3 Ways to Successfully Adopt WIP Limits (Even When Your Team Resist Them)
Psychologists claim that people receive more than 80% of information through the sense of sight. We write and draw to visualise our thoughts, emotions and things to remember. No wonder visual perception is used to make work easier and more efficient.
Today visualisation has become a staple practice in project management. Visual management “provides real-time information on work status with the help of visual aids that allow employees to understand their influence on the organisation overall performance, hence allowing them to improve performance.”
In other words, visualisation helps to make challenging issues visible and facilitate early improvements which may have the biggest impact on the project. Other benefits of visual management include:
- Defining work priorities
- Identifying workflow (what is being done)
- Identifying what has gone wrong
- Setting standards of work
- Providing real-time feedback
- Minimising the number of meeting to discuss work issues
Along with visualising processes, we start to limit work in progress. Visualisation and WIP are best-known as one of the core properties of Kanban. Limiting the amount of WIP makes the team focus on a smaller set of tasks, allows to complete them faster and effectively respond to customer demands.
Unfortunately, many teams struggle to introduce WIP limits as people naturally tend to do what they’ve always been doing: just pull more work. However, there are several ways to address this challenge and make WIP limits work.
#1. If the team resists WIP limits, there’s no point in enforcing them. Instead of making WIP limiting an obligatory practice, allow the team to try it from time to time. As soon as there is no commitment to continue this practice after the trial, the team feels less pressured and finds it easier to adopt.
#2. Instead of focusing on WIP limits, focus on cycle time (how much time it takes to finish a work item) and throughput (how many work items are finished in a given time window).
The formula goes like: Cycle Time = WIP/Throughput
This is a good way to explain to the team that to have shorter cycle time they need to either improve throughput (which is often difficult) or cut work in progress (which is much easier).
#3. Focus on finishing items rather than starting them. In other words, focus on outcomes.
- When you finish an item, check if there are any blockers.
- If there are blockers, try to solve them.
- If there are no blockers, take the item closest to the “done” column.
- Start a new item when there is nothing you can do with ongoing items.
Instead of introducing an artificial WIP practice that yields specific outcomes you can focus on these outcomes. This provides the team with a simple guidance for choosing tasks effectively and make them less likely to resist the practice.