How To Get Your Head Around A Pull System Of Working


Tuesday, 7.57pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Kanban is like the milkman. Mom didn’t give the milkman a schedule. Mom didn’t use MRP. She simply put the empties on the front steps and the milkman replenished them. That is the essence of a pull system – Ernie Smith, Lean Event Facilitator in the Lean Enterprise Forum at the University of Tennessee

When you have a conversation with someone the ideas can flow quite easily – you can think of any number of ways to do something or to collaborate.

How should you think about what to do – how can you work out what’s worth doing?

The idea of push systems versus pull systems seems a useful one to understand for these situations.

The easiest visual analogy is to think of moving a rope.

If you push it along, it bunches up and twists and generally remains stubbornly in place.

If you pull it, however, it will follow you to the ends of the earth.

So, that’s easy to say but how does it actually help you?

Well, one practical place to start is with todo lists.

A while back I wrote about my way of doing todo lists.

I write notes in plain text files and when there is an action that I want to remember I write it on a new line starting with [].

That makes it easy to search for all lines that denote actions and come up with a list of everything I need to do.

The actions list emerges from the notes I take over time.

My argument in that post was that lists get stale over time – especially if you keep them separate and have to manually update them.

The fact is that lists kept in the way I describe also get stale over time.

What I did was write a command to pull out all the actions and that list simply gets bigger and bigger until eventually I stop paying attention.

The point is that I’m still pushing actions onto my list.

And that’s ok – you need to capture the things that need to be done.

The obvious next fix is to figure out how to pull my attention to the tasks that need doing.

So, typically the default is to list everything and then tag things by priority.

Sort of like saying list to get everything and list A to get the ones tagged at priority A.

What if I turned that around so that list only shows me tagged items.

Get rid of all the priority codes and allow only a specific number of items that can be marked as priority at any one time.

Say 3.

That means when I list my actions the three that I’ve marked as ones to do turn up.

Those pull my attention and I spend my time either doing them or deciding that they can be deprioritised and taken off the list.

In a nutshell, what you’re doing every day is figuring out what should pull your attention.

And the thing that should pull your attention is the thing that most needs doing.

Sometimes that is urgent and sometimes that’s important – but that’s the decision you need to make from the mass of stuff that’s in your entire list.

When you stop thinking in terms of where you spend your time and start thinking in terms of what activities should pull your attention then you can start to choose between options.

Should you start work on a proposal or presentation before you first meet with a client?

Or should you always have a conversation to understand what they are thinking before you put forward your ideas?

Things like that are really hard to do especially if you have a boss who believes in being prepared or have a hard charging sales process where you need to talk someone into buying.

I suppose it comes down to having a very simple rules.

Do work for only one of two reasons.

First, do work if it’s something a customer wants you to do and is willing to pay you to do.

Or, second, do it if you want to do it.

Anything else is probably wasted effort.


Karthik Suresh

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