Kanban WIP LimitsThe definition and benefits of work in progress limits

Do your team members have a long list of uncompleted tasks at the end of each day? Do you feel that your team results are not as good as they could be? Do you think that your team might be suffering from multitasking? How to deal with it to improve team performance? You can solve this problem easily using a WIP limit. Limiting the amount of Work in Progress can help your team keep a steady pace and make sure no one is ever overwhelmed. Work in Progress Limit will help you manage and achieve a good workflow.

A definition of WIP limits - Work in Progress limits

One of the core properties of Kanban is that Work in Progress is limited. Limiting WIP is to match team’s development capacity. Generally, we set WIP limit per column - workflow stage. However, it is also acceptable to establish limits per person or team. Setting a WIP limit for a given column does not mean that you absolutely cannot put another task into that column. Rather, it means that when limit is exceeded, the whole team should take on the responsibility of understanding why such a situation occurred that they can improve it and prevent it from happening again.

Setting WIP limits

First of all, when setting Kanban WIP limit you should ask two critical questions:

  • How many people do we have in our team?
  • How many things do we want them to work on at a time?

Remember, there is no secret formula for setting accurate Work in Progress limits. It is a common situation that the limits will be wrong at the beginning. You should not expect your WIP limit to stay what you have currently defined them as for very long. They need to be adjusted. Therefore, you should not put too much effort in setting the initial limits.

Benefits of setting a WIP limit

A WIP limit helps teams focus on correct decisions, completion, and quality. Moreover it allows to: reduce multitasking and task switching to avoid distraction, attain a regular flow of work that you can be more predictable in delivery, measure the real amount of tasks that can be done at a given time, receive feedback to limit waste due to rework and incorrect assumptions and enable a pull model.

Limiting Work in Progress will definitely not solve all the problems your team is facing. However, not limiting WIP means we are pretty much guaranteed to fall victim to time wasters. Without WIP limits, progress on process improvement is much slower. Teams that have imposed this practice from the beginning have reported growth in capability and have delivered superior business results.

A professional Kanban board solution should allow you to easily customize your board template as well as to set Work in Progress Limits. Kanban Tool provides this possibility. To set a WIP limit please go to "Settings", then "Board editor" and click pencil icon to edit Work in Progress Limit. Next, fill in the "Task count limit".

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