I am Perry Thompson fellow trade partner. I worked for Parsons electric in Minneapolis. We’ve been on a Lean journey for about six years now. We’re trying to simplify the process for lean construction for trade partners.
We’re developing a concept called P4 and I’m going to talk to you a little bit about that and why we think it’s effective and who it’s for and how it can help us. Let’s start with the power of P4. When we do Last Planner® system or when were on a lean project and we go meetings to do phase pull planning, there’s an expectation by the general contractor for us to be prepared. What P4 does is help us come to this meeting prepared. And this is not trying to say that we’re not prepared at some level, but we’re trying to get to a much deeper level with P4. So how do we do that?
P4 really becomes the preplanning or practice of the work we’re about to do for this phase that we’re doing a pull plan for. It’s been a gap in the industry for a while. We’ve research around the country asking General Contractors and superintendents how Last Planner® is working, how’s the preparation, and how’s the planning going. One of the constant feedbacks that we get from general superintendents is that trade partners are unprepared. They show up, unsure of what we’re asking them to do. They already do some form of planning in some way. However, it doesn’t quite align to what the expectations are for the Last Planner®. When we do Last Planner®, it’s a much deeper dive and we’re trying to get reliable commitments, week in and week out between trade partners and clean handoffs between trades. So, we are doing P4 at Parsons to help us be ready for that planning session when all the trade partners come together.
What is P4? Why is it preplanning? What’s visual about it? It’s really kind of as if you can envision a golf game. If I’m going to get really good at it, they film you and then they want you to look at that you visualize what you’re doing, and you study your movements. Then you get a coach that’s helping you think about that as you’re reviewing it, and you talk about things that need to be improved. That’s one of the weird things in golf is that I can have a swing that allows me to hit the ball, and it feels good. Yet when I hit it, the ball hooks into the woods and it’s something is clearly wrong. I’m not doing as well as I can. Through a lot of practice and visualization, I can get it, but I could get it down the middle which is what the real goal is.
So, understanding what the real goal is important in planning and practice. In construction where we have a bunch of trade partners that are experts, they tend to go into a kind of automatic mode, and it feels good because they’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years but some of us are working it a little bit or slicing it a little bit. If we had a culture, we could slow down and visualize that process better. We might be able to find things that we want to tweak about our game about how we do it. P4 helps us achieve that way of looking at our work that we do pretty much automatically right now and so was a big eye opener for us as we started to bring this into the field and let the field leaders that have been doing our work for years and years slowed out enough to visualize their work and look for things that they can improve in they’re coming up with stuff every day. It’s powerful, and we want to share that because we think it’s applicable to all trade partners. And if we can get every trade partner doing this, 10 percent is nothing. I think we can even achieve higher and greater results as a team on projects today.
What is P4? why do we call it P4? Well P4 is just a preplanning system for the phase pull plan in the Last Planner® system, so it fits somewhere between the milestone that we’re pulling and we’re about to do a last plan or phase pull plan. We think we should do P4 just prior to that planning session. Every trade is part of that planning session should have done P4 first. What is it? Well process is the first P or P1, Pace is P2, Prepare is P3 and Perform is P4. So, we are kind of coined some words just to help us get to it fast. Most people that are using it today are just calling it P4, it’s simple and they know what it means. So it’s a four step process that allows you to slow down enough to look at your work, look at your phase of work you’re about to do and get you ready for this ability to improve what you’re doing, find the best efficiency and have great conversation with the other trade partners for collaboration.
The first thing that we’re supposed to do is Process which is really process mapping. What are we process mapping? Well if you look at your phase of work, we want to be able to talk about the work from this value stream. The total value stream for that work. If I put four foremen in a room that are part of this project, and the PM and the PE and the BIM guy, everybody’s got a different thought about what we’re going to do and what the actual deliverables are. So, we want to understand that together as a team. We’re trying to get alignment. We know through experience that when we have a conversation and then we walk away, people walk away with something different in what they heard. The solution is mapping. We take a sticky post it, write down what’s the first process, not in detail but just a broad overview.
So, you have just done the big overall process and now the team can start adding details. What might start out as five tags turns into sometimes 15 – 20, and now the whole team is on the same page, all engaged, all talking about what this is going to take. Once we do that, we have put an expectation of time based on their experience. Then, there some natural questions like a yes or no? What happens if “Yes”, well we keep going, if “No”, we have this loop so then we as a team we got to discuss that and talk about that. Soon you can see them coalesce as a team and generate some great dialogue and some learned experiences, and everyone is clear about what must be done.
So, this process becomes more important and everybody’s got different layered experiences that we want to be able to share. So, we get that with this process map. It’s a very important part of it.
Most of us in the field when we start production are thinking in weekly increments. Most projects go on a cycle of one week. Monday to Friday. We’re always trying to deliver something. What Lean does is try to bring order to that chaos and have a nice sequential format in place for us to follow. In order to do that we have to plan our work reliably. This is where the power of the Last Planner® system comes from. We’re trying to get ourselves ready to be predictable and reliable for the project and for the other trade partners. We have these clean handoffs.
Typically, we are going to start with a drawing of a simple representation of an architectural plan of the site. We want the team to look at the work that they’ve got, and we want to talk about our drawings and plan for the requirements. Initially our team might struggle with that. So, I’ll start out with asking each team member, “what’s the best way for you to work through this space?” Generally, what we hear is something unrelated to the question. The question is “what’s the best for you right now?”. By answering this question, your trade will have something to share when doing a phase pull of that milestone.
I’d want the team to tell me where they want to start and how much of it, they can do in a week, with the team they’re planning on. I’d want to share this with the project team, so I want everything to be drawn out. I want to have the plan on the table, and I want to use color and be very clear on the requirements. Each week for work should be a different color. In the end, I’ve made it very simple and graphical for everybody to understand and have a conversation about.
I’m going to come together with the product team, and we’re going to review the process map, so people have a sense of how long it’s going to take me to get ready to even do this work. This process map might yield that I’ll need 6 to 8 weeks to get prepared. I want to show how my way is the best way for me. This best way for me doesn’t mean it’s the best way for other trades on the contract. We need to have this conversation, and each trade might want to do it a completely different way. You might be asking yourself, “why would you waste all of our time on that?”. Well, because we’re trying to extract what’s the best way. Lean is trying to get at the best and most efficient way. In order to do that we have to be willing to listen to each other. Productive meetings will result in great conversations, and empathy towards others. What might be a problem for one and may not be a problem for the other in a team, self-adjusts into the right and most efficient way for the entire project. If you talk to a general contractor when they do it this way and you ask them, “If you would’ve just done this yourself, would it have wound up like this?”. Inevitably they say no it’s different than the way we thought we were going to do it. So, we learned something by listening to all the trade partners.
P4 is a great process and it works when everybody is doing this. We’re better prepared to have great discussions. However, on some projects, this is not happening. The team isn’t invested, and the general contractor ends up just laying it out. Without the preparation (P1 – Process), it doesn’t seem that we have much to offer. When P4 is implemented properly, we find that we are being heard, and when everybody is doing it, we end up having an even better, and more efficient product.
The Prepare phase is where the planning for the installation process begins. We want to break down the steps involved. This break down process will force the trade experts to really explain in detail the steps involved, which can make people uncomfortable. Through discussion of this part of “Process” it immediately uncovers problems of the past, which is good. It can also open discussions for the opportunity to pre-fabricate some assemblies or installations and then plan when for when they will be needed and when they have to be ready.
I like to use an example of getting up and coming to work every day. I’ll ask them about how you get up go to work every day. Most people will say, “well you know, my alarm goes off, I get up, I rub my eyes and I get some coffee. Then I get dressed and come to work”. I say that’s a great overview, but let’s get at the detail. Let’s start again. They’ll say, “what do you mean?”. Go ahead start and I’ll stop you if you go too fast. He says OK, well the alarm goes off. I turn it off and then it go-. Wait a minute. When the alarm goes off, are you laying on your back or on your side? Is that the right side or the left side? I keep digging and after about the third or fourth question I could see the person I’m talking to is getting a little irritated and I will ask them “Are you getting irritated yet?” and they say “Yeah”. And so why. Because it’s uncomfortable. You’re asking me to dig through something that I just do automatically, and automatic is good isn’t it? It makes me efficient. Yes, it is good. But I want us to challenge ourselves by slowing down enough to look at what I’m doing and to understand and see that I’m doing it is the best way I can.
We mapped the entire process. This could take some time depending on what stage of the work and what work we’re talking. But this is where I say, “the money is”. I hear different things every time I do this with different foreman and different ways, different experiences. So, what we’re trying to do is develop these different ways, different experiences and some form of a standard. Then we can spread it and we can get good at what’s the most efficient and why it’s the most efficient. And let’s share that with our other we get over 200 form of them that feel that are running you know all kinds of jobs for us year in and year out. We want to gather that knowledge of wealth of knowledge and share that with each other and we are currently remapped these. If it works, we standardize we video and we share it with others.
A lot of our trade guys, by the time they get into their 50s, are pretty beat up. Years of stair climbing, ladder climbing, a lot of back wrenching work with lifting, tugging, pulling and so by the time they get in their 50s these guys are spent. If can learn how to do it smarter and more efficiently we can save help that worker. Let’s try to make it easier for them.
That to me that’s the heart and soul and spirit of Lean. I’m trying to make it easier on that guy doing the work. So, they can do their job and not be beat up at the end of their career. there’s a positive personal element to all of this and the enjoyment is not some guy in the office telling you how to solve these things. It is you guys doing what you do already, coming together in a more systematic way and maybe even getting more efficiency and reducing waste. Most people, if they could see something being wasteful, wouldn’t do it. But, were blind to it until we slow down enough to look, and suddenly the waste just jumps out at us.
P1 – Process. Overview of the whole process the whole value stream, from BIM drawings all the way to final inspection. When you get that done and had some great conversation you move into Pace.
P2 – Pace. Let’s get the drawings and look at how we want to move through the space in weekly increments. The big part about this is the idea of rhythm, and weekly cycle. It’s got to be visual and it’s tied to a budget. If I have a crew of three or four, were they able to work towards their goals for each week, or did they encounter problems and did they trend up or down? As you can see, Pace is so important because the whole team must agree on the requirements. So that takes some doing, but let’s give them our version and then we’ll come together with everybody’s version, and we’ll come up with the best negotiated version for the whole team.
P3 – Prepare. Now we do prepare for install. We have gotten into the details of the work and it takes a considerable amount of time, and can be uncomfortable for some, but it yields great results. It also helps set a standard of work that can help with efficiency for years to come.
The last P in the P4 system is to Perform. We use CoS, or condition of satisfaction. So, if we’re about to finish underground, what’s the conditions of satisfaction so the next trade can come into the area? You’re standing there looking at the work. What did you see that tells you it was complete? And that’s a great place to start here. Just give us the list. I say OK so those are all the things that you would expect for the condition of satisfaction. What were some of the things you expected before you started the work? Whatever it is, you just want those teams talking about it.
Once I get them to go through what the conditions for completion are for before they started the work. I also want to know about what are some things that could possibly prevent this work from happening. That’s where some of the conditions for other trades are important for other people on the site. We create this list so that when we’re with the entire team we can share that. This will spawn a lot of great conversation between the trades because they’ve listed this condition of satisfaction.
Now guys will say, we all know that they would figure this out on their own, why is the P4 system a little bit better? As I’ve said from the beginning, in the Process part, and in the Pace part, it’s this idea of just visualizing the work. We get to practice the work before we do it, in this visualization process.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Lean to us, or we’re an IPD job. if it is Lean, great. We’re happy. If it’s not, we’re still doing P4 because we’ve empowered our field leaders to show up on these projects with this graphical representation of P4 and they have a very powerful conversation with the entire team like we’ve never seen before.
The foreman himself knows that what he is getting from this is empowerment. He knows he’s being heard. He doesn’t win all of what he’s trying to get, but they will tell you that they get more now than they’ve ever gotten before. The general contractor says “I get it. I see what you’re trying to do. I got the visual. I can see where that would be a problem. I want to help you with that.” That has made doing P4 worth its weight in gold for us and we would like everybody do this so it can be worth its weight in gold to you.