The five most common mistakes in the digitization of lean systems

The five most common mistakes in the digitization of 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 place and time. If the digital tool receives all the necessary information to support the planning process, the LPS develops into its "leanest" version.

During the development, implementation and usage phases of digital Last Planner tools, we have been able to identify five common errors in the past. These arise from the characteristics of the LPS itself, the different use of media (videoconferencing, etc.) or the incorrect interpretation of the data. In the following, we present these errors and show how to avoid them. As a result, you will be able to use a digital Last Planner System efficiently and, as a result, take your projects to the next level.

The first big issue is the implementation process itself. Here, it is important to have a well-trained team. This is not about the use of the LPS itself, a "lean" mindset should also be in place.

Using a digital LPS can exacerbate some common errors that also occur with analog systems.

Mistake 1: Cherry picking


In project teams, stakeholders often use only certain elements of the LPS without understanding their context. In particular, when the Last Planner system is implemented at a stage where a building is already partially operational, stakeholders tend to focus only on planning the coming week's work. By using a digital lean tool, this "cherry picking" can easily be overlooked. Eliminating "physical" boundaries makes it extremely difficult to control the system. When participants only meet virtually and not in person, it is nearly impossible for the facilitator to verify that each participant is using the tools correctly and understands the nuances.

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 facilitator to travel to the various process owners on a weekly basis to check that the LPS is being used correctly. This is much more efficient than traveling from one meeting room to the next with the entire project team every week. However, the simplest and most efficient solution is to create a system environment that requires and visualizes a tight connection between process levels. With the right digital tools, this is possible. Here, connections are visualized and feedback is given directly in the event of a deviation.

Mistake 2: Imitators

Some companies think that they will achieve desirable effects by applying 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 company's management philosophy. Implementation is already doomed to failure if practices of others are copied indiscriminately. The integration of the local culture is one of the most important key elements to successfully implement a digital lean tool.

It is the job 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 they are often right about. The key to success at this point is to have an excellent IT department or a flexible software service provider that supports the needs of the groups. The tool needs to be flexible and adapted to your needs, not the other way around.

Mistake 3: Post-it frenzy

"We often overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year."
as loosely based on Glen Smith

During the implementation of Lean, it is common to have many tasks for a short-term period. In exchange, you often end up with a gap in the process plan as far as the coming weeks or months are concerned. During the design or execution phase, we focus on the details and lose a sense of the overall process. Discussing small details gives us a framework away from abstract process planning, which makes people feel more confident and productive. [1]

So writing and moving your sticky notes or peg cards makes you feel productive and efficient. Unfortunately, just because you have a lot of tasks doesn't mean you're doing the right things for the project. The excessive writing of sticky notes without any purpose is what I call "post-it frenzy". This "frenzy" is just another way of silo visualization. For example, this state shows it up in a "bow wave" of tasks that get pushed in front of you week after week in the 6-week preview. So when you identify such a bow 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 harder to identify this "post-it rush," especially if you or the facilitator don't have a deep understanding of the specific processes of the trades.

Mistake 4: Focus on the message, not the messenger

It is often the case that Lean users become fascinated by the tools, the idea and the goal behind it all. Studies in other industries show similar results. "It felt like whoever knew more Japanese words was the coolest - Kaizen, Kanban, Gemba, Muda, Poka-Yake, Hemijunka. It was getting annoying in the long run. Managers wasted no time 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 solely on lean tools and forgot to incorporate their technical approach through psycho-social change management experienced only short-term improvements at best. [2]

The digital use of Lean amplifies this problem. It's not just a new methodology you're implementing (Lean), it's a new way of using it (digital). With simple analog systems, process owners can focus on their processes. When you sit in front of a computer, they have to deal with the user interface in addition to learning how to use the application properly. Sticky notes and pens don't offer much scope for abstract problems, but faulty applications do. When you have to focus on the application, its challenges and related concerns, it's hard 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 big source of problems: the video call.

Error 5: Be right there!

14:00 Skype meeting. Finding the login in a pile of emails takes at least until 14:15 to make sure everyone is online and ready. We have all been part of such video conferences.

When working on lean processes, it is fatal to have such inefficiencies up front. 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 limitations must be discussed at an early stage of implementation. Otherwise, as mentioned earlier, you will have problems in implementing digital lean meetings. I have had some good experiences with digital lean systems that use a direct video chat interface. The best practice is to run the lean meeting directly in the application using a built-in telecom tool like

To summarize... There are, of course, other sources of error that affect the success of the Digital Lean setup. Not having an independent facilitator or not collecting metrics and metrics are just two more. In the end, though, it all comes down to the project, the team, and the problems being solved. The way you do your LPS implementation, whether digital or analog, needs to fit your specific situation. If you are using a digital system, keep in mind these five common mistakes and pitfalls just mentioned. Avoiding these mistakes will greatly simplify your implementation and help your team succeed.


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

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

the original article in english you can find on the Lean Construction Blog.

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