Management of WIP.

WIP is Work In Progress.

Managing WIP is perhaps one of the most important responsibilities of anyone that is managing projects.

This diagram, shows exactly why this is important:


And this makes quite a lot of sense. Getting one thing to 100% is better than having 10 things at 10%. This is often because the value of anything is only apparent at the end. If we take the problem of managing a software team, the feature is only adding value once it is shipped and end users can use it. The same as building a house: it only produces value once it is ready for someone to live in it!

Will Larson, in his book An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management has a beautiful diagram that showcases precisely this.

You can spread investment on various projects:

Or you can have concentrated effort on one, or at least a smaller number, of projects at a time:

But it is this sentence that is interesting to me: Returns across all projects is higher at all times.

So we sacrifice that some projects will take longer to finish (and may never start at all!) against the fact that other projects will be completed earlier.

But this is actually a drastic simplification, because often projects are interrelated, and so it is worth noting that each time we get something truly done, then we can look at everything else that we have to do and reevaluate it based on the lessons learned.

So I think one lesson to glean from all this is that it is better to have a strict set of priorities based on impact, and then work on those. After all, if at all times we are working on the highest impact items, then by definition we are doing the best possible to manage the work in progress.

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