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Pull Planning What It Is, Why It Matters, And How It’s Going Virtual (Part 1)

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, workplaces across every industry are redefining what it means to perform their essential functions; Hord Coplan Macht is no different. Although architecture is a highly collaborative field, which traditionally has mandated in-person meetings, HCM has been exploring alternative methods of harnessing the same creativity and teamwork that allow team members to safely social distance.

In this two-part series, we interview one of our team members on the ways that she is adapting her processes to better fit a virtual model. Heather Bemis, AIA, is one of the firmwide resources for ‘pull planning’, a lean scheduling technique that has been successfully used on many of the firm’s most complex projects. Below, Heather explains what pull planning is, and speaks to its importance in schedule coordination efforts.

Check back next week for part two in the series, where Heather discusses the ways that this highly cooperative process is adapting to reflect current events and the lessons learned from a virtual practice that may influence evolution in the traditional model.

What is pull planning?

"An important process and tool that we utilize at HCM for many of our most complex projects is a pull planning session for each design phase. A pull planning session is a collaborative meeting that includes representatives from all the design disciplines, the CM/GC, as well as the Owner. We begin each session by starting from an established milestone (or the next project deliverable) and working backwards to the day of the “pull.” Each member of the team identifies key decisions and action items (work to be completed). These action items are written on color-coded note pads, and placed on a large printed schedule, so that each participant can see how every deliverable affects the others. This process is key to maintaining complicated schedules, as it allows each stakeholder to address the items that they may need from other members of the team in advance."

How does pull planning assist in keeping a project on schedule and under budget?

"Put simply, pull planning allows us to work through many potential problems before they happen, which minimizes schedule conflicts and unforeseen expenses or delays. Designing any building requires extensive collaboration among the project team, and pull planning is one way that this collaboration is facilitated. For example, as the architect, we want to know from the structural engineer how deep all of the framing structural elements will be in order to coordinate the above ceiling ductwork. In order to provide this information, the structural engineer needs to know from the mechanical engineer how large and heavy the roof top mechanical unit(s) will be. However, to be able to determine this information, the mechanical engineer needs to know from us, the architect, programmatic requirements of the spaces, proposed volumes of the rooms, and the R-values for the building walls, windows and roofs. During pull planning, each of these key milestone decisions are organized on the schedule, in the proper order. Going through this exercise as a team allows everyone to understand the big picture of the project and process, as well as the correlation of each item and its deadline to the others.

After the session, the pull plan is memorialized within an online spreadsheet that all team members have access to. Each week, HCM updates the plan, identifying the work completed and calling attention to action items not met. This information is distributed to the entire team, and is used as the starting point of the agenda for the weekly design team coordination meeting."

As the facilitator of these sessions, what do you have to keep in mind?

"During each pull plan, my job is to build consensus and make sure no items are forgotten. Everyone at the session is on a tight schedule, and I work to keep everyone on track so all the participants stay engaged and feel that their time is being well spent. It is important to make sure that everyone feels heard in order to gain buy-in and reach unanimity. I also am constantly running through a mental checklist for each discipline, bringing up any tasks that may have been dropped or forgotten – it is important to be as comprehensive as possible, so that the schedule runs according to plan!"

"People chose to participate and commit to the schedule and deadline. They bought in easily and comfortably. It all made sense. People left happy and organized and part of the team. It really was impressive. I have never been through a team building exercise that was more effective" -David Slack, Owner’s Representative, The Glen Retirement System

Heather Bemis is a Senior Associate in Hord Coplan Macht’s higher education studio. Hord Coplan Macht is dedicated to ensuring progress and continuing to serve our clients through the COVID-19 pandemic while doing our part to promote the health and wellness of our colleagues and to assist the communities around us.