How to improve your workflow with a pull system

Ad Esse Consulting workflow pull system illustration

What was required: A process to produce marketing collateral that effectively raised awareness for the charity and promoted fundraising opportunities to their target audience.

Ad Esse’s task: To complete a review of the process for producing digital and marketing materials and support the introduction of new ways of working. 

The approach: A 5-day Rapid Improvement Workshop where the team developed and rapidly implemented ideas in order to improve the marketing materials production process.

What was found during the as-is mapping?

  • Requests were pushed into the process ad hoc – due to a lack of agreed outputs and deadlines, poor on-going communication and little integrated working
  • The Creative Services team switching from one activity to another, before the primary activity was completed – due to changing priorities, with some work skipping key process steps (e.g. sign off)
  • Requests superseding other work already in motion – driven by unclear priorities and lack of planning
  • Work being completed at the last minute, often too late to gather real insight or make data-driven decisions – caused by a lack of visibility of work in progress and any upcoming demand on resource.

Amongst other improvements, Ad Esse suggested the application of a Pull System to manage the flow of work into the Creative Services team and through the material production process

What is a pull system?

A Pull System is when the next item to be processed by a team is only passed to them when they are ready to receive it.  The team then completes the task as quickly as possible, and without interrupting that work or beginning another job.  Work is progressed based on demand from the next process or the customer.  If there needs to be a queue of work, it is held at the start of the process so that each time resource is available, the top priority request is the next one to be started.

What problems is a pull system resolving?

Pull Systems rectify the problems associated with more typical push processes, whereby work is pushed into the next process regardless of whether staff are ready to receive it or have the resource to deal with it.  One result of the existing push process was the Creative Services team switching from one activity to another, new requests being prioritised over other work already in progress.  Resource was consumed in managing ad hoc requests and changing priorities and completing work last minute, rather than planning and progressing the value add activities in a systematic way.

The solution implemented

  • The team created a resource allocator (wall chart) to implement a visually managed ‘Pull System’ and to regulate flow
  • The resource allocator provides easily understood visibility of which jobs have been requested and what work is in progress
  • Jobs are allocated and scheduled according to next the available resource in Creative Services and the job is completed before the next one is picked up by the team
  • A Service Level Agreement has been introduced to identify what can be produced and how long it will take (aligning expectations)
  • Jobs are categorised based upon the estimated time they will take in Creative Services – to manage resources within the team and make sure that jobs flow smoothly
  • The team created a standardised scoping document and briefing form – to capture adequate information about the job at the point of the request (preventing a back and forth conversation after a job starts)

Benefits of the solution

  • Clear visibility of work in progress – better understanding of the current and future demand on Creative Services team
  • No changes in priorities once work is started – there are clear expectations and agreed understanding between Creative Services and other teams about what will happen and when during the process
  • A more accurate understanding of time spent on each job – improving the ability to resource each job accordingly and allowing for resources to be reallocated when required
  • More information captured at the start of the process to clarify the brief, mould the objectives and help manage resource
  • Fewer delays and higher levels of customer service

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