By Robins & Morton Senior Project Manager Marshall Scott, Superintendent Josh Farr and Superintendent Josh Young
**The below is a summary of Scott, Farr and Young’s Live Lean Lab session on owner, architect, contractor “huddles,” presented at Lean Construction Institute’s 21st annual Lean Congress in mid-October.**
Since our first exposure to the Last Planner System®, our teams have been looking for ways to integrate its functions deeper into the project delivery process.
Its value was clear – establishing a set daily meeting time for a group of key players to openly discuss tasks, constraints, address questions, and more, produced unprecedented efficiency in the field. We needed to take it into the next phase: owner, architect and contractor (OAC) meetings.
The Big Idea
Although we often think of construction as what happens in the field, so many decisions and tasks have to first take place at the OAC level.
We first trialed using a modified version of the Last Planner System® in OAC meetings on a project in Cherokee, North Carolina, in 2014. It was the perfect test case as the team was co-located in the most traditional sense. Through this pilot, we were able to see what worked, what didn’t work, and walk away with some replicable best practices.
Today, it’s in use on many Robins & Morton projects – some that are traditionally co-located and others that are not. No matter the meeting method, all see tremendous value in keeping day-to-day communication fluid. As an added benefit, these meetings minimize the detail that have to be covered in their traditional OAC meetings.
Purpose and Components
Although the participants and tasks are different from the traditional “huddle” stand-up meeting, the purpose remains mostly the same: convey commitments, communicate needs, maintain alignment with the project, build relationships and maintain accountability.
The ideal meeting frequency is daily, but the reality of that may depend on your project and the contract. Predictably, co-located projects will have the ability to meet more frequently, given the team members’ time distribution, while other more traditional projects may only have the ability to meet weekly.
The components of the meeting are slightly simplified from the field version, as this team’s commitments may not always revolve around delivery, and safety hazards are less of a concern, but the skeleton is similar. During the meeting, the team will review the list of commitments and discuss constraints as a team. Throughout this, the facilitator takes measurements – which commitments have been met, which haven’t, why haven’t they been met, and who is contributing.
Ultimately, all measurements taken by the facilitator will result in percent planned complete (PPC), participation, and variance data. PPC measures planned weekly activities versus achieved activities, helping the team to track what’s actually being accomplished in a week and if they’re setting achievable goals. Participation measures who is contributing to the meetings and ensures that the right people are in the room – is there someone consistently referenced who isn’t there? Should they be? Is there someone there who never has anything to add? Would their time be more useful elsewhere? Finally, variances categorize the failures, or the tasks that weren’t met that week – essentially the why. The team can track these to better understand if there is a consistent reason behind failures that can be improved, or a reason at a given time that can be planned for next time to improve efficiency.
When this concept is discussed with new project teams, it’s often met with a similar response: “It’s a great idea, but..” followed by a variant of one of the following challenges.
- “We’re not co-located.” There are still plenty of projects that haven’t made the leap into full co-location yet, but there are still ways you can be “with” your team virtually. Utilizing apps such as GoTo Meeting, Starleaf, Zoom or other video conferencing systems allows you switch seamlessly between video and screensharing. If that’s not in the budget, hop on a conference call. The point is not to be the most high-tech – the point is to be present with your team.
- “We don’t have time for that.” If you stay organized and ensure the facilitator keeps everyone on-task during the meeting, these can easily stay to 15-minute check ins. Additionally, this 15-minute check in should save you hours in follow-up phone calls from the same team members all week long with questions that could have been covered quickly in a singular meeting, getting everyone on the same page.
- “We just have a lack of buy-in.” This one is tough when the group isn’t, and doesn’t necessarily want to be, involved. A positive first step includes ensuring the meeting is focused around relevant commitments – this will help your teammates see immediate value in their participation.
- “I’m afraid to challenge the owner or designer when they’re late on their commitments.” A fear of accountability is at the top of the list for anyone resistant to trying this approach. It’s not always comfortable to confront the owner, but if you approach them in the best interest of the project as opposed to, “you owe me,” it will be through the mindset of the best interest of their dollars and time.
Although it may seem easier said than done, application is as simple as doing and seeing what works best for your team, but there are a few simple steps you can take to make sure your team is off to the best start.
First, identify the team’s availability. See if daily meetings are an option, or if it will likely be a weekly effort. Second, establish protocol on how each meeting will be run and what’s expected of participants. Third, decide on which platform works best for the team – in-person, video conference, phone call, or perhaps a mixture of both. Fourth, choose a facilitator that can effectively run the meeting and ensure the best use of everyone’s time. Next, choose commitments to put on the agenda that are easy to track, discuss, and measure. Finally, ensure the team is measuring successes and failures, but ultimately learning and improving from them.
At the end of the session, we received a couple of questions that we felt may help anyone looking to apply this approach to their projects. Check them out below.
Questions and Answers
Q: How does this approach integrate with your current OAC structure?
Senior Project Manager, Marshall Scott: We’re having a weekly OAC meeting to review the team’s action list. During the weekly meeting, commitments are made by all parties that pertain to the upcoming week. Those commitments become the agenda or work-plan for the week and are revised daily to ensure deliverables are met. We are focusing on short-term commitments at the more frequent huddles and reserve the long-term, more complex issues for our weekly and monthly meetings. This approach could be scaled to include a larger period of time, but I recommend keeping the overall duration of the meeting to 15 minutes or less. Then, I capture the data each week to measure our performance and trend it over time. The primary metrics are percent of commitments completed, number of commitments made, and reasons that commitments were not met.
Superintendent, Josh Young: I’ve done both – I’ve done a project where we’ve said that we need to have a weekly meeting to help populate what our activities would be for the week, that turned into a short OAC meeting, kind of modeled after a schedule meeting or Last Planner meeting out in the field, to line out the work for the next week. I’ve also been able to convince some folks to go to a weekly meeting, that’s been really efficient. Currently, I’m working within a model where we do once a month and everybody flies in. In that scenario, we have a “Monday meeting” that has turned into our weekly development meeting, and that’s working for us too. So, Monday is more of Weekly Work Plan development meeting to line out the week.
Q: In my view, participants need to have good, basic planning skills for this to work efficiently. How has this system been able to work with people coming into the team at all different levels?
Senior Project Manager, Marshall Scott: From a contractor’s point of view, I have to say that I have been thoroughly impressed with the ability of a very junior employee to lead a meeting like this. A big reason for that is because we use this same system with our management staff every morning. We’re all communicating what the constraints are from a construction perspective, so everyone on our construction team is very well-aligned on what’s important day-to-day – whether it’s a pile out of tolerance, or if it’s releasing precast. The owner and architect both know, even though they’re talking to the junior employee, the information that they’re getting from her is reliable. This is one example of how we’re developing young people. We’re teaching them what’s important, how the be a builder, what the challenges are, what the struggles are, and they’re involved in the day-to-day preparations for this meeting as well. It is more difficult, I’d say, to understand how the design firms are planning their work, and I understand that the design process isn’t as linear as we’d like it to be. Although the design process is a more iterative process, the contract administration is driven by deadlines and construction schedule making the commitments, and deliverables, more definable.