Construction pull planning is a method of construction scheduling that reduces waste and promotes collaboration by reverse engineering the project schedule.

Pull planning is a collaborative approach to project scheduling that takes a reverse approach to sequencing. This type of planning involves gathering team members to identify and isolate key project milestones. After identifying milestones, the team works backward to add all details and requirements. Think of it as reverse-engineering the project. Due to pull planning’s approach to efficiency, it’s considered to be a form of lean construction. Let’s take a closer look at how it works.

For more information on lean construction:

How to make a pull plan

To make a pull plan, a project manager or GC will define milestones, identify tasks, and create timelines in collaboration with representatives from each crew on the project. The distinct element of pull planning is that it starts at the end and fills in tasks backwards. Here’s what a typical pull planning session looks like:

  1. Define milestones and timeline. Place the key phases or milestones of the project such as the foundation, framing, insulation, etc. on a visual timeline with estimated dates of completion.
  2. Identify tasks. Starting backwards from the end, identify what tasks are needed to reach each milestone, what previous task(s) they’re dependent on, and completion time with no float time or contingencies factored in. This step is finished upon reaching the beginning.
  3. Evaluate and adjust timelines. Move activities around as needed until they’re in a logical sequence, and add float time and contingencies to the most “high-risk” or uncertain work activities. Agree to the plan and get to work.

Whether you use a whiteboard with sticky notes or a software tool to build a timeline, these steps are core to pull planning, which starts with the goal in mind and works backward, as opposed to traditional push planning, which plans by starting from the current moment.

Pull vs. push planning in construction

By beginning with the end goal in mind, pull planning aims to create a more efficient approach to project management than traditional push planning. The construction pull planning method has been growing in popularity, but in order to explain what differentiates it, it’s important to define its opposite–push planning.

Most traditional scheduling methods, such as the critical path method (CPM), are “push” focused. Meaning, the schedule is established up front and the project manager or GC will send materials and resources to start the next activity when it’s scheduled to begin–no matter what.

By contrast, pull planning focuses on these prerequisite tasks and fluidly adjusts the start of new project phases based on their progress. Here’s some pros and cons of push planning vs. pull planning:

Push PlanningIndustry familiarity. It’s less likely that push planning will need to be taught or demonstrated, and there are plentiful standardized templates to use 
• Sticks to established schedules. Dates can be staffed well in advance and planned around
Rigid. Fails to account for prerequisite tasks for successfully starting a scheduled activity that have not been completed
Risk of delays, rework, and waste caused by mistakes from last minute reactive changes
Pull PlanningCommunication among all the project stakeholders is the biggest advantage, especially since communication is severely lacking in the construction industry 
• Autonomy for each crew to coordinate and communicate how to best accomplish the desired end goal, fostering a team mentality and accountability 
• Reduced costs associated with change orders and reworks caused by mistakes or miscommunications
Efficiency. Potential obstacles are identified and avoided early, minimizing risks and eliminating loss in productivity due to crew disruption or trade stacking
Timelines might not be precisely predictable up front. Staff may need to be flexible to ongoing adjustments
Relatively newer trend that may require some explaining and a practice activity with collaborators
construction schedule simple illustration

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What does a pull planning session look like?

A pull planning session starts with defining the phases or milestones of the project and the desired dates of completion. These milestones are then represented as a timeline on a whiteboard. Now comes the collaboration portion. The project manager or general contractor will gather a representative from each crew on the project. They’ll collaborate by using sticky notes to identify what they need in relation to each other, to complete the milestone. These sticky notes represent the task that needs to be completed, and what needs to be completed beforehand.

The process starts at the completion date, and the network of activities are then developed backward until reaching the start date. Once this is achieved, time for performance will be added to each of these tasks with no float time or contingencies factored in. Then the overall project will be evaluated to be sure that all activities are logically related and put into a sequence that makes sense. Also, float time and contingencies are then added to the most “high-risk” or uncertain work activities.

How does schedule planning impact cash flow?

Schedule planning and cash flow go hand in hand in construction for two reasons. One reason is that progress payments are determined by the schedule, and another is that defects, delays, or disputes that affect payments are minimized with effective scheduling methods.

Progress payments

Since progress payments are based on the percentage of the work that is complete, it’s worth considering your schedule choices or billing method during the planning stages of a project. Cash flow is vital to a healthy construction business, and protecting your lien rights can help ensure that payments are consistently on time and in full.

Delays and payment disputes

In the event of a payment dispute related to a delay or change in a project, thorough schedule planning will make it easier to anticipate volatile sections of a project. If a change order is required, it’s important to follow the best practices to get it approved as quickly as possible and be prepared to file the appropriate documents to protect your right to payment

Ultimately, the bird’s eye view of the schedule planning phase allows you to spot these cash flow bottlenecks and prepare yourself to get ahead of them.

Bottom Line

The goal of pull planning, and lean construction in general, is to reduce waste while also streamlining work. What’s more, when lean construction processes are used, claims and payment disputes take place less frequently.

Every construction business would benefit from a world with fewer defects, delays, or disputes, and this construction payment utopia isn’t as far out of reach as some industry members might think. But pull planning will only be successful with a high level of collaboration and coordination from the jump, and buy-in can be hard to come by with some industry members.

Additional Resources

Construction Pull Planning | Scheduling Backward Can Improve Efficiency
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Construction Pull Planning | Scheduling Backward Can Improve Efficiency
Efficient planning and scheduling are essential to a project's success. There are many different ways to plan a project, and some are more effective than others. The construction pull planning method has been growing in popularity due to its ability to reduce any downtime and increase collaboration.
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