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Promise Based Construction

A “Promise is a Promise” [1] is a scary story that Inuit mothers told their children about why they should not go fishing on the the sea ice without their parents. If the children did not keep their promise the Quallupilluitt, which were troll like creatures would come and grab them and take them under the ice. The young girl in this story Allashua did not listen to her folks, strayed out onto the sea ice and slipped into a scary and frightening underworld because she did not keep her PROMISE.

Lean construction pioneers Glen Ballard and Greg Howell discovered that not keeping promises also leads to scary situations with project teams falling through the cracks and drowning in a sea of excuses, missed deadlines and extra costs. So they decided to throw the construction industry a lifeline called the Last Planner System (LPS).


Last Planner System

The Last Planner System was designed to address two main problems with the construction industry, inefficiency and bad behavior. To address inefficiency they designed the system around fixing one of the biggest wastes on a construction site which is work waiting for workers and workers waiting for work. They discovered that by turning the planning process on its head and getting the people directly responsible for coordinating the work in the field (Last Planners) to also plan the work it became much more efficient and reliable. 

To address the issue of the bad behavior of not keeping commitments to scheduled work, they added team discipline and accountability that is managed on a daily basis at stand-up meetings and at the weekly coordination meeting where, Last Planners need to report in to the whole team on the percentage of planned work completed.


he Last Planner System system promotes collaborative team based planning and discipline in managing the commitments and promises required to achieve reliable work flow. In a future article we will delve more into the details of how this system works. For the rest of this article we want to explore what is needed for a reliable promise, a keystone for getting work to flow. 

What is needed for a Reliable Promise?

 To help understand WHY people are not keeping commitments we need to look at the root cause of why traditional project delivery execution is flawed.

  • Companies disengage because they don’t buy in to the project priorities; they become dissatisfied and unproductive. 

  • Companies operate in silos that hinder the coordination necessary to effectively manage work

  • Organizational structures obscure accountability for projects and initiative

  • Improperly executed plans can mostly be contributed to broken or poorly crafted commitments. 


At its heart, every project or business is run based upon is a network of promises. Promises are the strands that weave together coordinated activity in organizations. We can foster productive, reliable work by practicing what we call “promise-based management”: cultivating and coordinating commitments in a systematic way.

Well-made promises can help bridge the gap between individuals working in different locations and for different companies. The dialogues that are central to promise-based management allow people from disparate backgrounds to achieve a common understanding of what needs to be done.  Promises also foster a mutual sense of personal obligation to deliver the goods as clearly understood by the parties to the promise.

 Well-made promises share the following five characteristics. [1, Harvard Business Review]

1.    Good promises are public as opposed to side deals hammered out in private 

2.    Good promises are active and collaborative process.

3.    Good promises are voluntary.

4.    Good promises are explicit about who will do what for whom and by when.

5.    Good promises explain why the commitment is needed


Pull Planning is used to create the Network of Promises? 

 Pull Planning is a collaborative process that is used to establish the sequence of activities and the network of promises needed to deliver reliable work flow. It involves having the Last Planners pull plan the work in sequence to meet project schedules that are often 4 to 6 months shorter due to the efficiencies of proactively managing work flow from the bottom up and delivering on commitments.

On a weekly basis the team is required to report in on the percentage of planned work completed. (PPC) On a traditional project the PPC would normally be in the 40% to 50% range. On a Lean Project the PPC would range from 75% to 85%.  To put this in perspective, when teams make and keep reliable promises that are optimized to improve work flow, projects can be completed four to six months early, at significant less cost, while improving the profitability of the project team.

Murray Guy

[1] Promise-Based Management: The Essence of Execution Donald Sull, Charles Spinosa

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