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Jim Benson

Lean

Dealing With Cans of Worms

Limiting work in progress allows you to handle surprises in the workload

Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 - 15:20

We are all cursed with “surprises” at work. We come in, sit down, get ready for the day. We select a task to start on, and about halfway through, it explodes on us. The seemingly simple task now has 30 subtasks all lined up, ready to destroy our day.

This is stressful. Since we’re likely already overloaded, this new surprise just adds more work to the day and delay to our backlog.

However, if we’ve limited our work in progress (WIP), we look at these “cans of worms” a little differently. They still might be annoying, but they aren’t quite so stressful. We understand that, like it or not, the amount of work necessary to get this task done has increased, and we can adjust. The slack we’ve created in our schedule and our work by limiting WIP allows us to adjust gracefully (it’s still OK to gripe) and plow through the extra work.

First published April 18, 2016, on the Personal Kanban blog.

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About The Author

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Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.