Agile PM Process Grid–2.9 WIP Limits (2)

In John Stenbeck’s book “PMI-ACP and Certified Scrum Professional Exam Prep and Desk Reference”, he creates an “agile project management process grid” which describes 87 processes used in agile project management.   These processes are divided into five process groups (Initiate, Plan, Iterate, Control, and Close), which are analogous to the five process groups in traditional project management, and seven knowledge areas which can be mapped, more or less, onto the ten knowledge areas in traditional project management.

Work-in-Process (WIP) is a concept borrowed, as much of agile methodology is, from Lean thinking to improve the value stream of product development.   The basic idea is that a project is a type of WIP because the business cannot realize value from user stories in process, but ONLY from potentially shippable increments of the solution.

It reminds me of a cartoon from a physics textbook I had in high school.    On the left was a circus clown who had a chair in front of him that was nailed to the floor.    He was grunting and straining at his task, apparent by the sweat that was pouring copiously from his brow.    On the right was another circus clown who took a feather and lifted it up off the floor.   The question in the caption was “which clown did more work?”

The answer the uninitiated might give is the clown on the left, because he’s breaking a sweat and the clown on the right isn’t.   But if you take the technical definition of work as a weight moved a certain distance, the answer is clear:   the circus clown on the right did more “work” in the physics sense, because he moved the feather, admittedly a very light-weight object, a certain distance (let’s say six feet, from the floor to the height of the clown’s head).    But the clown on the left did ZERO work because the much heavier object was moved a distance of exactly ZERO meters, and anything multiplied by zero equals zero.

How did this relate to WIP?   Work in progress is the attempt to get something accomplished; the actual accomplishment is the ONLY thing that counts towards value towards the customer.   In the case of the two clowns, the one thing that kept the clown on the left from being effective was the impediment of the chair being nailed to the floor, which, if he had noticed it, and remedied the situation, would have allowed him to do more work than the clown on the right.

In the post, I talked about MEASURING Work-In-Progress or WIP.   Once you have a measure of WIP, how do you reduce it?   Here are some suggestions given by John Stenbeck:

  1. Reduce the iteration backlog to match the team’s capacity.
  2. Improve the actual work process with what is considered a “best practice” process.
  3. Remove the most common impediments to the process.
  4. Synchronize team members to avoid duplication of efforts, and to avoid any wasted time during the handoff of work from one team member to another.
  5. Manage workflow by means of a storyboard.
  6. Obtain additional resources if limited resources are what is causing a WIP not to achieve a result.

One other way to get a handle on WIP is to use Little’s Law, a relationship between cycle time, WIP, and throughput in a production system in a steady state.   That is the subject of the following post.


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