Home Kanban How to set WIP limits in KANBAN to boost comprehensive “flow”

How to set WIP limits in KANBAN to boost comprehensive “flow”

by Srinivas Saripalli

This article briefs on the objective of using WIP limits and how to set WIP limits in KANBAN to boost flow.

What are WIP limits?

WIP limits set the maximum amount of work that can exist in each status of a workflow. Limiting the amount of work in progress helps in finding inefficient workflows. Bottlenecks in a team’s delivery pipeline are plainly visible beforehand.

Why are WIP limits important?

Work in progress limits improve throughput by forcing the team to focus on a smaller set of tasks. WIP limits create a culture of “done”. WIP limits make blockers and bottlenecks obvious. Teams can swarm around blocking issues to better understand, implement, and resolve them. Once blockages are removed, work begins to flow again. As a result, WIP limits are very valuable for helping to produce increments of value earlier.

It’s easy to think: “Oh, I’ll pause on this issue as I get started on another.” Having two things open means switching context or transferring work to teammates. Reducing one issue while increasing another is time-consuming and diminishes focus. It is usually better to handle the original issue rather than start new work. WIP limits discourage us from impeding our own flow.

WIP limits point out areas of long-term idleness or overload. they help the team find inefficiencies in the entire process, not just a particular department

How to set WIP limits in KANBAN with agile teams


With that being said, let’s get down to business. Value the Agile Mindset Over Methodology

WIP limits for each status are established when rolling out a new workflow. After seeing how many work items are in each of the available statuses, we advise limiting WIP.

“Ready for dev” indicates that the storey has been completely vetted by the product owner and team. When work items are being developed, work items are “ready for dev.” Best practise is to keep work in the “ready for dev” state so that each developer on the team is constantly utilised. Saving stories only in a “ready for development” state makes the product owner capable of creating detailed requirements, while maintaining the program’s responsiveness to change.

The “in progress” status denotes work in progress. To ensure that everyone has work to do, but no one is multitasking. The limit for “in progress” items is 4 in the board above. This indicates that the team can handle more work. WIP should be limited below the number of team members for best practises. Good agile practises are baked in. The team’s WIP limit has been reached, and so now the developers know it’s time to do code reviews or pair programming with another developer.

When your stories are all written but need to be reviewed, the “code review” status has been assigned. Code reviews are a best practise that promote quality, help developers ship new ideas more quickly, and reduce open branches. This should be acted on urgently, for the following reasons:

  • Checking in new code doesn’t make the code stale.
  • The developer retains the context learned during the original code writing.
  • The feature can be included in the release branch.

WIP limits guarantee un-reviewed code doesn’t accumulate.

Here, the team has too many code reviews, which results in the column turning red to represent that.

Observe anti-patterns

  • As needed, the team’s WIP limits are raised. Capping debts
  • On the job, everyone has a task to prevent them from becoming idle.
  • Team members wait, rather than swarm, on bottlenecks.
  • Overloading a bottleneck is preferred over improvements in engineering practises or team processes.

4 goals for agile teams using WIP limits

How to set WIP limits in KANBAN to boost comprehensive “flow”
How to set WIP limits in KANBAN to boost comprehensive “flow” - BLUE AGILE

WIP limits may initially feel awkward. We want to optimise the team over the medium term, but the short-term awkwardness is a good thing. The pain points in their process are evident. Continue to adjust WIP limits once the team begins using them. Don’t raise a WIP limit simply because the team is hitting it. Grab that opportunity to boost capacity: ideally, by training the team and improving the development process in some way.

  • Goal 1- Size tasks individually. When breaking down requirements and user stories, a task should be completed within 16 hours. Additionally, doing so promotes team confidence and prevents bottlenecks. Work item clogging up the pipeline can be detrimental to team velocity. #Hint: Work in progress limits reduce the duration of problems. Cycle time is the time it takes to issue a job. Here you will find agile metrics information.

  • Goal 2- Identify the team’s skill-limiting limitations. This example assumes team members have similar skill sets. Work in progress limits may differ when a specialist is working on your team. Create a specialist-specific status. When bottlenecks occur, it is time to train additional team members in order to help the specialist, thus increasing the overall flow of the team.

  • Goal 3- Reduce idleness. Encourage team members who have downtime to help an upstream or downstream teammate. They will make the team more productive and learn something in the process!

  • Goal 4 – Work in progress limits do not mean developers must rush through work to avoid becoming overloaded with work. They are made to assist with strong agile engineering practises that preserve product quality and software health.

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