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Cracking the WIP

by David Peterson

If you're having trouble adjusting to working with limited amounts of Work-In-Progress, David is here to help and sympathize. Getting used to it can take time, but it's worth the effort, as the benefits are plain to see.

Why is it necessary to limit Work In Progress?

WIP limits make the multi-tasking disappear, therefore allowing better focus. If you think of work in progress as inventory, you'll quickly realise that having a lot of it on hand is not good for business, as it indicates being far from delivering anything and hardly being able to make any changes. But the market changes constantly, therefore your business process needs to be flexible too. Responding timely to the demand is just as crucial. If your product arrives too late for the demand, you end up with loads of waste, unwanted product and a loss. Therefore improving the Lead Time, offered by Kanban, is of great value.

What will happen without WIP limits?

Not limiting the WIP tends to result in multi-tasking and piling up more unfinished work, building up sequential bottlenecks. And the lead time of a process is the lead time of its worst bottleneck, effectively determining your process throughput. This indicates the critical need of having some control over the Work In Progress.

Finding the balance

David isn't stating here that all aspects of multi-tasking are bad, occasionally it is necessary to set something aside to work on a higher priority item or to aid to someone's request. The goal is to find the correct balance of limiting the general work items to a minimum, while still remaining conscious of the changing demands of the process and the team. Learning to cooperate with the team while respecting the WIP limits is a valuable lesson for all team-players, as well as businessmen. Focusing on a bottleneck to help the general process rather than starting new scheduled work is demonstrating a proof of a dedicated team member and flexible thinker.


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