Pushed To The Limit

The Importance of In Progress Limits in Software Development

Life is full of limits. Whether they be imposed by societal pressures; government legislation; or even a byproduct of unfortunate events; they are indeed present. Breaking the smaller rules is exhilarating. However, generally we abide, even with those that seem less sensible.

Image for post
Image for post
Computers can multitask with multiple cores, but humans only have one brain

Working on a Dream

Before delving into my personal experiences, it is important to reflect on the origins of Work In Progress. WIP is a fundamental principle of Kanban. The aim of the game is to match the velocity of developers to establish a consistent effort cadence.

Parallel Minds

Context switching may feel like we’re being more productive. We do have several engineers that will commonly work on two tasks at once. I understand the appeal. Humans do like variation in their tasks. Working on several items provides a level of satisfaction. Nevertheless, it has side effects.

Image for post
Image for post
Engineers working on concurrent tasks lead us to believe limits were required to prevent delivery delays

Take it to The Limit

It was becoming clear that key individuals were task thrashing. Subtasks were not being distributed among the team. This lack of distribution is partly a side effect of engineers wanting to own their own feature. It’s one of the key reasons we have struggled with feature toggle aversion in the past. Senior developers can fall into the trap of completing common tasks because they can complete it more rapidly than less enlightened colleagues.

Invisible Limits

Applying an upper bound to the development state on our board initially proved effective. The first week saw programmers progress work items through the states without breaching. Regardless, all good things must come to an end. Far from being a warning, after a while it became an everyday event. It seemed like for a significant period of time we were always infringing on our limit.

Image for post
Image for post
Like speed on a highway, development teams need to establish limits on work in progress

Lead software engineer with a strong interest in Agile, UX and Usability. Lover of cooking, tea, photography and gin!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store