The Magic of Pull

Push is dead. Its a Pull world now.

The world has changed. The mass production model that pushed large quantities of product down the assembly line and onto consumers through the hard sell is dead. The Toyota Production System and the Systems Thinking of Edwards Deming, Taiichi Ohno and others killed it.

Pull is the new model of production for the world, emphasizing Lean methods and mass customization. Pull systems:

reduce costs, keeping work in process low and requiring less rework/false demand,

improve quality, generating better yield and early detection of problems,

enhance customer service, reducing cycle times, wait times and lead times while increasing reliability in service,

increase flexibility, pulling work into the system only when it is required or ready to be worked on increasing process resilience, responsiveness and robustness.

Pull is a more effective, efficient and flexible way to operate. It’s also simpler and its easier. So much so, that the quickest way to improve the performance of your business is to simply look for push processes and replace them with pull wherever you can. (This is embedded in one of the five principles of Lean Thinking.) Once you learn to recognize push, you’ll be amazed by all the places it’s hiding, busily adding costs, demolishing quality, capacity and customer service.

Push and Pull are Everywhere

Push and pull are fundamental characteristics of all processes.  While the benefits of pull were first applied to production process (Toyota Production System), the benefits are realized with every process in your organization; from the strategic planning to service counters and from performance appraisals to purchasing. If it’s push, its hurting productivity, diminishing profitability, and constraining capacity. Get rid of it.


Marketing used to be about pushing products onto people. The aim of marketing research, for example, was defining target segments receptive to specific advertising messages pushing the product.  It was an “eat this you’ll like it approach.”  It generated new customers but they didn’t last long.

Pull turns this on its head. Now, marketing research is designed to identify how product or service can be improved, creating things that people actually want to buy and use. Now its, “what would like and well make it for you.” Its easier to sell things that people actually want. Apple built an empire on this simple notion.

This requires gathering customer feedback information in an entirely different way. Traditional research applied to developing pull, gets the answers wrong 90% of the time. That’s why Yoji Akao invented Voice of the Customer (VoC) and why Converge developed the leading VoC program in Canada.

Human Resource Management

HR used to be about changing the people. Organizational performance would go up, if only we had better employees, with more human capital. So we talent managed the heck out of things; hiring and firing, pushing competency enhancement, performance ratings, performance management and carrots and sticks of all sorts to make people more productive, more engaged, more motivated. Only one problem, none of it works.

High performing organizations aren’t built  pushing change onto to people. As our friend Peter Scholtes said:

All the empowered, motivated, teamed up, self directed, incentivized, accountable, reengineered and reinvented people you can muster cannot compensate for a dysfunctional system. When a system is functioning well, these other things are just foofraw. When the system is not functioning well, these things are still only empty meaningless twaddle.

High performing workplaces come from building better systems and process in which people want to work. Systems that are naturally engaging and productive. This is the essence of pull.

That’s why Converge created Lean HR, a program of HR transformation, adopting the thinking and methods of pull and applying them to HR functions including the building of high performance workplaces. It also why we developed Voice of the Employee (VoE). Using the same principles as Voice of the Customer, VoE provides accurate, honest feedback

Service Delivery

One reason why customer service seems so universally bad is because many services are still dominated by push. They’re inflexible, bureaucratic, rule-driven, form-based, standards dominated, exercises in waste and frustration that actually serve no one. Customers serve the process rather than the other way around. Identifying the push in your service processes is easy. If your service process resembles the Model T, where you could have any color as long as it was black,standardized and inflexible to the specific needs of customers, then its push. Your customers are likely dreading the very idea of dealing with you. Is that what you want?

Or does your service process respond to the individual requirements of customers? Can it be changed on the fly by those delivering the service?  Do your front line people have the freedom to exercise their judgement and do they do so frequently? Are people smiling on both sides of the service counter? Then your service delivery process is pull.

Converge offers a number of training and development workshops to help people understand and visualize pull in service delivery, starting with Lean Service: Delivering Services Faster.

Management Systems

How about your management systems? Do they push rules, regulations, forms, standards, policies and processes onto people or do they provide people with the flexibility to exercise their judgement? When Gordon Bethune turned Continental Airlines around from Worst to First, he burned all the policy and procedure manuals at the company (picnics were held in company parking lots and marshmallows roasted over the fire). Auditors, inspectors and other overseers largely disappeared, leaving only added-value contributors. Company performance and employee engagement immediately jumped. All for the cost of a match.

Push management systems, like all push systems, are costly, ineffective and inflexible constraints to business performance. Burn them. Let people exercise their judgement, pulling guidance from above when required.

Pull Converge

Converge Consulting Group has created solutions and service designed to support pull systems in your enterprise. Voice of the Customer to gather customer feedback suitable for measuring and improving the customer experience.  Voice of the Employee to gather employee feedback useful in building more productive and engaging workplaces. Practitioner of Change process building internal competencies that allow change to be led, rather than imposed and thrust upon the organization. Operational Excellence approaches that embrace pull in operations.


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