Work in Progress (WiP)

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Sohrab Salimi

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Work in Progress (abbreviation: WiP) refers to one of the essential elements of the Kanban method, the number of tasks processed simultaneously. Limiting these tasks enables the team to map its capacity and to detect weaknesses in the workflow.

  • Limitation of current tasks (WiP limits)
  • Concentration on currently pending tasks
  • Detection of overload or bottlenecks in the process

Definition: What does Work in Progress mean?

Work in Progress translates to "work in progress," "circulating inventory," "work in progress," or "work in progress." The term summarizes all the tasks the team is currently working on. The limitation of WiP makes up the essential element that distinguishes the Kanban method from other project management tools. As a result, team members cannot take on an unlimited number of tasks. As soon as they reach the limits of WiP, this is an indication of bottlenecks in capacity or problems with the process.


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How to use Work-in-Progress limits correctly

The success of the Kanban method stands and falls with the thought-out limitation of the current stock. If you are newly introducing Kanban in a work process, you must first define the applicable WiP limits with your team. The easiest way to do this is to record the average number of task elements processed in each status over several sprints. Then you can determine the work-in-progress limits for production planning.

However, you shouldn't think of them as static: Just as workflows in the company change, WiP limits should also be questioned again and again and dynamically adjusted. A change in team size, new customer requirements or critical technical problems can give cause to shift the work-in-progress limits. This is the only way to maintain productivity in the long term.

However, there is one important basic rule: the limit should only be exceeded in the most exceptional cases, such as when a previously unforeseeable task is pending that is of the utmost importance.

Common mistakes when dealing with Work in Progress

If WiP limits are not applied correctly, efficient teamwork is significantly hampered. Therefore, avoid the following common mistakes to get better results in the future:

  • WiP limits are simply increased when they are exceeded too often.
  • The team refrains from setting up WiP limits. The current tasks become confusing and are no longer processed efficiently.
  • The members of the team are bored. Therefore, they have a number of secondary tasks to bridge idle time.
  • The team responds to recurring work-in-progress bottlenecks with additional personnel instead of workflow adjustments.

Use of WiP limits

If the Work in Progress is divided sensibly and implemented in practice, it brings many benefits:

  • Visualization of blocking factors or bottlenecks.
  • Concentration on the completion of WiP items
  • Reduction of "procrastination
  • Increase of throughput
  • Reduction of waste in the company

Frequently asked questions about Work in Progress

How extensive should the individual tasks be?

To keep the Work in Progress manageable, tasks should be divided so that they include no more than two days' worth of work. This allows the [team members](/en/agile-dictionary/scrum-team/"Scrum Team") to plan their work better, and it is easier to keep track of WiP units that are still outstanding.

How many tasks should a WiP limit include?

It is not possible to make a blanket statement on this, as it also depends on the team strength, among other things. The lower the limit, the shorter the turnaround times and the faster challenges can be eliminated.

How can I tell if the WiP limit is too high or too low?

If the limit is set too low, the workflow can stall. As a result, team members lose interest in the limits, stop accepting them, and ignore them. On the other hand, if the work in progress is too extensive, work comes to a standstill, employees jump back and forth between multiple tasks, bottlenecks occur, and tasks are not completed in the desired time.

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