Pull Planning – Is it Really Effective?

We sat down for a quick Q&A session with Ken Osmun to learn more about Pull Planning and the impact it has had on projects at VIP.

The nature of design-build is to have all stakeholders involved at the very beginning of a project, working together as a collaborative team to deliver on all promises related to time, quality and cost. Lean Construction, a term coined in 1993, is a process based on these very principles of managing a project holistically, working with a team from start to finish, and having a clear objective based on a systematic approach.

A component of Lean Construction that Ken Osmun, P.E., DBIA, CM-LEAN, LEED® BD+C, President of Construction, has introduced at VIP is Pull Planning. Rooted in our integrated, collaborative design-build approach is the concept of looking at a project from a number of different perspectives, and then anticipating possible delays and challenges that might be faced during the life cycle of that project. Pull Planning, as Ken describes, also requires a collaborative team, but looks at a project from the target completion date and works the sequence backwards.

Ken summarizes it as working through and planning a project, or a project’s milestones, backwards from the known or defined deadline. It is during this process that open discussions are had with all stakeholders to define what they need from others in order to start their portion of work and make commitments on what they control and when they will deliver. In this collaborative environment, constraints are discussed and solved as a team.

Q: Can you walk me through what the Pull Planning process looked like for this project?

A: As things beyond our control delayed the commencement of construction at True North, the necessity to get creative on how to get the work done by the start of the 2019-2020 school year was the reality. The completion date couldn’t change, yet the start of construction was getting pushed back. The team took that completion date and “worked it backwards,” or “pulled” the schedule forward, from that firm end date. Furnishings, inspections, and items like cleaning were detailed out and planned on the schedule, using the pull planning process, by what had to happen before each step was contemplated, all the way to consideration of the site work and the building foundations (start of construction).

When the dates and durations showed strains, then discussions and collaboration took place with our own workforce and subcontractors (the key stakeholders who perform the work). Discussions included how to improve durations, completing tasks out of sequence and allowing overlapping work. This is easier said than done, especially with weather and material delivery curve balls that occurred along the way. Daily collaboration with stakeholders and reviewing of weekly plans occurred to overcome the strains and daily change.

All stakeholders – foremen on the job, design professionals, material suppliers, project managers, even our clients – should be commended. But good project leaders, like we had in Steve Capella and Bill Cadieux, really made it happen.

Q: Given the weather conditions this spring, how was this project completed on time? Pull Planning or no Pull Planning, Mother Nature can truly put a monkey wrench into any project.

A: We did indeed have to contend with weather, but we had a great team that worked collaboratively through the process and were focused on a common objective. Yes the process all started with a Pull Plan in place, but the internal team – from our development, design and construction personnel to great local sub-contractors to a wonderful client whose vision and passion were contagious – made this time schedule possible despite Mother Nature. Pull Planning sessions and updates need to happen often, sometimes daily.

Lean Construction Institute, defines Pull Planning as the collaborative, commitment-based planning system that integrates make-ready look ahead planning with constraint analysis, based on reliable promises, and learning based analysis. True North is a testament to this process and the design-build/design-build-development delivery method that VIP has been providing for over 40 years.

Q: When did you start using Pull Planning?

A: I have been using it officially for about 5 years now, but using bits and pieces of the concepts for over 20 years. I received my CM-LEAN designation through the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) in 2016. My past firm had many school project deadlines that were aggressive and simply could not be missed. Pull Planning, in my experience, provides a better way of scheduling and holding each stakeholder accountable to their commitments and promises. Pull Planning work sessions allow for constant communication and review of the schedule so adjustments can be made in real time to ensure deadline adherence.

Q: Who participates to make sure Pull Planning actually works?

A: All stakeholders (owners, designers, project managers, superintendents, trade leads, schedulers, safety officers, quality assurance supervisors, etc.) – but a good project leader is critical to make it all work.

Q: Would you say that pull planning is only efficient for projects that need to be completed in a shorter period of time?

A: The Pull Planning process, in my mind’s eye, combined with the design-build approach is the most efficient and successful project management method. It promotes a team environment and utilizes Lean principles. Project speed is key for our clients and for our business, but it is not necessarily always rushing or making a project faster; rather, the focus is on efficiency. Safety and quality are still paramount.

Q: VIP recently completed True North, a project that needed to be delivered to the client in 4 short months. How did the team accomplish this?

A: The Pull Planning process truly came into play with this project. Starting from the delivery date and working backwards, we were able to collectively come up with a plan to ensure we met the client’s opening date.


Our company specializes in architecture, engineering, construction, and development as a fully integrated design-build firm to help organizations with building needs all across Upstate New York.

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