April 12


Leadership hack 023 + pull leadership

The more I learn about software development and systems, the more I admire the Lean movement. Central to the lean movement is the concept of moving from push to pull.

Push systems

In a push system, work is fed into the system at the rate at which those controlling the system decide. For example, on an assembly line work is fed in at a constant rate. The disadvantages of this are that not all parts of the assembly line operate at the same speed, so work (inventory) builds up in front of the slowest machine (a bottleneck).

Pull systems

In a pull system, work is pulled into the system, when the system is ready. This advantage of pull systems is that it is less wasteful. The system dictates what it can handle and so is rarely overworked. To improve the system, you can try to increase the capacity of the system as a whole by reducing bottlenecks.


Good software development (code that delights customers, adds revenue and is hard to copy) is a team sport, it involves design, engineering, testing and marketing. This does not mean that software should be developed like an assembly line, far from it, the process is a lot more iterative and experimental.

Leadership in software

Given the iterative and experimental nature of modern software development, perhaps it it is time to move away from old ‘push’ forms of leadership. Historically, leadership was about the leader setting the vision, direction, making decisions. This ‘push’ form of leadership is very arrogant, is assume that the leader has perfect knowledge, is not biased and has no personal agenda (I have found that this is never the case, including for myself).

Should we move to ‘pull’ version of leadership, and place followers in charge of their own development? Instead of development and improvement being forced on them, maybe followers can dictate their progress. This idea is not without flaws, what happens if a follower is struggling too much, or does have the time, or wish to improve. These are fair challenges, and require skill as a leader to overcome. Could the answer be to offer an honest mirror, which allows followers to see their true reflections (or at least another perspective). And then, if a follower knows they need to improve, but will not take the first step themselves, it may be time for a little ‘push’.