Visualize and Limit Work-In-Progress WIP

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Visualizing and limiting WIP helps teams better manage their workload, prioritize tasks, and ensure the timely delivery of projects.

It helps teams stay on track when working on a project and avoid two equally dangerous extremes: burnout and boredom. Work-in-progress items are items in progress and on their way to completion.

Piling up WIP items can be a huge problem for teams, but it can also be a problem if the limit on WIP items is low. Let’s see how setting the right amount of WIP limits and visualizing the workflow process can improve the team’s productivity.

How to visualize WIP?

Visualizing Work-In-Progress is best done using a board to visualize your project. You can use various project management methodologies to manage your projects, but placing everything on a board helps teams navigate the process better, whether they opt for Scrum, Kanban, or any other methodology.

Tips for visualizing WIP:

  • Use Kanban to place all WIP items in one column
  • Limit the number of WIP tasks
  • Oversee tasks piling up to prevent bottlenecks
  • Devote full attention to WIP items
  • Make room for new items

Benefits of visualizing WIP

Visualizing work-in-progress brings many benefits to the team, but most importantly, the team will be able to monitor items in progress and complete them on time closely.

WIP visualizations improve the production process, as the team will not take on new tasks until resolving those still in progress. Furthermore, it will be easier for the team to collaborate on tasks and help remove WIP bottlenecks. In addition to enhancing collaboration, when the team works together on WIP tasks it prevents reworking items.

Teams and managers benefit from having a WIP visualization board since it allows them to clearly see what items stand in the way of the project’s goal. Ultimately, the greatest benefit of WIP visualization is that it improves productivity.

Dealing more efficiently with tasks in progress with the help of WIP visualization will also boost the team’s enthusiasm for continuing to work on new tasks and projects. It will cut down the number of meetings the team has to discuss items that are still in progress and improve the overall team communication.

What tools should be used to visualize work in progress?

Tools that work best for visualizing WIP items allow visual representations of tasks in a WIP column, such as a Kanban view. The Agile process shows WIP items and limits how many tasks can exist simultaneously in the Agile workflow. Kanban is especially convenient if you want to limit the number of WIP tasks, as you can put only a certain number of tasks in the column or limit the number of tasks present simultaneously in the WIP column.

Visual representation of available WIP items to all team members improves team communication. Placing everything on a board, whether virtual or in your office, helps teams overlook the process and take action about obstacles that WIP items can create.

What is WIP?

WIP or Worn-In-Progress is an item or task currently being worked on. To close the task or item, it is essential to look at all the aspects of the process that caused the delay. Perhaps more resources are needed to finish a WIP task, or another task blocks the task. Frequently, tasks that wait too long for approval or testing can also get stuck in the WIP status, but remember that developers can also do the testing! To remove the bottleneck and start making progress, the team and project manager need to come to the bottom of the problem, learn from the mistakes made, and change their processes so that they can make progress. Having too many items constantly labeled as a WIP will prevent the team from making real progress on the project, as they are constantly occupied with dealing with the same tasks that do not seem ever to end.

What is a good WIP limit?

A good WIP limit depends on the team’s capacity. Limits and boundaries to the number of tasks with a WIP status can motivate the team to deal with them on time. It will also prevent the team from taking on new tasks, especially when so many of them still need to be finished. Sometimes, new, shiny tasks seem more appealing, but finishing what you’ve started to work on is a much better idea. Depending on the team’s size and organization, the limit you set for WIP tasks will be different. It is important to have a reasonable limit that will boost the team's confidence that they can achieve the work before them.

What is a WIP limit in Agile?

WIP limit in Agile represents the maximum amount of work in each workflow. Setting work-in-progress limits is extremely important for Agile teams. You can determine the optimal number of tasks for agile teams in different ways. Commonly, two ways are used: either the number of team members plus one or the number is the double of team members. How do you know you’ve set the right amount of tasks as a limit? Many ways. KPIs are mostly a good indicator, but also the team’s sentiment towards taking up new tasks. If your team is idle, they have too much time on their hands. If the team is overwhelmed, they work under pressure. None of these scenarios make up a healthy, happy, and productive working environment. Instead, project managers need to follow metrics KPIs and listen to the team, to adjust WIP limits timely and accordingly.

How to reduce WIP in Agile?

Reducing WIP is important, as WIP items can cause issues for agile teams. Here are some tips that will help you reduce WIP items:

  • Spot bottlenecks early
  • Close WIP tasks before moving on
  • Remember, it’s a process
  • Allow team members to focus on one thing
  • Avoid multitasking

What is the WIP limit in Kanban?

WIP limit in Kanban is usually the number of team members plus one. If the team comprises 6 members, the limit would be 7. The limit might be lower for teams that are expected to collaborate on tasks, as teams collaborate to work on more tasks simultaneously. Kanban board also allows you to create various columns for WIP items at different stages in the process, and you can have a separate column for those tasks that are only waiting for testing or approval. Still, even then, it’s best to have a limit to these tasks to prevent them from piling up.

What happens if WIP is kept low in Kanban?

When WIP is low, the team’s motivation deteriorates, causing the team to lose a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Having a limit to WIP can help not to overburden your team, but it can be just as damaging for their productivity to set the bar too low and deal with an idle team. The best way to avoid this is to regularly check the team’s productivity workflow and monitor the KPIs. Workflow visualizations and KPIs show the team and the project manager how the project progresses so changes can be implemented at the right time. Agile methodologies rely on making changes and adjustments to optimize the workflow and get the best results when working on a project. Therefore, these limits are not set in stone but are adjustable to circumstances that the project and the team are experiencing.

Do we use WIP limits in Scrum?

Scrum uses a Scrum backlog to get the items the team needs to work on. To set a limit in WIP using Scrum means to set a limit on the tasks taken from the backlog, which is done taking the team’s velocity and capacity into consideration.

Scrum teams need to set limits to the tasks in progress because this will help them focus on the tasks they are currently working on and not just pull out another task from the backlog. Sometimes, the Scrum and Kanban methodologies are combined, also known as Scrumban, and setting a limit to a work-in-progress column with Scrum teams is one such example.

Visualizing and limiting WIP in ActiveCollab

WIP limits can easily be shown and visualized in ActiveCollab’s column view. The column view allows you to view each task list as a column with tasks represented as cards and rearrange the cards accordingly.

If you want to limit the team’s capacity, set a limit on the number of tasks allowed at once in the column that represents work-in-progress tasks.

You can also use the Gantt chart in the timeline view, which allows you to see the dependencies between the tasks and which tasks should be finished first so that the team can move on to working on other tasks. In ActiveCollab, each user can choose the view they see the project in for themselves, which doesn’t affect other users' views of the same project.