The five most common mistakes in digitizing lean systems

The five most common mistakes in digitizing lean systems


And how to avoid them.

The Last Planner System (LPS) is a method for developing collaborative production planning. It is based on the experience of the team to enable efficient and effective planning and construction processes. A digital system and its visualization shows clear advantages due to its independence of time and place. If the digital tool receives all necessary information to support the planning process, the LPS develops into its "slimmest" version.

During the development, implementation and use phases of digital Last Planner tools, we have identified five common errors in the past. These are caused by the characteristics of the LPS itself, the different use of media (video conferencing etc.) or the incorrect interpretation of the data. In the following we present these errors and show how they can be avoided. This will enable you to use a digital Last Planner system efficiently and consequently take your projects to the next level.

The first major issue is the implementation process itself. It is important to have a well-trained team. This is not about the use of the LPS itself, a "lean" way of thinking should also be present.

By using a digital LPS, some common errors that also occur in analog systems can be amplified.

Error 1: Picking raisins


In project teams the participants often use only certain elements of the LPS without understanding their context. Especially if the Last Planner system is implemented in a phase in which a building is already partially in operation, the participants usually only concentrate on planning the work for the coming week. By using a digital lean tool, this "raisin picking" can easily be overlooked. The removal of "physical" boundaries makes it extremely difficult to control the system. If the participants only meet virtually and not in person, it is almost impossible for the moderator to check that each participant is using the tools correctly and understands the subtleties.

The relationship between the weekly preview and the milestone/phase planning must therefore remain unbroken even with a digital LPS! A possible solution to this problem would be for the moderator to travel weekly to the different process owners to check the correct use of the LPS. This is much more efficient than travelling from one meeting room to the next with the entire project team every week. But the simplest and most efficient solution is to create a system environment that requires and visualizes a close connection between the process levels. With the right digital tools this is possible. Here, correlations are visualized and direct feedback is given in case of a deviation.

Error 2: Copycat

Some companies think that they will achieve desirable effects by using lean tools just because other companies have achieved good results with these tools. However, the successful implementation of a lean tool must be closely linked to the management philosophy of the company. Implementation is already doomed to failure if the practices of others are copied indiscriminately. The integration of local culture is one of the most important key elements to successfully implement a digital lean tool.

It is the task of the lean team or facilitator to implement or maintain the right mindset and methodology to help the project achieve the desired success. Flexible analogue systems with sticky notes and screens offer more room for improvisation at this point.

A highly specific digital tool can prevent this natural "lean evolution" due to its strict workflow and rigid structures. As a result, project teams often have the impression that it is really difficult to adapt these systems to their needs and ideas, which is often true. The key to success here is an excellent IT department or a flexible software service provider that supports the needs of the groups. The tool must be flexible and adapted to your needs and not the other way around.

Error 3: Post-it noise

"We often overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year."

based loosely on Glen Smith

During the implementation of Lean it is common to have many tasks for a short period of time. But then you often have a gap in the process plan for the coming weeks or months. During the design or execution phase, we focus on the details and thus lose the feeling for the overall process. Discussing small details gives us a framework that is far removed from abstract process planning, making people feel more confident and productive. [1]

So writing and moving your sticky notes or cards will make you feel productive and efficient. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean you're doing the right things for the project just because you have a lot of tasks. The excessive writing of sticky notes without any sense I call "post-it rush". This "intoxication" is just another kind of silo visualization. This state shows it for example in a "bug wave" of tasks, which is pushed forward week by week in the 6-week preview. So if you identify such a bug wave, it is a clear sign that there is a lack of understanding of the process and the interrelationships between the trades.

Setting up a digital system makes it much more difficult to identify this "post-it noise", especially if you or the moderator do not have a deep understanding of the specific processes of the trades.

Error 4: Focus on the message, not the messenger

It is often the case that lean users are fascinated by the tools, the idea and the goal behind it all. Studies in other industries show similar results. "It felt like the one who knew more Japanese words was the coolest - Kaizen, Kanban, Gemba, Muda, Poka-Yake, Hemijunka. It got annoying in the long run. The managers lost no time in showing off their new vocabulary, but deep down they didn't know what they were talking about!" During our research we found that users who focused exclusively on lean tools and forgot to bring in their technical approach through psycho-social change management only experienced short-term improvements at best. [2]

The digital use of lean intensifies this problem. It is not only a new methodology that you implement (lean), it is also a new way of using it (digital). With simple analog systems, process owners can focus on their processes. If you sit in front of a computer, they also have to deal with the user interface and the correct handling of the application. Sticky notes and pens do not offer much scope for abstract problems, but faulty applications do. When you need to focus on the application, its challenges and the issues involved, it's difficult to get a lean mindset.
Accordingly, the system must be easy to use, support you and your processes, and not work against you. This leads directly to the next major source of problems: the video call.

Error 5: Be right there!

14:00 Skype meeting. Finding your login in a bunch of emails takes at least until 14:15, so that everyone is online and ready. We have all been part of such video conferences.

If you work on lean processes, it is fatal to have such inefficiency in advance. Most companies have their own video rooms and conference technology. But if you leave the familiar environment in the company, the problems begin.

The possibilities and limits must be discussed at an early stage of implementation. Otherwise, as already mentioned, you will have problems implementing digital lean meetings. I have had some good experiences with digital lean systems that use a direct video chat interface. The best approach is to hold the lean meeting directly in the application using a built-in telecommunication tool like

In summary, it can be said... There are of course other sources of error that influence the success of the Digital Lean Setup. Not having an independent moderator or not collecting metrics and key figures are just two more. But in the end it all depends on the project, the team and the problems to be solved. The way in which you implement your LPS, whether digital or analog, must fit your specific situation. If you are using a digital system, remember these five common mistakes and pitfalls. Avoiding these errors will greatly simplify your implementation and help your team to succeed.


[1] Kahneman, D., 2011. Thinking Fast and Slow

[2] Pabon, U., 2010. The pitfalls of an exploitation framework

the original article in English can be found on the Lean Construction Blog.

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