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Knowing When to Push or Pull Your Workflow

(April/May 2017) posted on Tue May 16, 2017

How to eliminate bottlenecks through workflow design.

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By Marshall Atkinson

Every shop manager dreams of having a frictionless workflow. Staff members know what to do. Jobs are completed easily. Team members help one another along the way, and things hum along like a well-oiled machine. Think that sounds like an impossible dream? You can do this in your shop if you eliminate your workflow bottlenecks. If you understand a few key concepts in workflow design, you can unclog the beaver dam that’s holding you back. We’re going to look at two strategies that you can use to make positive changes in your production. 

Push: Getting Ahead of the Game

In manufacturing lingo, to push means to make the inventory in advance. The product is ready, so it can be ordered and shipped to the customer at any time. Push manufacturing takes an initial investment and a willingness to stockpile. Think of a warehouse full of inventory ready to ship. 

In your shop, the push principle means that your employees complete tasks as early as possible. They set up other departments for success by doing their work ahead of time. No one down the line has to wait in order to do their job.

Let’s say your crew just ran a job with prints on long-sleeve T-shirts. Rather than tear the job down and do the next one in the queue, they decide to run a similar order even though it isn’t scheduled for another day or two because the sleeve platens are already in position. Or, consider what a print crew does when their press is down with a maintenance issue. Maybe while their press is idle, a few catchers hang tag a printed job by their table. This alleviates the need to send it to the post-production crew; instead, the order can go straight to shipping.

Or imagine that a customer service rep just received new shipping information for an order. Instead of just updating the record in the MIS system, she prints the new work order and physically replaces the old one to make sure the job ships correctly. The more you can use push in your workflow, the better your chances of getting ahead of your schedule. 

Pull: Filling the Hole

In a pull workflow, the idea is that one department requests a task or service from another only when they are ready. There is a visual signal that something needs to occur. 


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