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WiP-limits of 1?

As some of you might already know, personal WiP limits of 1 are bad. I know that now, as quite some time ago, I had a very practical learning experience, that I want to share with you, or -at least- those of you who didn’t have this learning 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 of project goal, including a setup up of the Product Backlog, including the design of the team board.

We soon had agreed on a basic 2-step work flow. 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 „something interesting and meaningful“

* team members referred to some work not represented on the board

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!