WIP Limit Panic Sheet – what to do when you feel tempted to break the work-in-progress (WIP) limit

When a software development team starts using a work-in-progress (WIP) limit, everyone is calm and relaxed … until they are not.


When you start to panic and feel the need to break the WIP limit rule – STOP! Read this special panic sheet first.

I have no tasks allocated to me

  • Focus on the user stories in progress:
    • See if there are any tasks that have not been picked up
    • See if there are any which somebody else may have been intending to pick up but is still busy with another task
    • See if there are any tasks which are missing and need to be added
    • See if anyone needs help with a task

Basically, if there is ANYTHING AT ALL that you can do to help finish a user story which is in progress, this is the HIGHEST PRIORITY

I don’t think there is anything I can do to help finish a user story

  • See if you can pair with someone. This might help to finish the user story, but even if it doesn’t, it will help with knowledge sharing.

I don’t think that I can usefully pair with anyone

  • See if you can improve some of the unit tests on a user story

The unit tests are fine

  • See if you can tackle some tech debt

I don’t think that I can tackle any tech debt

  • See if you can improve your knowledge of the codebase in order to be able to help with tech debt

My skill set is not around developing code, I’m a tester

  • See if you can improve or review any test scripts
  • See if you can learn anything about automation

None of the above suggestions will help

  • See if there is any other task which can be done to help either the team or your own knowledge

I’m the Product Owner – why doesn’t this person with nothing to do start a new user story?

  • Starting a new user story sooner does not mean finishing a new user story sooner. The completion of each user story is accomplished with the involvement of more than “this person doing nothing”. If there are already stories which are not finished yet, starting a new one will create more overhead for the team and potentially slow down the completion of those stories. It’s like throwing the team another ball to juggle. Have faith! Watch the baton and not the runner!


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