Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Push vs Pull

Most of us live our lives in Push systems.

Push systems – People push work towards you. You do it.

Pull systems – You pull work as you have the capacity to do it.

In IT and Project Management, there is a trend towards “Pull” systems – at least in theory.

Agile techniques are based on the assumption that the people doing the work can/will pull the appropriate amount of work as they have the capacity to complete it.

The challenge (and much of the failure) in implementing any Agile or pull-based system is in changing the agreements and relationships between the people in the system.

People used to doing the pushing rebel against suddenly being told “no.”

The people suddenly tasked with saying “no” get uncomfortable – especially when they don’t trust the support they have (if they have any at all).

The one time I saw an Agile process implemented successfully in a legacy environment – it took a strong VP who was brought in specifically to make this change, supportive leadership, a couple of willing clients, and about 3 years of constant reinforcement.


Pull systems start by taking a realistic look at capacity and pulling tasks as the capacity frees up.

We estimate that capacity in the early sprints and adjust as we learn more about patterns. How much is getting done per time block? What is the complexity of what is getting done? What are the variables that determine the time it takes to get things done?

The requestor is asked to prioritize what to tackle first with the promise that it will get done in a timely manner once it is pulled.

The advantage of the pull system to the requestor is that once activity towards completing their request starts, there is more assurance that it will be completed in a timely manner. Their request gets the attention it deserves.


Moving my life from a “push” system to a “pull” system is still a work in progress and something of an experiment.

It has required me saying a lot of “no” to a lot of things that I ordinarily would have said “yes” to. Sometimes, I feel like Queen Naysayer. Not a comfortable position.

As I play with this idea, I find myself having reservations as to how applicable this model can be most people.

  1. I don’t have kids, so I can’t speak to how one changes those relationships or whether it is even desirable to move from a push system to a pull system for what your kids need.
  2. Is this something that can be done in a corporate working environment? What would that look like?

Still, I think there is something in this idea – especially for those of us working through injury, illness, and circumstance (such as caregiving).

I’d love to start a discussion on this. Let me know your thoughts.

No comments: