At first glance, it seems productive to start loads of things and work on them at once, but the impact of this is very harmful. Limiting the work in progress (WIP), in the beginning, can feel painful so for this reason, in this article, I will discuss why we should limit work in progress (WIP). I will try to explain why at any given time, focusing on few items is a lot more productive than having many things on the go.
Why do we having many things in progress at any given time?
We all work in very fast paced environments and are always stretched for time. So when someone asks us to do something we find it easier to make a start on it and leave what we are working on half way through especially if the person asking is a lot more senior. This means that we have many items that are partly done but not complete. The biggest impact this as is that the lead time for completing task increase and incomplete work is no use. This increase waste within the organization.
In industries like manufacturing, this waste is a lot more obvious and the damage it is doing to the organization lot more visible. If you are car manufacture and the more cars that are sitting in your warehouse and incomplete the more money you have invested in the inventory. It means that you can’t sell these cars and bring in the cash. It’s physical and front of your eyes, everyone can see it and management are more aware of this. First time I can across a form of WIP was in retail. The management was very keen to keep the stock in the warehouse to low as possible. Only order stock just before it is due to run out and not have lots of cash invested in the stock.
However, in most office environments, the impact of having many things incomplete is not visible, and most people are working in these environments being arrogant to this whole concept. I find some senior managers who don’t understand this concept and will come over to their teams and ask them to leave work incomplete and make a start on something new.
In the office environment and software industry, we can’t see the inventory physically sitting in our warehouse, but it is still there. All the incomplete modules and features, sitting on the developer machines have a cost associated with it. Someone within the organization has spent time partly building them, but they are no use to anyone till they are complete. Also, these features will only bring value and money to the company when they are completed and sold.
If the developers are working on only on few features, then they can complete these quickly and bring the value and earn money for the organization before moving onto the next items.
When you leave something, incomplete and start something new, then at later stage coming back to it is called task switching. Task switching is very expensive and here are some common issues with regular task switching:
Overall, it is quicker to complete one thing start to finish then switching jobs. So, if you were two writes to reports, overall it would be quicker if you worked on one report solely from start to finish then moved on to next then you working on both at the same time.
Every time you task switch, you are increasing more risk of introducing error into your assignment.
When you come back to a task that is incomplete, you have to refresh your thought process and bring yourself back up to speed; This takes time. According to one research, In the USA, up to 40% of the time is wasted by people simply doing too much task switching. Companies could be 40% more productive if they eliminated this task switching.
When you have anything that is incomplete, it does not have any value, but you have already invested time and effort into it. As you keep starting new tasks, you have some incomplete work that will never get completed, so they never deliver any value. All the time you have invested into those pieces of works will go to waste. So, if you limit the number of tasks you are working on at any given time, then you don’t build up this backlog of unfinished work that might go to waste.
Using Kanban and WIP, we can very quickly highlight the bottlenecks. If you keep on starting new tasks while you wait for others, you are building up a backlog of the unfinished work, but moreover, you are covering up where the big bottlenecks are. If you make your workflow visible (mapped out like on a Kanban board), you will very quickly highlight where the bottlenecks are and get someone within the organization to resolve them.