Electronic Kanban Tools and WIP Limits: LeanKitKanban and AgileZen Get It!

Most of the electronic Kanban boards that exist simply don’t understand what WIP limits are really about. They all seem to go down the path of forcing any step (column) in the process to have a maximum limit that is very hard and fast. They set it up so that you cannot add any more items to the step than the limit allows. But the truth about WIP limits is that they are not supposed to be hard and fast, mechanical limits. Putting in a hard limit like this is a great way to destroy the productivity of a team and usefulness of a tool when the team finds themselves in a crunch, in a situation with additional resources and needs, or any of a number of other circumstances.

I know I haven’t been vocal about this online, but it’s something I’ve been complaining about to my coworkers and friends for a while. It bugs me and is one of the major reasons that I’ve stayed away from the major (free) players in the electronic Kanban realm, other than trials and basic testing of the systems.

But then I got an email from Chris Hefley this morning, about some new features in LeanKitKanban. When I logged in to check them out, I was surprised to see this happen when I tried to exceed a column limit:


I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this! Finally, one of the tools vendors in this space is really starting to get it! For this, and a few other reasons that I don’t want to talk about yet, LeanKitKanban is now officially my favorite electronic Kanban / task board around. If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend that you check them out.

Do any other electronic Kanban boards are heading down this same path and allowing for limit overrides? If your current tool doesn’t support this, it should.

Update: Looks like AgileZen is getting this feature in the next release (see Nate’s comments below). that’s great news! I’ve been impressed by this tool as well. the support for soft WIP limits in multiple tools is starting to show some real competition and innovation in the market space. that’s good news for everyone!

About Derick Bailey

Derick Bailey is an entrepreneur, problem solver (and creator? :P ), software developer, screecaster, writer, blogger, speaker and technology leader in central Texas (north of Austin). He runs SignalLeaf.com - the amazingly awesome podcast audio hosting service that everyone should be using, and WatchMeCode.net where he throws down the JavaScript gauntlets to get you up to speed. He has been a professional software developer since the late 90's, and has been writing code since the late 80's. Find me on twitter: @derickbailey, @mutedsolutions, @backbonejsclass Find me on the web: SignalLeaf, WatchMeCode, Kendo UI blog, MarionetteJS, My Github profile, On Google+.
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  • We actually identified this problem with Zen also, and have altered the way it works for the next release (due within the next week or so). Value trumps process, and making WIP limits hard was a bad idea on my part.

    By the way, if you have ideas for other ways we can improve Zen, please by all means let us know. We’d love your feedback — don’t keep it just between your coworkers and friends, let us know!

  • @nate

    great! i had checked my zen account to see if i you had this, before posting. glad to see that it’s making it into the next version!

    one area that need improvement from pretty much every vendor, still, is work breakdown / rollup.

    my customers and executives don’t care about stories – they care about features being released. i really want to see a high level feature-board that is traced down into a story board, with individual tasks attached to stories.

    i’ve got a half written article on this, and really need to finish it and get it posted…

  • I think versionone has that too.

  • Thanks for the encouragement, Derick. We’re really trying hard to be “tuned in” to the Kanban community. If anyone wants to deliver feedback to us directly, please check out our feedback forum at http://leankittools.uservoice.com.

    And if you’ve seen LeanKit Kanban in the past, but haven’t checked us out lately, please do stop by again. We just deployed a whole raft of new features, including sublanes, queue types, static card urls, card distribution graphs, and more.

  • TargetProcess in Kanban process workflow configuration also allows to exceeded defined limits afaik. It just highlights the column if WIP limit is exceeded.

  • Silver Catalyst has had this feature since July :)

    Here is an explanation : http://www.silverstripesoftware.com/blog/archives/161

  • @Filip Kinsky

    Yes, exactly.
    I don’t think it is a good idea to always show such popup when people drag stories around and exceed the limit. Who cares of the reason? Simple highlight is enough.

  • so. yeah… looks like i’m a little out of touch on the current toolsets. :)

  • KanbanExpert

    I found something called Kanban Tool at http://www.kanbanTool.com and I heard that it is going to be much better than this tool in project management.

  • Mike

    hey! lately I found a new PM tool online http://kanbantool.com -pretty nice at first glance and more lightweight than the other similar tools. I need to give a try :)

  • Ddd

    I briefly read your blog, to me the limit should be fixed until the next stand-up. What, I have experienced is that if you hit “crunch-time” and are behind, then you need to be asking yourself why are we always in this situation? Increase in resources? – what happened to dedicated teams? (Again, why do you need to be expanding and contracting)

    While I agree that nothing is cast in stone, if you have to constantly adjust WIP then your team needs to address the root cause of the SDLC system and not just increase or decrease WIP.