How To Win When Push Collides With Pull Demand


by Greg West, Farthing West Chief Brilliance Officer

shutterstock_92219947_smallI’m a seasoned supply chain professional. That’s the polite way of saying I’ve lived a long time, solved a lot of problems and have had a lot of fun doing it.

During my career I have been privileged to helping hundreds of clients solve complex problems across their supply chains. From heavy manufacturing, FMCG businesses, service industries, logistics, mining, construction, fast food and government. You name the industry sector and I have probably had experience improving someone’s supply chain capability.

Putting aside the different technologies involved from one industry sector to the next, a common feature to improve supply chain capability comes down to developing people and processes. Average people blossom into champions and achieve brilliant results when you help them design brilliant processes.

I guess this in no surprise as one of the fundamental rules of business is that you need to work on your inputs if you want to achieve great outcomes.

Having said that, each business and industry sector has its own unique set of problems. When I am approaching a new supply chain problem I use a structure process to help my clients improve. This approach is based on Lean Thinking. Eliminating waste, plan carefully, execute the plan exactly, rigorous auditing, standard work and the development of worker problem solvers.

In my earlier career I guess I was a zealot, preaching the importance of customer pull as the basis for planning.

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe in the importance of customer pull.

But as I have gotten older (and hopefully wiser) I have worked in many industry sectors where customer pull signals become complicated when they collide with push.

Let me give some examples.

  • Waste collections industries – Glass, Metal and curb side collections. There is a definite customer pull but the arrival of the waste is “Pushed” into the processing yards regardless of the customer pull signal.
  • Industrial Laundries – Linen for hospitals and accommodation. The demand being pulled out of the laundry is not necessarily matched to the goods being “pushed” in. For example, at the end of the holiday season lots of laundry flows into the laundry but much less is pulled out.
  • Short shelf life fresh food – Poultry, Milk, meat. The decision on what to grow is made many months or indeed many years in advance and is impacted by weather. The “Push” of product arriving for processing is not necessarily aligned with the pull of customer demand.

Working in these complex supply chains is always an intellectual pleasure. It forces you to challenge the underlying principles of productivity improvement.

The Toyota production system is the basis of lean. Toyota have a word for their planning approach. It is called heijunka. Within the western world it has been typically been translated to mean pull. But heijunka has a much richer meaning. Heijunka is about levelling and sequencing.

When pull meets strong push the principles of levelled and sequenced planning hold. When pull meets strong push the principles of eliminating waste, planning carefully, executing the plan exactly, rigorously auditing, developing standard work and worker problem solvers still holds.

When I meet supply chains where push collides with pull developing brilliant processes to deal with this complexity is even more important.

We recently became the Australian and New Zealand partners for FuturMaster and their Advanced Planning Software. One of the attractions for me was that FuturMaster have mastered planning for these complex supply chains. They understand how to plan when push collides with pull.

If you would like to know more please contact me. I am a seasoned professional and enjoy coaching and mentoring the next generation on how to improve supply chains.