What is WIP?

Updated: May 18

WIP is an acronym for work in progress. So, the WIP flow metric measures the total number of work items that have been started – but not yet finished – at any given point in time. WIP is one of four key flow metrics along with Cycle Time, Throughput, and Work Item Age.

These flow metrics are interconnected – meaning, when one of these flow metrics changes significantly, you’ll see an impact on one or more of the others. Most of us have experienced this reality: the more you have in progress, the longer it takes to get each thing done. It makes sense. If we put all of our effort in to one thing, that one thing will be finished faster than it would if we spread our time across multiple items. For more on this relationship, read about Little’s Law.

The amazing news is that this makes WIP a leading indicator of future Cycle Time and it means that controlling your WIP can be a tool in your journey to help you deliver quickly and predictably.

Calculating WIP

To begin calculating WIP, you need to have a defined process with two specific points identified:

  1. Your Start Line – or the point in your process in which items are considered started

  2. Your Finish Line – or the point in your process in which items are considered complete

A defined process with clear start and finish points

A defined process with clear start and finish points

In the image above, work is considered started when it enters the In Progress column on the board. It is considered finished when it enters the Done column on the board.

When you have those points defined, WIP is calculated as a simple count of work items between those two points.

A count of cards between the two points tells us that current WIP is 5

In the example above, we show a current WIP level of five (5).

WIP charts in ActionableAgile

Once you know how to measure WIP, you will want to start analyzing the data. There are three charts in ActionableAgile that provide insights into current and past WIP levels.

WIP Run Chart

The first is the WIP Run Chart. This chart shows your daily WIP over time. By seeing how your WIP levels change, you can get early signals of likely changes in Cycle Time and Throughput.

WIP Run Chart in ActionableAgile

WIP Run Chart in ActionableAgile Analytics

Aging Work in Progress

Another chart where WIP is easily seen is the Aging Work in Progress chart. This chart allows you to analyze your WIP from any given calendar day in greater detail. At a glance you can see where each work item is in the process as well as its Work Item Age. Want to get more detail on any given item? Just click on the dot!

Aging Work-In-Progress Chart in ActionableAgile Analytics

Cumulative Flow Diagram

The final chart that provides insight into WIP within ActionableAgile is the Cumulative Flow Diagram. This chart provides a visualization of Little’s Law in that you can see the interplay between WIP, Approximate Average Cycle Time, and Average Throughput.

The height of the color bands in the CFD show you an actual count of items in each workflow stage on any given day. You can use the chart’s WIP Tooltips control to show WIP by stage, or collectively as a system, as your cursor moves through the timeline. By looking at the thickness of the color band(s) over time, you can see how WIP changes and the correlating change in Approximate Average Cycle Time and Average Throughput.

Cumulative Flow Diagram in ActionableAgile Analytics

Getting Started

We recommend tracking WIP and the other key flow metrics from the start. All it takes it writing down your WIP at a consistent point in time each day. Comparing your WIP trends with that of the other key flow metrics will provide insight into the WIP limits you might want to experiment with for your process. As your experiment goes on, see what impact the WIP limit change had on your Cycle Time and Throughput. Repeat this process until you get a result that you’re pleased with!

If you’re looking for a tool to help you track your flow metrics and improve your process, try out ActionableAgile for free. Don’t forget to reach out if you’re interested in joining our customer success program!


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