Work In Progress Limits (WIP) In Lean + Kanban

In other news, I don’t only write about esports and crypto but I am also an expert in software delivery! Going forward, I’ll be trying to balance all three and write a bit more about software delivery. One of my passions is to delivery stuff on time, with a high amount of quality in the hands of customers. MVPs aren’t always ideal especially when you think of it from a customer lense. Anyways, we’re here to talk about limiting work and WIP limits from a software delivery standpoint. This will be introductory and introduce some benefits / challenges of WIP.

Introduction of WIP Limits

Work-in-Progress (WIP) limits are a vital concept in software delivery that has its roots in the Toyota Production System (TPS), also known as Lean Manufacturing. WIP limits help teams control the number of tasks being actively worked on simultaneously to improve efficiency, throughput, and overall quality. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of WIP limits, reasons behind the hesitancy to implement them, and the theory behind them.

Toyota’s Theory Behind WIP Limits

The concept of WIP limits is rooted in the Toyota Production System (TPS), which aimed to minimize waste and optimize efficiency in auto manufacturing. Two core principles of TPS that underpin WIP limits are:

  1. Just-in-Time (JIT): JIT is an inventory management strategy that focuses on producing only what is needed when it is needed, reducing inventory levels and work in progress. In software delivery, WIP limits help teams avoid overburdening themselves with tasks and ensure that work is completed efficiently and timely.
  2. Jidoka: Jidoka, or “automation with a human touch,” emphasizes the importance of identifying and addressing issues as soon as they arise, preventing them from escalating further down the line. WIP limits support this principle by enabling faster feedback loops and encouraging teams to resolve issues before moving on to new tasks.

Toyota is renowned for quality and some of these very concepts are deep rooted into their manufacturing process. Now, how would we apply this to software delivery from a lean standpoint?

Benefits of WIP Limits in Software Delivery

  1. Improved Focus: By limiting the number of tasks in progress, teams can concentrate on completing one task at a time, reducing the cognitive load and multitasking, which often lead to inefficiency and errors.
  2. Faster Feedback: WIP limits accelerate the delivery pipeline, allowing teams to receive feedback and iterate on their work faster. This helps in addressing issues early in the development process, resulting in better-quality software.
  3. Reduced Cycle Time: Limiting work in progress helps identify bottlenecks in the process, allowing the team to streamline the workflow and reduce the overall time taken to complete tasks.
  4. Enhanced Collaboration: WIP limits encourage team members to work together on a single task, fostering a collaborative environment and promoting knowledge sharing.
  5. Increased Predictability: By reducing variability in the workflow, WIP limits enable teams to establish a more predictable software delivery process, making it easier to plan and estimate future work.

Hesitancy to Implement WIP Limits

Despite the benefits, teams might be hesitant to implement WIP limits due to:

  1. Fear of Underutilization: Teams may believe that limiting work in progress could lead to idle time and underutilization of resources. However, WIP limits often result in more efficient use of resources and better throughput.
  2. Resistance to Change: Implementing WIP limits requires a shift in mindset and organizational culture, which can be challenging for teams accustomed to traditional approaches.
  3. Misconceptions about Productivity: Some teams equate productivity with the number of tasks being worked on simultaneously, without considering the impact on efficiency, quality, and delivery time.


Work-in-Progress limits in software delivery offer numerous benefits, including improved focus, faster feedback, reduced cycle time, enhanced collaboration, and increased predictability. While there may be hesitancy to implement WIP limits due to fears of underutilization, resistance to change, and misconceptions about productivity, their roots in the Toyota Production System highlight their effectiveness in optimizing efficiency and reducing waste. By embracing WIP limits, software teams can streamline their delivery process, improve overall quality, and foster a more collaborative work environment.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or look up some of my agile software delivery consulting. I am open to discussion and for hire! I’ve implemented these concepts at billion dollar companies that are public.

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