Work in Process - WIP

What is 'Work In Process - WIP'

Work in process, also known as WIP, refers to activities that have entered the completion process but are not yet outcomes. Work in progress (WIP) refers to all materials and partly finished products that are at various stages of the production process. WIP excludes inventory of time or materials at the start of the completion cycle and finished products inventory at the end of the production cycle.  That means you don't count the things you have not started or have not finished.

Work in Process vs Progress

I see the difference between process and progress as being very small but I want to make a distinction.  I see progress being anchored to physical goods at different stages of completeness on an assembly line and process being completion of any activity as part of a goal or outcome.  Your process could be as simple as To-do and Done.  If you are multi-tasking and have 5 things started all at the same time, you have a WIP of 5.

Personal Agility Tip

One of the secrets of managing your work in process is to only start work on things you actually have capacity to work on. When you have capacity, you can pull work into your "queue". Rather than accepting and starting every task that comes your way, limit the amount of stuff that you’re working on at any given time.  Focus less on starting things in your queue and more on finishing them, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll get more done.

Personally, I know that I can only deal with three activities at a time before things start to get dropped. Know your personal limits and set them accordingly. If you’re working on something and you get blocked, don’t just pull in more work. Add a visual indicator that shows the item is blocked and continue pulling working to done. Once you unblock work, you can pull it the rest of the way through your system to done.

Have questions?  Ask me how I do it!

My Personal Kanban submission for Agile 2014


I am happy to announce I submitted a workshop titled  "At home and work, how to get more stuff done. An introduction to Personal Kanban".  After asking people to provide comments, I was informed that the submission wasn't viewable. It looks like you need to be logged in. Go figure.

Submitted: Tue, 2014-01-14 01:40 Updated: Tue, 2014-01-14 01:43
Presenter: Derek Huether
Track: Learning Session Type: Workshop Audience Level: Learning
Room Setup: Rounds Duration: 75 minutes
Keywords: Learning, Process, kanban, flow, personal, WIP, Personal_Agility, process improvement


With a world of constant distraction, it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to get stuff done, regardless if it’s on a personal or organizational level. At some point, we’ve been sold the lie that multitasking is great and maximum utilization is even better. If we all drank the Kool-Aid, why are we doing more and getting less done? If there were a relatively simple way for you to get more stuff done, wouldn’t you want to know what it was? If there were a way for you to measure and improve your processes over time, wouldn’t you want to know how to do that as well? When getting stuff done is a primary measure for success, we need to introduce people to concepts that are simple but can be leveraged at scale.

In this session, participants will be introduced to the principles of Lean and the application of Kanban to visualize their personal work, limit distraction and waste, and get stuff done. I’ll cover the core concepts outlined in Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry's book, Personal Kanban, to get you started. I’ll talk about how Kanban can be applied to everyday work and why you should do it.

Through my years of struggling with ADD/ADHD and my years of management, leadership, and coaching, I have learned and applied Personal Kanban techniques in my everyday life and Lean Kanban at both government and private organizations. This is your opportunity to experience what I am like after a few cups of coffee and for you to learn a few simple strategies that you can start using before you even leave Agile 2014. This workshop can help you map your work and navigate your life.

Information for Review Team:

My first blog post about my Personal Kanban story happened in August of 2009. Since that time, I have evangelized the use of Personal Kanban for people who had tried everything from To-Do lists to Franklin Covey Planners to GTD, with little or no success. It gives me a profound amount of joy sharing this information to people ranging from parents who struggle to get their kids to bed to CEOs trying to make sense of a portfolio backlog. This workshop will begin with me telling me story and my challenges of staying focused and getting stuff done. It will conclude with people realizing how easy it is to grasp the basic concepts behind Personal Kanban, benefit from them, and then tell others.


Each table will have 3 sheets of 25 x 30" easel pad paper with pre-designed Kanban boards, a stack of index cards with different (effort) activities listed and predetermined values. (Writing what teams will be asked to do would spoil the surprise but I promise we’ll have some fun) I will explain to everyone how a Personal Kanban works. Each 10-minute practice session is designed to bring to light the daily struggles we may have in completing our work. After each session I will ask how the room would approach their work differently. The expectation is that more work will get done during practice session two and then even more during practice session three, based on what the attendees will learn in the previous sessions and improving their processes.


• Introduction and Overview [10 minutes] • Core Concepts [10 minutes] [20 minutes elapsed] What is the history of Kanban? What’s the difference between Kanban and Personal Kanban, what makes up a Kanban board, how do we design a Personal Kanban board, what is WIP, what is flow? • Practice [10 minutes] [30 minutes elapsed] Round 1 / Our first board • Retrospective [5 minutes] [35 minutes elapsed] What worked and what didn’t? • Practice [10 minutes] [45 minutes elapsed] Round 2 / Our second board design • Retrospective [5 minutes] [50 minutes elapsed] What worked and what didn’t? • Practice [10 minutes] [60 minutes elapsed] Round 3 / Our third board design • Retrospective [5 minutes] [65 minutes elapsed] What worked and what didn’t? • Conclusion and Questions [10 minutes] [75 minutes elapsed] What did you learn? What were you surprised by? What other questions do you have?

Background Info:

• I have been successfully leveraging Kanban on an organizational level since 2008 and evangelizing Personal Kanban since August 2009. • Jim and Tonniane’s book, which provides the basis of this session, is widely available. Here is a slide deck on the basics of Personal Kanban: http://www.slideshare.net/ourfounder/personal-kanban-101

Prerequisite Knowledge:


Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand key definitions and terms of Lean and Kanban
  • Understand how to apply Kanban to your personal and professional life
  • Understand how you can measure and improve your processes

Presentation History:

I have been presenting since 2011, when I appeared at the Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference. I’ve since been a guest at the Work Management Summit in 2011, and then presented at AgileDC in 2011, and 5 Project Management Institute events, including the Project Management Symposium 2012 (Washington DC), PMI Global Congress 2012, PMI Puerto Rico Simposio Anual 2012, Project Management Symposium 2013 (Washington DC), and most recently PMI SoMD Chapter 2013.

A few of my public sessions are available on Slideshare


Looking for Lean in Inefficient Processes

first-class forever stampThis morning, I wrote a physical check and placed it into a physical envelope. I hand-wrote the addresses on the envelope and even put a physical stamp on it.  I will mail it, when I take my semiweekly trip to the mailbox.  This is the first time I can remember doing this in a few years.  The party recieving my payment is forcing me to follow this inefficient business process of mailing a physical payment to them.  All I can think is how this used to be the norm and now how ridiculously inefficient it appears. When objectively judging the efficiency of this process, I started by first measuring two things, the Work-in-Process (WIP) and the Average Completion Rate (ACR).

Little's Law

This law provides an equation for relating Lead Time, Work-in-Process (WIP) and Average Completion Rate (ACR) to any process. The law states: Lead Time = WIP (units) / ACR (units per time period).  The idea is to have the lowest lead time as possible.  Lower lead times means less waste.

Am I the only geek out there who does this?  Where do you see inefficient processes that could benefit from a more lean approach?



Theme Park Pull System

Roller Coaster LineIf you've been to a theme park like Disney World's Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, you will quickly notice the lines.  Depending on the time of year (or day) the line to a ride or attraction could be anywhere from nonexistent to 90+ minutes long.  As you approach an entrance, you'll see a line marked on the grounds and a sign that reads "N minutes from this point". You want the sign to read 5 minutes.  That's the time it takes, with no wait line, to get to the actual attraction.  What you don't see from the line on the ground is the maze of lines snaking their way through the building.  If the volume of people is low, everything except the direct line to the attraction is roped off.  The more the people, the more "side" lines are open.  The line outside the attractions are deceasing.  The real delays start after you cross that line marked on the ground and are committed. I noticed that attractions usually lasted less than 5 minutes and people were divided into groups, just prior to onboarding some kind of transportation.  The transportation ran at a consistent rate of speed.  All these factors included, Disney World has to know the maximum throughput of a ride, before the line starts to back up. Why do you ask?  Well, to keep the customer happy by keeping them moving, of course.

When I saw all of this happening, I thought it was an excellent example of a pull system.  We went on a ride called "Star Tours".  The vehicle capacity was 40 people and the ride duration was 4:30 minutes.  We noticed the sign said 90 minutes from this point.  Can you imagine doing that with a 5-year-old?

Star Tours Capacity=40 people per load Lead Time=90:00 minutes Actual Duration=4:30 minutes

So, what does Disney do to help resolve the issue?  They call it the Fast Pass.  Yes, the golden ticket.  When you see the line at its worst, go up to a kiosk and get a Fast Pass.  It will tell you to return to the ride at a designated time.  In exchange for doing that, it will allow you to go to the head of the line, when that time comes.  I am assuming they are having you return at a predicted time of day in which the line will be shorter.  Regardless, it eliminated the bottleneck for us.  Whenever we saw a hellish line, we got a Fast Pass and came back later in the day.

To prevent the Fast Pass people from completely stopping the line, it appeared a certain percentage of seats per load were allocated for Fast Pass ticket holders.

I think this Fast Pass option may also work with non-theme park customers.  Let's say you are working on an application development project.  After you have an optimum cycle time, if you reserve a little capacity, you could potentially negotiate with a stakeholder to postpone an activity to a date or time in which you know the workload will be less.  I'm not saying you are postponing adding the work to your backlog.  It's still there.  But, you could agree to make it a lower priority until more of the backlog gets completed.  This could keep the rest of the work moving at an optimum pace and keep the customer happy.

Drawing by Pictofigo

I Got a Feeling

I was sitting at my desk when this song by the Black Eyed Peas called "I got a feeling" came on Pandora.  My son rushed over yelling to turn it up. I attribute turning up the volume to the resulting earworm that has lasted the last few days.  There could be worse things in the world.  Each time I hear it, I think of the flash mob that danced in Chicago for Oprah.  It amazes me how so many (strangers) came together to create something that brings a smile to my face every time I see the video. As I was preparing for day zero for LitheSpeed (I don't officially start until tomorrow), I found myself singing the song and thinking about "the feeling".   After taking a week off, I was able to break the cycle that had me feeling a bit numb for so long.  Just a few weeks ago, I felt like I was trying to keep control of an uncontrollable situation.  That can become exhausting.  But today I felt completely different.  This morning I felt excited about what I was about to do.  I felt an entrepreneurial drive I haven't felt for a long time.  It's that feeling when you play offense not defense.

Tomorrow is day one.  I have my Kanban loaded.  I have my WIP limited.  I got a feelin' tomorrow is gonna be a good day.  Let's do it.