Kanban: about personal WiP limits

As some of you might already know, personal WiP limits of 1 are not really useful. I know that now. And I want to share with you my practical learning experience, or -at least- those of you who don’t know yet…

Well, we set up a new team, I was the Coach, Kanban was the method we planned to use. The team members were all used to Scrum, had seen some Kanban boards, but new together in a team. As usual, this was a critical project, highly political, tight time frame. Getting up and running fast, and presenting first results soon was essential.

We did a kickoff meeting, including generating awareness and alignment about project goal, including a setup up of the Product Backlog, including the design of the team board.

We soon had agreed on a pretty simple 2-step work flow, essentially representing the development and the review thereof. One team member proposed a personal WiP-Limit of 1. I thought it is somewhat similar to a board limit of 7, as there were 7 developers. We all agreed and I organised some colourful pins to represent the team members and the WiP limit: one pin each.

After only some days of work I saw some “cheating”:
* team members used their pin to transfix 2 tickets, or even more
* team members didn’t volunteer to review as they only had one pin and were eager to do “some real work”
* team members referred to some work not represented on the board or not marked with their respective pin

When I addressed this observation, everybody was relieved that we redefined a WiP limit of 8 for the entire board. Pretty soon, we reduced it to 6 and later to 5, as the team did a lot of pair working anyways.

My learning: never do Personal WiP limits of 1, do board or -even better- column WiP limits, and DO your WiP limits!

And I hope you can use this learning as well!