How do you use WIP limits?

Some of us had a good chat on a TestYak the other day.

One such topic of discussion was WIP limits. Sometimes referred to as Work In Progress and/or Work in Process limits.

What’s been your experience of using WIP limits? How have they helped? How have they hindered?

Cc: @nufenix @bencf1 @gemma.hill1987 @sebastian_solidwork <<< folks who were on the Twitter Space.


WIP limits are a bigger process problem than just having too many pretty shiney balls in the air at one time, and not having any of them actually deliver on time. It’s about the politics of team size too. Too small a team and a member going away leaves you with no place to park what they were busy doing if your team has not got the skills cover, or what to do with a ticket that has not got test coverage/resource yet. Buuuuuut mostly it’s attractive to seem to have lots of stuff happening and looking busy, while ultimately the team get depressed in the retrospectives because features are not merged and “done”. Cognitive load can also just wear everyone down over time.

  • WIP limits in team will largely ignore code-review or other low risk steps in progress.
  • Ideal would be that a member can only have 2 items in progress if the whole team agrees they are unable to help within the team to progress.
  • Ideal is to not have multiple goals in the team, it stops being a single team after a while. (If a team has multiple “goals”, it’s probably playing on multiple pitches.)
  • You are probably forgetting to set sprint goal.

Sometimes, you need to have multiple pieces in flight at once, good communication then takes over.


Thanks for sharing a treasure trove of advice and reflections, @conrad.connected.

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I am wanting to bring out a few points from the “#TestYak” now that I have found time to listened to it. I like to “listen to things like it’s just radio”.

  • In terms of content creation which was a sub topic: I’ve found I am happy to not bother with doing my own blog. Since it creates a pressure or “competition” aspect for me and being anti-competitive I would be forced to publish often and in cadence, anyone who publishes on YT will know, is the only way of building audience. So I prefer to just bang it out on whatever medium is at hand in the moment. I moreover encourage people to share a topic they care about even if has been shared many times before, even and especially if you feel you have nothing nothing new to add. But share it, in a way that is personal to you, in a place you :heart: about at the moment.
  • The core Yak topic was WIP limits. I love how Ben, and Gemma spoke about the “people” part of team process , process frictions, and how team egos work with the way WIP impacts a team, I suggest people give it a listen. I’m so glad they covered ideas that I did not above. Do click the linky and listen, it contains some of that important “personal story” magic that will help you identify process problems in your own team regardless of it’s shape, age or size.

As for audio quality @simon_tomes, it was fine, it adds that radio feel that we seem to have lost in the age of online polished presentation. I hope to hear more voices in the next one, much more relatable than podcasts even if not laser focused. I also hope these get to stay up for a while.

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