The WIP problem

This is a typical kanban board, and it is the one we are using for our internal group project:

This kanban board reflects one single common phenomenon that is present pretty much in all teams and all workplaces – an overwhelming amount of work in progress items.

How do we tackle this problem?

Well first, let’s see why having an overwhelming amount of items in WIP is bad. An item is created because it adds some form of value to the project. The point here is that they ONLY add value when they have been completed. Therefore, an item in the state of WIP does not add any value to the project.

But the reality is that these tickets are often blocked because of some external factors that we don’t have control over. An example:

I just finished my code block for data extraction. I wrote the unit tests, made up some mock data+data source in my test cases to make sure that my code works as intended and every line is covered.

I’m planning on deploying my data extraction code to the servers to run it through some integration tests with real data. I reached out to another department concerning the whereabouts of the data and ways of access. They said they’ll let me know. Today, they got back to me with the information that our company has made a deal to source the data from an external vendor. However, they’ll need the system integrators to set up an appropriate endpoint on our MOVEit DMZ to receive the file, and this concerns with setting up a bunch of other goodies, including configuring the appropriate access/privilege, SFTP settings, IP/firewall, blahblah… the point is, I’m not getting the data I need until probably a month later.

What now? Am I just gonna sit at my cubicle and drink coffee for a month? Certainly not. Rationally, I’m gonna park this data extraction issue and pick up something else to work on from the backlog instead. However, since the above scenario happens to pretty much everyone working on a project, soon the WIP is going to be piled up with all kinds of blocked tickets. Although it’s no fault of anyone really, it certainly looks bad from the perspective of the business and management.

The solution: WIP limits, explained in the links below:

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