Pull System

What is a Pull System in Kanban and How to Establish it?

Alexander Sergeev avatar
Written by Alexander Sergeev
Updated over a week ago

Kanban consists of a set of principles and practices that are combined with artifacts for workflow visualization. 

Exploring the deep world of Kanban methodology, you will definitely come across the concept of a Pull System, one of these principles. Knowing more about the Kanban terminology, you'll easily understand and apply the method itself.

What is a Pull System about?

A Pull System is a Lean approach that is aimed to reduce the waste of any production process. The Pull System means starting new work only when there is customer demand for it. Thanks to this strategy, you can reduce overhead and improve storage costs.

As a consumer, each of us somehow is a part of a pull system based on a certain signal. This system lets us consume only when we have a demand, at the right time.

Pull System vs Push Approach

Unlike the Push System,  where work is given to an individual and put onto a massive to-do list, the Pull System allows him/her performing the work to pull in tasks as they are ready. This helps people to avoid overloading and forces teams to advanced prioritization. 

This allows project managers and their team to focus on the right tasks at the right times, reducing wasted time or effort. 

That's why Pull System can significantly increase productivity and speed up task delivery.

The benefits of using the Pull System

  • A project manager can control resources, adapt to all project changes and minimize risks

  • All team members are able to focus on the right tasks at the right time

  • Project costs can be effectively controlled by the team

  • The team may reduce lag time in communication

  • Delivering work items happen much faster

  • It increases productivity and improves flow efficiency

The Pull System management

The Pull System concept is widely applied across different industries. It looks helpful not only in manufacturing but also in software development.

The Pull System allows team members to pull their next task if they have the capacity to start working on it. 

How to establish a Pull System with Kanban?

Visualize workflow 

Mapping workflow is an essential part of keeping the Pull System efficient. Preparing a Kanban board, you have to be as precise as possible. You need to carefully consider each state (To Do, OIn Progress, Done) and determine the steps of each stage.

Establish pull 

When the boards are all set up, you should stop pushing new work in your process and start pulling only when there is a demand for it.

It will reduce the cycle time of your assignments and lets focusing on work that will bring value to your customers.

Limit Work in progress 

Having built a visual Pull System, it's worth to know how to control it. Applying Work in progress limits (WIP) is one of the most common ways to manage Pull System effectively. This key Kanban practice is a widespread Pull System.

Limiting the work that can be in progress at each stage, you are able to create a smooth workflow and identify challenging things. Being focused, your team will achieve excellence through flow and deliver work much faster.

However, WIP limits are not enough to build a sustainable Pull System. Additionally, you need to limit the time a particular item can spend in your system.

After you’ve got the Pull System up and running, it's time to apply another key aspect of Lean management – Continuous Improvement. 

Break down work 

In order to reduce cycle times as much as possible, it's worth breaking down your work into smaller tasks that require no more than a few days to process from To do stage to Done.

Your team will pull work more often from one stage to another and therefore keep all parts of your process running.

Apply signals 

Pull signals will let your team members understand when a certain task is ready to be moved on to the next stage. According to Kanban, the best way to apply such signals is to dedicate a few columns for the aim.

Manage possible bottlenecks 

Any process includes bottlenecks. They are a typical reason for failing to establish a normal workflow. The problem with bottlenecks happens from the difference in the capacity of the distinct stages of the workflow.

You should take clear measures to remove bottlenecks completely or prevent them from clogging your process and obstructing your flow.

Summing up 

Kanban proposes the best way to establish and maintain a Pull System approach thanks to its simplicity and transparency. To succeed with it, you will need to:

  • Visualize your workflow on a Kanban board

  • Establish a pull of work

  • Use WIP limits

  • Break down large tasks into smaller ones

  • Apply pull signals

  • Manage bottlenecks

Implementing the Pull System you get an effective way for optimizing resources in a production process. The system will definitely assist to eliminate waste activities, optimize cost efficiency, meet actual demand and increase productivity in general.

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