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Why Limit Your WIP?

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Our summary and key takeaways

This is the first of a series of articles in which Tonianne DeMaria Barry and Jim Benson describe the concept, importance and characteristics of WIP limits.

why kanban


The term “work in progress” describes all the things you have started working on and are continuing to do so. Regarding Personal Kanban, this means all the chores you have to run, all of your plans (long and short-term), both the things you're looking forward to doing, as well as those you're dreading, but have no other choice than to do them. A WIP limit is the maximum number of tasks that you allow to work on simultaneously at any given time.

No WIP limits

Each of us has a limit to how many things we can process simultaneously. Getting started on more and more things creates distraction, loss of focus and therefore a drop in the overall quality of work. This, in turn, by producing low quality results, means there will be more work in the future – necessary to amend the poor quality produced for now.

Do something badly = do it twice
Another possible result of multi-tasking is leaving things incomplete, missing deadlines, forgetting entire tasks, all of them inevitably resulting in frustration and necessity to find more time to rework stuff. In some cases this may mean that someone else is going to have to clean things up.

Context switching
On top of this waste, there is the added issue of having to waste time on having to return to the mind-frame associated with a particular context. This does take time, and could have been avoided by focusing on the job when it was first performed.

Lost value = lost reliability
There is also the risk, that there may not be a chance to fix some of the work you may have already submitted, that you had done while working on few other tasks at the same time. This is a direct risk to your professionalism and reliability as a business partner, freelancer, artist etc.


Tonianne and Jim are not saying here, that limiting your work in progress will put an end to all these time-wasting issues, but it definitely does mean, that a lot of the waste will be avoided. The quality of the work you do stands a better chance of remaining high. There is also the addition, that letting both ourselves and others know that we are limiting the WIP, gives the correct impression of wanting to do a good job and to do it quick. Although task prioritization is still going to apply, and some jobs will have to wait in the queue, you will still get to them sooner, than if you had left them to sit around and wait for their right time.

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