for that trade to move their tag.  This supports a dialogue and mutual awareness of the process.
  • In Pull Planning start from the end of the project and work backwards.
  • During Pull Planning, all tasks should have a max 10 day duration. If the task takes longer, add another tag.
  • After the trades finish with the Pull Planning schedule, then the project superintendent and PM conduct a Forward Pass evaluating the defined schedule, finding opportunities to “Pull” the schedule to the left to reduce duration or improve process alignment through identifying process improvements.   
  • If a project gets completely off schedule, it is encouraged to start over with the elements of the Last Planner System.  
  • To track progress during the Daily Meetings, work tags should be shifted to a diamond when a task is not completed when expected. When tasks are completed add a diagonal slash through the tag.  At weekly meetings, if all parties agrees the task has been completed add another diagonal slash to the tag resulting in an “X” on the tag. 
  • The structure of sticky notes is important, see the pictures below.

The physical schedules produced using the Last Planner System can be used with or as an alternative to the standard scheduling methods.  This tactical method can be translated into electronic pull planning tools or an excel table. 

For additional information regarding the processes involved with Last Planner, explore the links below:

Overall, the day was a great success in strengthening the group’s knowledge of LEAN practices by providing each person in attendance with a strong foundation for using these methods in their work.  When learning anything new, it takes practice so staying committed to these methods has the potential to result in significant improvements in how we deliver projects at the University of Washington.  If you have additional questions about these two methods look through all of the resources above, search online, or reach out to a colleague who was in attendance.  Be on the lookout for our next training session ……..