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On my team, we're starting to work with kanban and have column limits applied. One of our members will work frequently work in the evenings or at night and is expressing that the column limits prevent him from doing work as in the evenings all the slots are generally full.

We currently have a column limit of our number of team members - 1.

We have mandatory code review, and the review column will fill and can't be cleared without the testing team during normal working hours.

What are some strategies that can allow this person to be productive but don't make the column limits too loose?

  • Obviously, the coding is faster then the column that follows. How would you expect to solve this if the coder were there in daytime? They'd still hit the limit, won't they? – nvoigt Nov 20 '18 at 18:46
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    No, because during the daytime, tickets are constantly being moved forwards by the testing team and by our code reviews. However, the night coder is the only one working during that time, so the tickets get blocked up as he's unable to move things along without another person reviewing his code. – J. Krom Nov 20 '18 at 19:09
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It's all down to what you need.

Ask your team: why there's this code limit in place?

  • Potential Answer #1: Because we must not work on development if we have pending code reviews.
  • Potential Action #1: Your team must either work together to avoid leaving a lot pending code reviews or the night shift guy must be focused on code reviews. What works better for the team.

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  • Potential Answer #2: Because we read that the ideal number for a limit is .
  • Potential action #2: Increase the limit. These limits are there to HELP the team to deliver more value... not to slow the team down.

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  • Potential answer #3: I'm not sure to be honest, someone defined these limits.
  • Potential action #3: Ditto as #2. The WIP limit should help, not slow down. Don't apply agile-related approaches for the sake of applying them. Use them to address specific problems your team has.

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Bottomline: Discuss with your team and pick the best choice from a team perspective, focused on deliver value, not on adhering to agile methodology. Agile is a tool to a mean (deliver more value) not a purpose in itself.

  • What kind of metrics are good to consider when deciding on column limits? – J. Krom Nov 20 '18 at 19:35
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    Your mileage may vary - you have started with X. Double it. Compare productivity. Increase or decrease limits based on results. Rinse and repeat. Don't rely too much on formulas - every team has a specific structure and a unique pace - find the best limits for your team. That's the continuous improvement agile models empowers. – Tiago Cardoso Nov 20 '18 at 20:46
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Though not specified, I infer that you have one developer 'owning' each task.

You can fix this by changing that. Either:

A) The night-coder picks one of the in-progress issues and starts working on it. Make sure you're making good use of source control!

B) The day-coders pair up more on issues, leaving more available for the night-coder. Essentially, you have two different WIP limits: numMembers-2 for day-coders, numMembers-1 for the night-coder.

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When I read your question, my initial thought was you were working multiple shifts and that the same task was being worked upon by multiple people - some developer working during the day and some at night - sort of a disjointed paired-programming :)

But it looks like that's not the case. Each person is working on their own tasks - and they just happen to be working at different times.

If a person is working on a specific stage of your workflow - and has the capacity to work - but is unable to because of the WIP Limit on the column, clearly there is a mismatch between the WIP Limit for that column and the available capacity for that column.

The great Don Reinertsen has said in one of the Lean Kanban conferences that a recommended WIP Limit for teams new to Kanban can be twice the average amount of work being done at any time in a column (more about that here). So, I am not sure you have a high enough WIP Limit and this issue is an indicator of that.

How do you decide what WIP Limits to define? The following are some of the guidelines -

  1. Twice the average WIP as mentioned above as "prescribed" by Don Reinertsen.
  2. Keep a buffer for any blockers - cards that are blocked by team members due to their inability to continue working on them due to some dependency
  3. Number of tasks a team member is working on at a time and the time it takes for them to do any one task. For example, a dev team member will typically work with 1 task at a time, while a marketing team member might have 2-3 smaller tasks that they might be expected to complete in a day
  4. Unexpected tasks that need a person to put something on hold and work on the interrupt

A general thumb-rule I have seen most teams use is a WIP Limit of 1.5 times the number of people assigned to work in a specific column.

Ultimately, your WIP Limits must be defined based on your own context. If you have people waiting to take up work but can't due to a low WIP Limit, you have an over-capacity issue. If you have too many tasks in a column not being worked upon, you have a low capacity/ high demand or multi-tasking related stagnation of work (people not being able to complete any one task because they have too many balls in the air).

I'd say, start by increasing your WIP Limit to at least 1.25 times the # of people in and then see how the system behaves.

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