Pull – the New Frontier
Many in manufacturing are familiar with the concept of Pull. Well-known examples are the Dell model of Make-To-Order and the Toyota model of “Supermarket” based on Kanban. In both cases business processes are triggered based on an actual confirmed event, which could be a confirmed order from a customer or a confirmed consumption of a part in the production process. This is in contrast to the Push model where business processes are executed according to a forecast or a plan.
In recent years, the concept of Pull has taken a new turn. This new meaning of Pull, as described by John Seely Brown’s “The Power of Pull,” refers to the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address the opportunities and challenges of a rather uncertain world. Instead of relying on a plan or forecast, it describes a model of how individuals (not a corporation) can leverage access to knowledge flows to then take advantage of porous boundaries and serendipitous interactions to achieve a novel order of performance.
This capability is attracting attention from far beyond the manufacturing sector. Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, is quoted referencing that the power of Pull is akin to Peter Drucker’s impact on industrial-era management styles.
“The power of Pull will do for our 21st century information-age institutional leadership what Peter Drucker’s ‘The Concept of the Corporation’ did for industrial-era management.”
How does the new Pull impact manufacturing operations?
Most manufacturing managers are used to a “Taylorism” style environment where manufacturing jobs are divided into very simple, repeatable tasks. Such an environment allows production activities to be highly scalable. More sophisticated tasks such as planning and forecasting are left to a few, select managers. When the first “Pull” model was introduced, it was counter-intuitive to many managers. Triggering processes based on an actual event shifts power to the operators, who can now execute business process instead of simply following a plan from their managers.
Lean manufacturing has shifted power within operations by empowering and encouraging factory workers to make suggestions and create ideas for continuous improvement. Just-in-Time (JIT) and Kanban are tools that manifest how information from operations (instead of from management) can drive efficiency. The true power of Lean relies on engaging and empowering the entire work force in a relentless pursuit of waste reduction.
According to “The power of Pull,” this new model describes a mechanism that individuals can transform the institution through their interactions with knowledge flows. While this is in accordance with Lean thinking, the method is beyond the scope of any current literature on Lean methodology. In the context of manufacturing operations, this means all resources including operators, engineers, machines, suppliers, materials, repair parts and others are now given a new level of capability to self-organize and self-improve.
There are three levels of Pull mechanisms that enable this transformation.
The First Level of Pull: Access
This level provides a foundation or platform for all other levels, which takes advantage of the latest advances in mobility, industrial sensors and Big Data, so offers unprecedented access to information. A platform-based approach offers a unified view of operations while removing data silos to encourage knowledge sharing across multi-functional teams. Shared knowledge may comprise 3D models of engineering drawings, inventory visibility of supplying parts and finished goods beyond one’s own work cell, quality alerts based on sophisticated real-time analysis, and even real-time financial information on performance of a particular work cell.
The Second Level of Pull: Attract
This level comprises employee participation and contribution to process improvement, which when managed effectively through the platform, can be distilled and crystalized as best-practice to share across global operations. A platform-based approach facilitates interactions, which in turn attracts further sharing of ideas, resulting in accelerated cycles of innovation.
The third level Pull: Achieve
Organizations can now more systematically take advantage of operational excellence initiatives at a whole new level with the knowledge that can be “unlocked” by implementing levels 1 and 2 described above. The manufacturing world is just scratching the surface on how far to leverage these capabilities. Manufacturers need to rethink their organization and governance structure to best achieve the full “Power of Pull.”
Neither Big nor Cloudy
Much has been said about the current technological revolution underway. The Cloud offers a revolutionary way that software can be delivered and data can be stored. Big Data has made a Gangnam-style entry where many are now following the dance. What I think is missing is an articulation on business innovation, however, such a shift rarely comes as a result of a single technology. The shift from Push to Pull is the kind of business innovation that can only be enabled by a convergence of technologies, including platform-based manufacturing operations management, BPM, mobility, industrial sensors, Cloud, Big Data and social media. Fortunately, the stage appears to now be set for some incredible new advances in operational excellence which will be very exciting to see unfold over the next few years!
In the next blog post, I intend to describe with examples on how manufacturers can better take advantage of this new source of innovation.
James can be found on Google+.