Exercise to show the importance of WIP?


Does anyone have any good exercises that demonstrate how important adhering to a WIP limit is? Games, etc.? I could’ve sworn I’ve seen something posted here and I could really use it…I’m Scrum Mastering a team and they’re really coming along however they haven’t grasped the idea of WIP (i.e.-they want each developer to have their own feature). Any help would be greatly appreciated!


I have an idea. Use Jenga blocks.
So have a number of towers (one between two people).
The pairs must deconstruct the towers by first removing all the centre blocks. Then working from the top.

Iteration 1
No wip forced maximum throughput. Both pairs must remove their blocks with both hands at the same time. If the tower crumbles they need to rebuild and start again. This should be hilarious; give them a time box in failure. Look at the results and ask reflections.

Iteration 2
Some wip. Both partners work simultaneous but must remove blocks together (we are after speed). Should be still workable, but frustrating. Reflect

Iteration 3
Wip of 1. Each partner works in turns removing one brick at a time. The other partner can assist by stabilising the stack. (Which is what can happen when you have built in slack) They should crush the time box. Reflection: by actively limiting wip they went faster.

This is a thought exercise written at 5 in the morning as I can’t sleep. Hopefully that makes sense. I’ve never tried it, just attacking the problem from a different angle


I love the getKanban game (https://getkanban.com/) for demonstrating lean concepts like managing WIP and addressing bottlenecks. I’ve found it to be way more effective at demonstrating these concepts than other games I’ve played in the past - people seem to remember most of what they learn and apply it on their projects. It’s a bit pricey, but absolutely worth it. The richest learning happens when you can get 3 or more games going at the same time.

Another (free!) idea is Senge’s Beer Game: http://www.beergame.org/. It’s a fantastic supply chain simulation that shows how a CAS (complex adaptive system) operates. Great for conversations about how seemingly good choices can have unanticipated effects when we’re not aware of the system we’re operating in, how feedback loops work, and for reinforcing Agile concepts like adapting and responding to change.


I’m a big fan of getKanban as well (and I’ve got four sets so let me know if you want to go that route!).

I’ve done a homemade/15 minute version of an assembly line using legos. How many cars can we build in five minutes? I bought mini car sets at Target and cut the directions up so there were only six steps. I sort the parts for each step into cups ahead of time.
The first one or two steps are super easy (frame, wheels, etc) but the later ones are small parts and there lots of them (headlights, steering wheel, etc).

I typically have them doing this in front of a larger who is watching and can give feedback at the end. 99% of the time the groups at the front of the line finish quickly with their steps and watch their teammates scramble to catch up. I’ve had ONE group ever where someone went down the line to help. They rarely get any cars all the way to done.

After we talk about how we created a backlog of work for the folks that they couldn’t keep up with, and how that stressed them out. We compare this to dev and test and talk through the cost of finding a defect with a lot of work in progress. We redo the exercise where each person has an index card to signal that they have capacity to take the next car but the person before cant start on the next one until the person down stream takes it (so essentially everyone has a WIP of 1).

I did these at quarterly employee on boarding sessions as a quick way to explain the concepts but if you’ve got four hours I’d pick the getKanban game first :slight_smile:


There’s an online modified version of GetKanban - GetScrumban (http://www.getscrumban.com/) - I haven’t played the 2 games back-to-back but there’s strong overlap. Being online, it’d be easier to play with a distributed team.

One of the classics to demonstrate the value of WIP is the penny flip game (http://tastycupcakes.org/2013/05/the-penny-game/).

And what better showcases the pitfalls of not limiting WIP than this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI


I found a game that was fun and worked well for my team was creating paper houses as a team. You basically have a series of steps you need to take to complete the paper house and have a quality check at the end. What the team found after a few iterations is that even if you could cut out many houses in the beginning taping/glueing them together with quality took a while and you had unfinished products sitting there when the time was up. The key is to make sure everyone is working toward finished products rather than just taking care of their “Station”. A key to the exercise was the have a quality control at the end so that you could make sure people were taking the time in the process to make it right.

Challenge to see how many houses can be completely in 5 mins and pass quality control.
Step 1 - Cut the Paper House Outline from the sheet of paper
Step 2 - Fold the House
Step 3 - Glue/ Tape the house together (This could be broken into multiple steps)
Step 4 - Quality Control

Iteration 1:
You have each person at one station and find a bottleneck of folded houses waiting to be glued and taped.

Iteration 2:
You allow them to move around between stations. Usually you see a few more created. It can be fun at this step to be very harsh on the quality of the house to really get the team to take the time needed to make the house right.

Iteration 3:
Give tips of how to make the quality house and let them go again. Usually after doing this 3 times they are really seeing how making a paper house is similar to development and how we need to help each other throughout the process to be successful as a team and that adding more houses into the mix before you get some down only slows everyone down.

Hope this helps and let me know if you try it. :slight_smile:


I like simple.


This isn’t specifically “about WIP,” rather about flow in a work system… but WIP is an attribute of the conversation. You should be able to show it’s importance, plus explore other concepts about flow, too.

Will simple work?


@JayHorsecow here are some WIP related games:


Henrick Kniberg’s “How Long Does it Take To Write a Name?” game. (also called the Multi-tasking name game). He has shared it online here: https://blog.crisp.se/2011/12/07/henrikkniberg/multitasking-name-game

It’s brilliant.

  • 1 on Henrick Kniberg’s “How Long Does it Take To Write a Name?” game.
    A very powerful execise


I’d say an absolute staple of most trainers’ toolboxes