Completing a re-read is always bittersweet. Today we say goodbye to a friend, Why Limit WIP: We Are Drowning In Work. The final chapter is the Epilogue and interwoven are our final notes.  Next week we lay out the logistics for our next re-read of Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Arkins

Mr. Benson sews up the book in the Epilogue. My interpretation of his message is stark – overloading people, teams, or organizations with work that needs to be started now is just about as smart as hitting oneself in the head with a ball-peen hammer. If that is too metaphorical, I will say it plainer – it is stupid. The problem is nearly everyone I know is running at 110% consistently. Moral, productivity, quality, and value all suffer. Some portion of the great resignation of the early 2020s will be tracked back to this problem but nothing will be done. I am already hearing the management refrain of “doing more with less” being whispered in physical and virtual corporate hallways. Taking a very manufacturing perspective, why can’t we get it through our heads that just being busy by starting everything drives up the cost of every unit of work that is delivered? Perhaps a question for the ages.

Over my career in helping, teams and organizations change it has become clear to me that the control of work entry is a huge determinant of whether anything other than change at a glacial to take root (note, change at a glacial pace works well in geology but rarely is effective in the workplace). Work entry and WIP are intertwined. In the Epilogue, Jim describes “the boss” exercise. It starts by counting the bosses a person has. In the late 90s and early 00s when I was at Software Productivity Research and then the David Consulting Group we discovered a relationship between “bosses” and measured productivity and quality. As the number of bosses involved in piece work went up productivity and quality went down. The relationship was not linear (and for those with a mathematical bend it was strong +.85 r2). There are many reasons this is true but near the top are both the negative impact of focus, control of work entry and WIP. 

Every person, team, and organization has an amount of work that they can handle while minimizing delays and task switching. This is a WIP limit. All of us need to discover and exploit those limits while we continuously explore how we can improve how work is done. No one is saying that short bursts above WIP limits can’t be tolerated (even though there are consequences) in an emergency, BUT when it is always an emergency, something is wrong. I spent a significant portion of my career as an adrenaline junky. I still remember sitting in the basement of Gold Circle’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio helping a team deal with a program that had been illicitly installed or dealing with file maintenance issue at 2 AM in Westlake, Ohio. We were heroes however reflecting back 99% of those problems were caused by WIP issues but we were too strung out on heroics to want it to stop. Those experiences are the birthplace of my crusade to fix work entry; Why Limit WIP provides ammunition for that battle. 

Thoughts, comments, and disagreements are all welcome. Next week we will discuss the logistics for our re-read of Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Arkins 

Remember to buy a copy of Why Limit WIP  and read along.  Amazon Affiliate LInk: 

Previous Entries

Week 1: Preface, Foreword, Introduction, and Logistics

Week 2: Processing and Memory 

Week 3: Completion

Week 4: Multitasking 

Week 5: Context Switching 

Week 6: Creating An Economy – 

Week 7: Healthy Constraints – 

Week 8: Focus 

Week 9: Awareness 

Week 10: Communication 

Week 11: Learning