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Kanban Pull System: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Bob Bruner

Bob is a software professional with 24 years in the industry. He has a bachelor's degree in Geology, and also has extensive experience in the Oil and Gas industry.

A Kanban Pull system attempts to control the flow of work by allocating resources only when there is demand and when capacity is available. In this lesson, we examine how this creates efficiency and provide some examples of its use.

The Kanban Pull System

If you are driving your car around town and notice a red light on your gas gauge, you will probably make plans to refill your tank in a timely manner. In doing so, you have become part of a Pull System based on Pull Signals. This simple but effective mechanism allows you to replace only what you have consumed at just the right time. Let's explore what this means in further detail and see how this can be used to drive Kanban processes.

Pull System Basics

A Pull System itself is a method for controlling the flow of resources through a system. The goal of such a system is to replace only what has been consumed at the optimal time. It is called a Pull System because resources are pulled into the pipeline only as they are actually needed or requested. This differs from a Push System, which attempts to use forecasts and schedules to drive the flow of production.

Pull Signals

A key component of a Pull System is the use of a Pull Signal, which effectively controls the process flow at each stage of production. The term Kanban itself arose from manufacturing processes adopted in Japan after World War II, and the Kanban emphasis placed on reducing waste and improving efficiency fit naturally with Pull Systems. In a Kanban system, Kanban Cards placed on a Kanban Board serve as the visual control and signaling system. The amount of Work in Progress in any category or lane is limited and monitored, and work cannot be pulled in and made active without having sufficient resources available to do that work.

Examples of Pull Scheduling

Pull scheduling in a manufacturing system is not that far removed from our simple example of replacing gas in your car only when you see a red light on your gas gauge. In today's economy, large fulfillment systems are a prime example of a delivery process predicated on limiting waste in the system. Easily visible color-coded electronic boards are used to reflect areas that are falling outside production norms. Signals can also be sent directly to individuals via text messaging, allowing focused activities to take place exactly when and where they are needed. And for many companies today, purchases are not made based on fixed schedules or simple sales projections, but rather on timely signals from inventory control and customer relationship management tools. The primary benefit from pull scheduling is to avoid excess inventory and waste, along with the overhead required to manage that excess inventory.

The software industry has been keen to adopt pull scheduling as part of Kanban methodology. Team members will first set up their Kanban Board with categories based on their own development process. A very typical example would look like this:

- Product Backlog

- Elaboration

- Development

- Testing

- Release Deployment

- Done

Kanban Cards are created for the tasks or specific work items associated with a user story or delivery requirement. The Kanban Card itself is used to signal that work is complete in any one area. This might be done by changing the color of the card, or by simply placing it below a certain line. On co-located teams, actual cards and a push-pin board are often used, but many software development systems have electronic Kanban boards that can be shared across locations.

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