Work in Progress

Why Limit WIP?

Work in Progress is defined as work that has started but is not yet finished. Limiting WIP helps teams reduce context switching, find workflow issues, and keep teams focused on collaboration and finishing work.

How do we limit WIP?

  • Start with one lane on your board.
  • Set your WIP limit to N+2 (“N” being the number of people contributing to that lane)
  • Continue setting WIP lower.
  • Once the WIP limit is reached, no more cards can enter that lane until one exits.

Capacity Utilization

There is a direct correlation between WIP and capacity utilization. Attempting to load people and resources to 100% capacity utilization creates wait times. Unpredictable events equal variability, which equals capacity overload. The more individuals and resources used, the higher the cost and risk.

In order to lessen work in progress, be aggressive in prioritization, push back when necessary, and set hard WIP limits. Select a WIP limit that is doable but challenges you to say no some of the time.

Conflicting Priorities

When we start a new task before finishing an older task, our work in progress goes up and things take longer. Business value that could have been realized sooner gets delayed because of too much WIP.

Be wary of falling back into the old habit of starting everything because of the pressure to say yes to everything.

Look at priority ways of working:

  • Assigned priority
  • Cost of delay
  • First-in, first-out


Swarming Stories

Having more than one person work on a task at the same time avoids situations where team understanding is mostly limited to a subset of what’s being built. With multiple people involved early, there is less chance that rework will be needed later.

By having more than one developer working on a task, you are getting a real-time code review.

Story assignment

Visually distinguish important information.

  • Who’s working on what?
  • Has this work been in progress for too long?
  • Is this work blocked from progressing?
  • Have we reached our WIP limit?


Making Work Visible - Dominica DeGrandis

Last modified December 15, 2023: Update workflow (fe0a14f)