Why WIP Limits
10 August 2014
Why WIP Limits
We live in a world that overloads us with information and expectations, putting us in a constant state of interruptions. Exceeding the amount of work we can sustainably handle only serves to heighten distractions and decrease our focus. Constant context shifting not only decreases our efficiency, but work goes unfinished and attention to detail suffers (decreasing the quality of our completed work). We miss deadlines, we finish fewer things, and we hand off work to others very inefficiently. These consequences end up creating even more work that needs to be handled in the future.
Limiting work-in-progress (WIP) won’t necessarily eliminate these consequences, but it will make them far less likely to happen. On the other hand, not limiting our WIP is a sure path to experiencing all those bad consequences more often.
Healthy systems require healthy constraints. When we limit WIP, we’re essentially filtering filtering out distraction, data sources, and complexity. This is why limiting WIP goes hand-in-glove with prioritization. Limiting our focus allows us to become very aware of what we’re doing, what we’re not doing, and why we’ve made those choices. And as we make more informed choices, we’re helping to maximize the value of our efforts.
Introducing the constraint of limiting WIP means teams will be constantly reinforced to adopt behaviors that:
- Improve attentiveness
- Become aware of and engage in a constant, dynamic reprioritization of work (reinforcing the concept of delivering value)
- Actively manage risk
- Strive to continuously improve
Managing WIP also enables us to understand the effects of individual actions on the system as a whole. Ideally, we want to align work in process with our system’s overall capacity to ensure a consistent, fluid flow. This means we need to consider how starting new work will influence downstream processes.