Agile Coach Toolkit #8: Limiting Work-In-Progress

Do your team members have a tendency to pick up the next task to work on in case they get stuck with current task because they are measured for ‘utilization’? Such multitasking isn’t just bad, but also has harmful effects and causes stress on the person as proven by a study at Stanford University. Here’s a sample of Scrum board with no limit on WIP items –

Few issues with above view –

  • None of the Product Backlog Items are done as there are lot of tasks in progress. In case of any outage or downtime towards the end of the Sprint, most likelyno value will be delivered by the end of the Sprint.
  • This may also reflect a dysfunction that team members are working in silos, as everyone is busy working on something, but just not focused on delivering the most valuable story together as a team.
  • The flow of value delivery is constrained as the cycle time to complete anything valuable is impeded due to multitasking.
  • There is a high probability that the motivation and the morale of the team members might be low and in addition there might be a psychological pressure on the team to finish all the Product Backlog Items selected for the Sprint.

Recommended steps for Limiting Work-In-Progress:

  • You will need to have a buy-in from the team regarding issues with no limiting WIP items. Discussing above issues would be a good starting point to educate them.
  • Have them focus on the outcomes rather than ‘being occupied’. If any of the team members is stuck because the task he/ she is working on is blocked due to external dependency, instead of picking up a new task, review other WIP items of the team and assist the team members to get it done. This may mean learning new skills along the way and also help break down silos among the team.
  • When picking up work from the Scrum Board, always work backwards to ensure that tasks closest to Done is tackled first before moving backwards towards selecting next item to be worked upon. Such approach will also assist in reducing the Cycle Time.

Above steps will eventually lead to a Scrum Board that will look like the one below where value is continuously delivered to stakeholders during the Sprint –

Have you used this technique? If yes, please share your story.

References

Kanban and Scrum – Making the Most of Both – Henrik Kniberg and Mattias Skarin

http://brodzinski.com/2015/10/dont-limit-wip.html