Learning: Why Limit Your WIP X

Jim BensonExpert, Primers1 Comment

In “Creating an Economy” we discussed four elements we needed to understand to build our economy. The third was that knowledge work involves learning.

Knowledge workers need to learn – they learn by doing, by observing, by experimenting, by reading, and by adjusting.

Doing – We learn best by directly experiencing. If I have a four hour powerpoint presentation about how to play Super Mario Brothers, you will understand that my little pixelated guy can jump on things, that sometimes he’s big and sometimes he’s small, and that there are coins around. But you would learn much more simply playing the game. Knowledge workers learn a considerable amount just by starting and beginning to work on a project. Through doing we understand the coherence of our work

Observing – There is much in the average project to observe. Some tasks are easy, others more difficult. Some things we are expecting to work well, do not. There are personal conflicts. Through interested observation, we become aware.

Experimentation – In our doing and our observations we note discrepancies between the way things are and potential, more ideal, ways they could be. We build hypotheses about why these are. We experiment to see if our hypotheses are correct. If they are not, then we learn and try again. If they are, we learn, we are happy, and move on to the next thing to fix.

Reading – Or watching a lecture. But when we are aware – we have a better idea of where the gaps in our knowledge are. We can engage in directed learning because we know, rather than just learn because of current management fads or because someone orders us to. In this case, reading or classes augment our observations and experiments.

Adjusting – Learning is humbling. It makes us reassess our current processes and replace them with other ones. Sometimes learning comes with epiphanies. Sometimes adjustments are minor.

Limiting WIP and Learning: The Onset of Agency

Limiting WIP gives us the flow and coherence we’ve discussed throughout this series. It is not a panacea, but it is an extremely powerful tool. Consider is a pre-requisite more than a cure-all. If you, your team, or your company is not limiting work-in-progress, then they are likely distracted, overburdened, and unlikely to innovate.

Limiting WIP is not going to instantly and magically create a magic workforce. Anyone making claims that any out-of-the-box process will instantly result in hyper-productivity is a snake oil salesman.

What limiting WIP will do, however, is promote the growth of something called agency.

When Eldred began to see himself setting policy by starting working groups, when he became comfortable with the thought of completion, he was gaining agency.

The trick here was that none of the project managers could truly provide Eldred agency. They also didn’t have the authority. Only Markus Blume could truly give the people in the company the ability to act on their ideas. He had to set policies and expectations that would both support that decision making and not hinder it.

Limiting work-in-progress was vital in this effort because overloaded people simply don’t have the understanding necessary to make thoughtful change. To be sure, overloaded people can come up with endless suggestions for change – but it’s unlikely to be thoughtful. It’s more likely to be reactive to their overload.


This is post 10 in a 10 part series on Why Limit Your WIP. See the index for all 10.

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Jim BensonLearning: Why Limit Your WIP X

One Comment on ““Learning: Why Limit Your WIP X”

  1. Pingback: Communication: Why Limit WIP IX | Personal Kanban

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