Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Pull System

At work we are trying to convert to a pull system.

A pull system, for those who do not know, is a principle of organizational management where a product or service is pulled through the system by the next step in the process until it reaches the final destination.  The push system, its opposite, is a principle whereby the current step pushes the product or service through its system to the next step.  The product or service keeps moving; it is just who does the movement that is the difference.

A push system - what I am typically used to - to me has the advantage of making sure the current step completes their actions before moving on.  This disadvantage, I suppose, is that one is kept waiting until the step is complete before moving on.

The pull system - which we are trying to convert to - seems to have some advantages:  the process can move more successfully as the next step needs the previous step to continue processing and rate limiting factors may be more easily identified.  However there is one issue that seems to be of concern to me, something I hate:  the loss of responsibility.

In the push system, the current process holder is 100% responsible for ensuring that everything is complete before moving it to the next step.  If something is not ready to go, it is the responsibility of the current holder to complete it. In the pull system, the next or even ultimate step is theoretically responsible for moving things to the next step. The current process holder will complete their task and simply wait for the next process holder to come and take it off of their plate.  Maybe they transfer it.  Maybe not.  And any failure to move things along becomes the fault of the "puller", who failed to ask the question.

It bothers me (and I find it to be inefficient in its current incarnation) because the view of everyone except the ultimate stopping point (my group, in this case) is that "I did my part.  I do not have to do anything more.  In fact, I may not even have to make the effort to bring it to you or correct errors.  It is your job to ask the questions and fix the gaps."

It seems, well, counter intuitive to the maintenance of a functional system.  People get separated even farther in silos of what I do and what somebody else does.  There is no longer any sense of process overall; instead, my world has organized itself into the slot I have to do.  In fact, I may not care if the whole thing gets done - after all, that's not my part or even my responsibility.

Which is okay, I suppose.  Just understand that instead of training individuals who work things to completion you are training individuals to work through there part and be done.  Good training for drones, not so good training for building independent and completion oriented leaders.

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