I have been studying the Kanban documentation http://www.everydaykanban.com/what-is-kanban/ and I stumbled upon the "Limiting Work-in-Progress" practice.

It is said in this paragraph that "Limiting WIP is the cornerstone of Kanban", but I do not understand why.


4 Answers 4


Kanban originated in the manufacturing industry

In the manufacturing industry excess Work in Progress (WIP) has many disadvantages:

  • High inventory carrying costs
  • Risk of obsoletion
  • Risk of dead inventory when a different model is scheduled

In the Kanban system you keep only enough Finished Goods (FG) inventory to meet actual demand. Working backwards, at every stage of production you keep only enough WIP to meet what the next stage of production needs. This makes your entire manufacturing process entirely demand-driven.

IT has adapted this manufacturing process to minimize waste and maximize throughput.


Limiting work in progress is a cornerstone of Kanban because:

  • It helps to emphasise that Kanban is a 'pull' process
  • It is often a very effective way to improve the throughput of work for a team
  • It is simple and easy to implement
  • It combines well with another feature of Kanban: visualisation of a process using a Kanban board
  • 1
    I hope you don't mind me tacking on. I wrote my own answer but after reading yours more closely, I realize that I basically gave your answer. The only difference is I pointed out that Little's Law connects WIP, response time, and throughput.
    – Daniel
    Nov 29, 2019 at 14:58

Work in Progress is a critical part of Kanban because of Little's Law. You are welcome to read more about it, but the short version is it shows a direct relationship between throughput, response time, and work in progress. By limiting your work-in-progress and focusing on flow (and prioritizing getting things to done over getting started or keeping people optimally busy) actually increases throughput and value creation.


I believe the following quote is clear:

Limiting WIP is the cornerstone of Kanban. Limiting work-in-progress implies that a pull system is implemented. Put limits on columns in which work is being performed. The critical elements are that work-in-progress at each state in the workflow is limited and that new work is “pulled” into the next step when there is available capacity within the local WIP limit.

By limiting how much unfinished work is in process, you can reduce the time it takes an item to travel through the Kanban system. You can also avoid problems caused by task switching and reduce the need to constantly re-prioritize items.

In case you have a particular question here - let's discuss.

  • I see why it is important, but I don't quite get why that is the main thing. Why not any other practice or principle? Does neglecting this particular practice causes most problems?
    – Seeker001
    Nov 29, 2019 at 13:13
  • Can you drink water and sing your favorite song at the same time? (no) that's why focusing only on one action item in a moment is a huge booster.
    – Andrii H
    Nov 29, 2019 at 14:28

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