Keep Pulling

A short discussion on how the lean principle of Pull means much more than just a kanban card in a box.

The five lean principles are well known nowadays. Many organisations across just about any industry you can think of work extremely hard to implement them. With this wealth of experience out there it baffles me that often they are still taken very literally and stop short of their real power.

Here I would like to look at the principle of Pull. This is most often translated with a very shallow understanding that we only pull products and services through their creative, value adding, processes.

Very true of course. However, its worth remembering that this is a fundamental principle and does not end there.

The value adding steps, those that add value to the product or service in the eyes of the Customer, should then pull on every other part of the organisation to support them.

Frequently I see support services, creative departments and management teams coming up with innovative ideas that are pushed down to the value adding processes without really knowing what those value adding streams really require.

This can easily masquerade as Lean thinking when kaizen event processes are employed. Collaborative teams are engaged and terms like flow and value are utilised with a wry, knowing smile.

Pull from the Customer should proliferate the entire organisation. This is the sole driver for action to improve the offered product or service.

We should be hard here and ensure that this principle is well understood and supported by lean leaders.

The leadership must ensure this alignment of focus, monitor it using metrics and set the mandate for teams to work along it.

Improvement activity is only instigated when aligned to the needs of the organisation and the flow of value. This means improvement activity should involve those doing the value adding activity and the benefits realised in the metrics being monitored at the end of the value stream.

The focus then is on delivery. The focus is primarily on our value adding steps and not on the supporting services. It is not about just coming up with nice ideas. It’s about coming up with nice ideas with a thorough understanding of the problems they will solve and their benefits to the value adding steps.