Pushing work is generally considered to be the process by which someone will finish their work and then hand it off to a teammate, regardless of whether or not that teammate is ready for it. This type of behavior is commonly referred to as "Throwing something over the fence" -
though it can also elicit comparisons to seagulls, pigeons, or other mischievous birds who come in, drop something unfavorable, then turn and fly away. The clear implication is that a person who pushes work typically does not pay attention to nor care what happens after it leaves their hands.
Pulling work, on the other hand, is generally considered the action by which someone will finish up what they are currently working on, then go out in search of the next work item. Typically, there is a known stack of work that person can pull from, ideally ranked by highest priority. The implication in this case is that the person has completed their current work (or is blocked) and has the bandwidth for new work.
Which work environment would you rather be a part of?
Ignore Salt-N-Pepa: don’t push it.
In our experience, teams that have built a culture of pulling work see two main benefits: a better working environment and more accurate metrics. As described above, a push-heavy culture can result in friction, frustration, or even animosity between teammates. Perhaps just as detrimental, a push-heavy environment can actually skew the data and give misleading insights.
When the culture transitions to becoming pull-heavy, the seagulls – and their unfavorable somethings – disappear! Teams are better able to manage their workloads, and the data become clearer and more useful.
A simple way to begin establishing a pull-heavy culture is to add neutral zones at the points of handoff in your process. These neutral zones represent areas where no team is adding value – rather, the item is finished with the previous part of the process and awaiting the next part. An example would be a “Ready for QA” column. When the development team is done with an item, they can move it to the Ready for QA column. QA can then manage their own workload and pull the work into their process when they have the bandwidth to do so.
This change is likely to generate new insights and improve the way your team is working. For instance, it should now be possible to determine when an item is actually being worked on as opposed to idly waiting for someone to pick it up. This can better inform managers how throughput can be increased. Additionally, it becomes easier to focus on high priority items, as lower priority work should remain in the neutral zones until the high priority work is completed. Having a team lead periodically prioritize work in the neutral zone will further improve the process as team members can simply select the first work item that meets their skillset.
Create a more autonomous and less frictional environment for your team: focus on pulling work through your process, not pushing it.
If you're curious on transforming your team's culture and create the ideal environment to get work done, contact us, we'd love to help.