Lower WIP means reducing the number of things you’re working on at the same time. Doing so means:

  • Staying more focused
  • Finishing what you started before starting something new
  • Working on smaller batches (i.e. smaller tasks)

There are multiple advantages to lowering WIP:

  • Getting things released faster. Working on two 1-day tasks at the same time means that you’ll get them done in 2 days. Probably more, thanks to additional delays due to context switching. Working on them consecutively lets you finish the first task in one day, the second in 2 days. This is also known as reducing cycle time (the time it takes from starting a task to finishing it).
  • Not wasting time, by not abandoning tasks. Since you’re working on short tasks, and one at a time, changes in priorities means you can still finish what you were doing before starting something new, i.e. losing less times on things that you won’t finish. On the opposite, the longer a task takes, the higher the chance that it’s never gonna get completed.
  • Better priorities in your backlog. Since you don’t start something until it’s gonna get done, you can change the priorities of what’s next until it actually starts getting done. Since cycle time goes down, what’s next is probably gonna be worked on sooner (rather than having to wait for a large amount of work to be finished, or even adding to that amount). This gives better reactivity, and lets you prioritize based on actual expected Cost to Value ratio.
  • Simpler management. Since you have less stuff going on, it’s easier to understand what is currently being worked on. Communication with team members and other teams is simpler. It’s also harder to miss something sedimenting in a corner of a desk.
  • Increase Return on Investment. Since the task you’re working on is delivered faster, investment on this task (i.e. your team’s salaries + fixed charges) start making money out earlier, thus increasing ROI. Also, you stop loosing money by abandoning tasks, adding to it.
  • Increase stakeholder satisfaction. Since you can reprioritize with less impacts on the team, there is less friction and arguments on justifying the change. Also, reduced cycle-time means the super-duper-hyper urgent request that ends up on top of the backlog will probably get started being worked on soon, without exception to the normal process, increasing appreciation linked to the reactivity. Even for less urgent requests, delivering more often and faster tends to make people happy.
  • Increase your own satisfaction. Since you have less interruption, less friction, less arguments, less exceptions to the process, higher focus, it’s less hassle. Also, delivering often and faster tends to make you happy.

All that requires some discipline, but the gains are really worth it. More on that in this book