When starting a team up with Kanban, one of the earliest questions is how to you set initial WIP limits. The simple rules we use are covered in this video.

Key points:

  • Whatever numbers you pick will be wrong anyway so don’t get stressed about picking the perfect number today. You will adjust and improve these numbers over time.
  • Ask the team what’s a normal number of items in each column. We don’t need to calculate anything.
  • Make it a tiny bit bigger than you think you need on the first day so we aren’t hitting the limits right away. We’ll tighten up those limits soon enough.
  • Do not set the limits such that we are immediately in violation of them. If we have five items in a column today, then the limit we set can’t be less than five.
  • Many teams tend to over-complicate this step of setting initial limits. Keep it simple and then improve.
  • Make sure you review and adjust these WIP limits again within the next few weeks. You will have learned new things about how work flows across the board by then.