When You’re Just Getting Started, Here’s How to Set WIP Limits on Your Columns

How to Set WIP Limits on Your Columns

Countless Agile teams adopt the practise of limiting work in progress as a common practise. It’s also the most effective technique you can employ to give your team a strong, clear focus and substantially increase your delivery pace. However, figuring out how to set WIP limits on each column of your Kanban board when you’re just getting started can be difficult.

Unfortunately, there is no uniform method for determining the maximum quantity of work that can be in each column at any given time. The truth is, whatever your first column limit is, you’ll almost certainly be wrong. You can only make an informed guess at this point. Starting with a crude figure and changing it over time is the most crucial component of this procedure.

Even though there isn’t an exact formula for calculating your WIP limitations, I’d like to provide you some practical suggestions today that will help you get started.

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

The Activities in Your Workflow Are Represented by Columns

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Your workflow is made up of activities that represent the knowledge discovery process. These actions are represented by the columns on your Kanban board. Your columns aren’t compartments for specialities, departments, or workplaces. They show how the members of the team work together to complete the task.

As a result, when we establish WIP limits per column, we limit the number of work items per activity, and different employees can fill the slots in each activity. Always keep in mind that we control the work, not the personnel, in Kanban. We let the staff self-organize around the job in Kanban.

Allow your team to set their own deadlines for work in progress.

Let’s look at a method for determining WIP limitations that will provide you with a good starting point.

First and foremost, the team should determine the maximum amount of work they can handle based on their understanding of their capabilities. Don’t make the mistake of imposing WIP restrictions on them. Ask them instead. There will be no motivation to break the WIP limitations if the team members set them themselves.

Gather the entire staff and talk about the projects they’re working on. Ask everyone, “What is the maximum number of activities you could do at one time and still be in your happy place?” That number will be significantly lower for technical personalities – perhaps 1 or 2 – and much higher for more creative folks.

You will discover more about your team and how they work while having this talk. Even if the goal is for employees to accomplish less at a time, this should not come at the expense of the team’s satisfaction. Consider where your staff feels most at ease.

Take into account all points of view

Despite the fact that the quantity of personnel matters, we want to manage the task itself. Consider the number of individuals per activity and the quantity of labour each of them indicated they could handle when doing the math.

It’s possible that folks are working on multiple columns. Let’s imagine you have two columns: development and code review, and a developer can work in each of them. If that’s the case, divide this engineer’s WIP limit amongst the columns. So, if their sweet spot is working on two things at once, give both the Development and Code Review columns a WIP limit of one.

Make sure you’re reducing WIP limitations per activity to the point where you’re increasing flow and improving quality while keeping your team motivated and engaged.

It’s Fine to Change Your WIP Limits

“Can we adjust our initial WIP limits once we establish them?” I am frequently asked. Absolutely. You have complete freedom to alter your WIP limits as much as you like. Don’t do that on a daily basis, though, or they’ll lose their value.

The most relevant question, in my opinion, is “How often should we adjust our WIP limits?” And the answer is contingent on whether or not you are motivated in the proper way.

Because to the enormous demand, you will have to increase your WIP limitations, which will slow you down. According to Little’s Law, as your WIP grows, your cycle times grow as well. So, if you’re thinking about changing your WIP limits, be sure the demand still matches your team’s competence.

If your circumstances change, it’s probably a good idea to adjust your limitations. You should probably consider altering your WIP limits if you have a team member on vacation for an extended amount of time (say, a few weeks), if you bring on a new member, or if you lose a team member.

And, by all means, don’t raise your WIP limitations simply because some people work quicker than others. At the end of the day, no matter how efficient certain workers are, they can only process one thing at a time.

Begin at one point and maintain the same limitations for a time. You’ll be able to tell whether the assumption you made enhanced your performance this way.

Keep an eye on how your flow measurements’ trends develop over time and try new things. You’ve been doing it well if your cycle times are decreasing, your throughput is increasing, and your coworkers are motivated and happy.

About Srinivas Saripalli 47 Articles
Hi! I'm Srinivas Saripalli. For over eighteen years I've been building high-performing software development teams and organizations through the use of agile and Scrum. I've worked with startups and some of the largest organizations in the world. To find answers to specific questions about Scrum and agile, scaling agile, agile transformation and leadership coaching browse my blog. I am an Executive Leadership Coach handling select clients in the are of Agile & cultural Transformation. I am a Certified Scrum Professional, a seasoned strategist in executions of Coaching Agile Transformations. I am also a SAFe Program Consultant. I have also held positions of process quality consultant in CMMI and ISO doing harmonising process operations for customers, including the implementation of quality programmes in Hi-tech, Retail, Media, and Publishing.

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