If the next stage (list) in a Kanban is full (at it's Work In Progress (WIP) limit) then it seems you should/can not move the finished card to that List. Only solution I see is to split each list into Doing and Done.

One subtle issue with Kanban is that if you have 3 stages/lists, such as:

  • Spec
  • Design
  • Implement

...And Design list is "full" (at the Work In Progress limit) then if you finish a Card in Spec, you can't add it to Design (b/c it's full). But if you leave it in Spec, you don't know it's done. (The List it's in communicates it's status).

So it seems that you need to split each List into:

  • Doing
  • Done


  • Spec Doing
  • Spec Done
  • etc, etc.

Hopefull, the Done doesn't normally have a lot in it.

Or, do you move the card anyway, ignore the WIP limit (for the time being) but then remember that you should not add any more work to the input of this board (which kinda defeats the purpose of the Kanban WIP limits). The won't be communicated "upstream".

FYI, I am using Trello for my Kanban wbboard.

  • 1
    Doing/Done sub-columns are a common practice, but the WIP limits apply to the parent column as a whole. So, if I have a WIP limit of 6 for review, and I have 3 reviews active and 3 reviews done, I cannot start a new review until one of the "done" ones moves to the next stage of the process.
    – RubberDuck
    May 20, 2016 at 15:15
  • 1
    You can add a "Ready for <X>" column as an extra column in pull queues, but what are you trying to communicate or optimize for? If it doesn't improve your flow rates or cycle times, what are you really trying to do? The only real benefit is generally to mark something as queued for the next stage so it can be visually differentiated and easily pulled, but you could do that with labels or colored stickers, too.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Jun 8, 2016 at 1:55

3 Answers 3


The idea behind WIP limits is that they are an indication that the team needs to act.

For example, if the design column is full, the team's main focus is to empty it. Just queueing work up in a 'done' column defeats the object of setting WIP limits.

Kanban is all about maximising the flow of work by recognising bottlenecks and reducing them. Typically the team will measure the time it takes task to be completed. Then they will adjust the WIP limits to try and minimise that value.


"Doing" and "Done" columns can be useful and might address the issue in the short term, but be cautious. You should be optimizing for end-to-end flow, not for "maximum productivity" of any particular column.

What I mean is, completing more 'Spec' work and queuing it up for the 'Design' team isn't going to help you deliver completed features any faster. A story can't go to 'Implement' phase until 'Design' is done. If 'Design' needs 2 days for each story then they need 2 days. Stacking up work feels "efficient" but it isn't "effective".

Instead, look at ways to relieve the 'Design' bottleneck. Do you have anyone that can step in and help them? If this is an ongoing issue can you help them recruit or outsource to increase their productivity?


First thing to know ist, that higher WIP means longer cycle times, and vice versa (Little’s Law).

Reducing WIP shortens Lead Time. Shorter Lead Times mean it is possible to release working code more often. More frequent releases build trust with external teams.

So it depends what you want and your question is a question of definition

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