How to use WIP limits to optimize their workflows for value delivery
Once teams are visualizing their work with GitScrum Board Plannning (Kanban). You should be learn how to optimize their workflows for value delivery. The better way to optimize flow in Kanban is to learn how to limit Work in Progress or also called WIP. WIP limits unlock the full potential of Kanban, enabling teams to deliver higher quality work faster than ever before, in a healthier, more sustainable environment.
Define the WIP ( Work in Progress )
GitScrum allows each project to have a WIP. To configure, access your project and click on “Settings”
Define the workflow
Continue to “Settings” and click on the menu option called “Workflow”. The “Workflow” option will allow you to choose which columns you want to define as Work In Progress (WIP)
Big advantages of WIP Limits
Implementing WIP limits can be challenging, but the benefits of approaching our work with focus, clarity, and discipline far outweigh the pains of change. Here are four of the many benefits of using WIP limits to optimize our workflows.
#1 WIP Limits Enable Us to Manage Capacity
Every team has a finite amount of time, energy, and brain power every day with which it tries to maximize customer value. Most teams have very little understanding of how to effectively manage their capacity. A typical approach is to try to maximize the capacity of each individual on the team, so every team member can reach 100% utilization.
Work is not valuable until it reaches the hands of the customer. In most teams, very little work is truly “solo” work; most work requires the effort and expertise of several team members.
If each team member is at 100% utilization on the tasks to which they’re assigned, that means they have no capacity for collaborating with their team, responding to questions, or helping each other deliver work across the finish line. So in reality, 100% utilization means that everyone is impossibly busy — but nothing is actually getting done.
WIP limits help us more effectively utilize the collective efforts of our team members — so instead of a system where each person is trying to push their tasks to the next step, we create a system in which the team collaborates to move work from start to finish as quickly as possible.
This means that although less work is being done at one time, and although some team members may be underutilized at different points in the process, more value is actually getting into the hands of the customer.
#2 WIP Limits Encourage Us to Practice Systems Thinking
WIP limits force us to work as a team to prioritize, plan, complete, and deploy work. This is a practice known as systems thinking — making decisions that benefit the entire team, so that our efforts contribute to achieving team goals. Systems thinking enables teams to make better use of their collective resources.
WIP limits ensure that teams operate with respect to the system’s overall capacity. This helps to ensure a fluid, consistent flow of value. Most teams use WIP limits at the team level, while also imposing unofficial WIP limits on individuals as well (after all, a team WIP limit of 7 wouldn’t do much to improve productivity if one person was assigned to 5 of the cards on the board).
Many teams practicing Kanban hold daily/frequent standups to review their boards. This is an opportunity to assess the team’s current workload and discuss as a team how to move cards off the board as efficiently as possible. They might ask questions like:
– What’s closest to being done? What can we do today to move it off the board?
– Is anyone working on anything that’s not on the board?
– Is anything currently blocked from making progress?
– Is anyone available to help move card X to “Done”?
Instead of asking, “What should I pull next?”, WIP limits force us to ask, “What can I help move off the board before I pull something next?”
When they are unable to contribute to any of the cards currently in process, team members pull cards with consideration for the downstream impact of the work: If, for example, a marketing team’s only designer has 3 cards currently in progress, with a team WIP limit of 7, a team member might choose to pull a card that does not require design resources. These kind of decisions help ensure smooth, consistent flow of value across the team.
#3 WIP Limits Help Us Identify Opportunities for Process Improvement
When we’re overburdened with too much WIP, we don’t have the bandwidth to observe and analyze our process. We do anything we need to do to get the work done — without paying much attention to how we go about doing it.
Implementing WIP limits allows us to gain clarity around what our processes actually are, and whether or not they are working for us. In addition to implementing WIP limits, many teams find it useful to implement clear process policies, and hold each other accountable to following the guidelines decided by the team. These can be things like:
– What card details need to be filled out before a card can be prioritized?
– Who assigns team members to cards? Do we self-assign or is it okay to assign someone when we need them?
– How do we define “done” as a team?
– What criteria need to be met before work can leave our “Review” lane?
– What criteria need to be met in order to pull in a card that exceeds our WIP limit?
Following process policies ensures that everyone is using the board in the same way. This creates a baseline from which the team can analyze trends over time. Teams can work to identify patterns in things like bottlenecks, blockers, handoff delays, etc. They can discuss these patterns in their daily standup, and hold periodic retrospectives to discuss and implement improvements to their processes.
#4 WIP Limits Introduce Slack into the System
Earlier, we learned that sometimes, introducing WIP limits means that some team members will be underutilized. In Kanban, underutilized time is referred to as slack time, and it’s seen as a sign of a healthy system.
Slack time creates space for improving the way we work. Team members can use slack time to implement continuous improvement efforts, watch educational webinars, or brainstorm ideas to optimize recurring programs. They can organize their Kanban boards, update outdated documents, or do anything else that is important, valuable and that can enable them to be more effective at their jobs.
Slack time is an incredible opportunity for professional development during work hours, and can contribute greatly to job satisfaction. Without WIP limits, slack time doesn’t exist. WIP limits enable us to slow down enough, and work intentionally enough, to create space for growth.