Stop managing projects and start improving them

Lean Station
6 min readFeb 9, 2021

When we talk about the performance of a project, we usually look at factors such as time, cost and quality. This is the way that we have been measuring it for years now. Of course, these indicators present the overall current status of the project, but do they really give you any information on how to further improve your project performance?

Despite all the efforts that you have put in to monitor the project, all you know is how well the project is doing, but not about how well it could do! One never is concerned about which were the issues that didn’t allow the project to do much better.

Let’s take a simple example of the Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement. Knowing the BMI, one knows the current status of your body mass. But it does not tell you the root causes of why and how you have achieved this BMI value. Is it your diet, how active you are, your exercise routine, or just sheer a matter of luck?

Similarly, knowing the time, cost and quality only tells you the current status of the project. But it does not necessarily tell you why and how you have achieved this current status. Could it have been done better? Most likely, but how?

So, what else do we look at, when we need to enhance performance? You need insightful KPIs which will allow you to identify the bottlenecks in your processes, the root-causes of inefficiency and all related hurdles — both internal and external. From there, you can design an improvement strategy for all your processes.

Lean construction is for process improvement

Process improvement is the core principle of Lean philosophy. It is all about observing the process, finding inefficiencies (or wastes) in these processes and eliminating these wastes to be more productive (+ lean).

Currently, Percent Plan Complete (PPC) is the preferred KPI of process performance when utilizing Last Planner System (LPS) for project delivery. PPC is the ratio between the completed vs committed works. The common understanding in the industry is that achieving a weekly PPC of 70% and above indicates a good health of your project.

However, there are many drawbacks of solely relying on PPC for your process performance. It does not trigger an investigation into what can be learned and improved in the project processes. While trying to maintain a high PPC, the project team may lose sight of the overall project objectives as they become focused on the short-term goals. This misleads the team as they become disconnected with the overall targets and critical milestones of the project.

Integrated Lean Project Delivery (ILPD) — The holistic approach for project delivery in the data era

ILPD uses a connection of macro & micro KPIs from both project and progress perspective as useful Insights. It provides a holistic picture about the overall project status as well as the performance of the core processes and the root-causes of low productivity. These Insights are based on data analytics and provide a neutral view about the project status.

In order to deeply understand how to improve your project performance, you need to look at the following 3 main questions:

· What? — Real-time Project Performance Insights

· How? — Weekly Progress Performance Insights

· Why? — Root-cause Analysis

WHAT? — Real-time Project Performance Insights

Take GPS as an example. GPS is a very useful tool for any driver in this century. Apart from showing the possible routes leading to the destination, GPS equips the driver with real-time critical information of their journey — current speed, ETA, traffic conditions and possible alternate routes.

Delivering a project is very similar to driving towards a destination. The project team needs to know their pace, how fast or slow they are comparing to initial plans, and when is the expected end date based on their current performances. In this light, the following real-time metrics will be necessary:

· Time performance: Expected vs Baseline end date of critical milestones & project completion

· Cost performance: Actual vs Budgeted cost

· Production performance: Actual vs Planned progress rate (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.)

· Criticality strategy analysis: Current critical path

HOW? — Weekly Progress Performance Insights

Any construction activity in project delivery needs to undergo the following procedure of processes on a weekly basis:

Figure 1 — Construct-to-Plan Reliability (CPR)

· Cycle breakdown: Construction planning where the scope to be delivered is broken down into smaller site works (tasks) which will be executed by the site team

· Technical & site preparation: All technical prerequisites (constraints) are identified & planned for clearance. This is to ensure the technical & site readiness for the work to be executed

· Commitment: Site team will need to commit on the works to be done in the week based on their resource availability and priorities

· Execution: The task is executed on site by the responsible site team

Measuring the performance of these processes regularly allows the team to understand which team or process is the bottleneck in the entire workflow. In ILPD, you are encouraged to closely monitor these indicators at least on a weekly basis:

· Constraint management level (CAN vs SHOULD): The percentage of tasks that can be done (constraint-free) out of the tasks that should be done to achieve the milestones required by the master plan. The difference between CAN and SHOULD demonstrate the ability of identifying and resolving the recognized constraints.

· Site readiness level (WILL vs CAN): The percentage of tasks that the team will take up against the total number of tasks that can be done. This metric represents the readiness level of the project team including site condition and site team.

· Commitment level or PPC (DID vs WILL): The percentage of tasks that are done against the committed tasks. The difference between DID and WILL expresses the lack of capacity from the execution team or unanticipated constraints that hinder the site works.

· Construct-to-plan reliability or CPR (DID vs SHOULD): The overall reliability level of the dynamic plan strategy is presented as the percentage of tasks that are done against the tasks that should be done. The difference between DID and SHOULD presents the gap between what is achieved and what is planned to do in the week, thus the reliability of the plan. This gap can be linked to all the delay reasons that affected in the past weeks for better understanding of the root causes of plan variations, from which improvements can be implemented in the future planning cycles.

WHY? — Root-cause analysis

Identifying the reasons behind any failure is always a good learning process. They are the vital knowledge and the key to improvement!

In a construction project, delays are caused by hundreds of issues which is accounted for by various parties. It requires an integrated digitalized process and supporting tool to capture this huge amount of data. These delay reasons should also be analyzed from multiple viewpoints, such as the nature of the issue, its impact to the project, responsible parties, etc.

Figure 2 — Lean PlanDo Insights: Weekly Commitments and Reliability

By answering these 3 questions for planning, commitment, execution and improvement, you will get a more holistic view of both the macro and micro perspectives of the project together with time, cost and quality aspects of it. A complete view of what have happened, how it happened, and what caused it to happen in the project will help the you to stay on top of any issues, tackle them effectively and drive the project towards the desired goals with excellence.

Figure 3 — Lean PlanDo system to implement Integrated Lean Project Delivery (ILPD)

Lean PlanDo is a tool built by Lean Station for organizations to implement an Integrated Lean Project Delivery (ILPD) in their projects. Lean PlanDo is a system of applications comprising of web based Planning and scheduling applications, Real-time collaboration applications, mobile apps, data analytics systems, Reporting applications, Workflow management applications, BIM based visualization systems to provide the data necessary for project teams to analyze their performance and identify bottlenecks in an efficient way.

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Lean Station

Lean Station serves construction companies, both owners and contractors by helping them adopt lean practices to improve efficiencies and build new capabilities