Why should construction planning combine structured and unstructured approaches?

Three Construction contractors collaborating over a laptop on a table

Construction projects aren’t usually associated with creativity, particularly in the planning phase. Whether a team is relying on traditional CPM scheduling or Lean construction methods like pull planning (or drawing on both, as is increasingly common), these methods both follow a prescribed structure that aims to generate standardized, accurate results across projects. The predictability achieved through structured planning methods is important; without it, for example, it would be impossible to estimate a job’s duration without planning the entire project. 

The benefits of structured construction planning methods 

There are numerous reasons why the industry has long relied on standardized planning frameworks, including the following. 

  • Clarity and predictability: A structured approach, such as The Last Planner System®, provides clear guidelines, expectations, and timelines, which can make it easier to understand what needs to be done, by whom, and how to do it. 
  • Efficiency: The predefined processes and procedures in structured work can lead to greater efficiency and repeatability, as teams can follow established workflows without having to figure things out from scratch. 
  • Quality control: Structured planning methods often include built-in quality control measures (such as Lean’s focus on reducing variance and waste) that can help ensure a consistent level of quality in the work. 
  • Scalability: Structured approaches can be easier to scale across projects, because it’s easier to replicate predefined processes compared to ad hoc, unstructured work. 

However, the activities involved in structured planning can become rote over time. It’s important to ensure that team members are mentally engaged with the construction planning process, rather than simply going through the motions. When faced with a problem surfaced through structured planning, such as a constraint or unforeseen logistical challenge, this engagement will pay off in the form of more creative problem-solving.  

The strengths of unstructured planning 

Unstructured planning can encourage creativity and flexible thinking, which may be just what you need when something unexpected crops up. Here are some of the benefits: 

  • Innovation: Unstructured planning encourages creativity and innovation, as teams aren’t constrained by predefined processes and can explore new ideas and solutions. 
  • Flexibility: Unstructured planning allows for greater flexibility in how tasks are approached and completed, which can be beneficial in fast-changing project environments or when dealing with complex problems. 
  • Ownership: An unstructured approach can be more adapted to individual strengths, allowing people to work in ways that are most effective for them. 
  • Learning: Unstructured collaboration can provide more opportunities for experimentation, which is beneficial when confronting a new or complex problem. 

The best of both worlds 

In the past, teams didn’t have an easy way to combine construction planning frameworks with free-form problem-solving or brainstorming. Especially with paper-based planning on site, uniting the two approaches was difficult. But as Lean construction approaches have become more common, particularly via digital tools, teams now have flexibility in the way they work that wasn’t possible in the past. 

Platforms like Hoylu offer the best of both worlds, with built-in templates for every stage of project planning alongside fully customizable whiteboarding functionality. Your team can utilize pull planning, lookahead planning, takt planning, and weekly work planning while also maintaining space for unstructured collaboration. Import drawings, images, or videos, or keep an idea board next to your plan. A creativity-fostering workspace combined with a variety of templates that promote organized, detailed planning and tracking of quantifiable data offers the optimal balance of innovation and precision. 

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