WIP Limits – The Science of Getting Things Done

This blog post is is second part of the series :  Why it makes perfect sense for Narendra Modi to use Kanban. If you came to this page directly, recommended to read part 1 first.

A survey done in 2003 on e-government initiatives in developing/transitional countries revealed that only 15 percent of e government projects can be termed as successful with 35 percent as total failures and 55 percent as partial failures*.

The classification of the outcome is as follows:
• Total failure: the initiative was never implemented or was implemented but immediately abandoned.
• Partial failure: major goals for the initiative were not attained and/or there were significant undesirable outcomes.
• Success: most stakeholder groups attained their major goals and did not experience significant undesirable outcomes.

These statistics are only related to e-governance projects, however I believe the story for other government programmes won’t be much different. Does this surprise any of us? Many reasons are attributed to such high failure rates, most of which have to do with a lack of direction and continued support by the responsible government department**.

Given the high number of central, state and district level initiatives that exist [to drill down on the initiatives visit here. Its a rabbit hole ], these statistics are not surprising at all. Its far easy to launch a new initiative than fixing the implementation of an existing one or taking it to its logical conclusion. Politically (not just for the politicians) as well it makes sense to launch new initiatives/programs as then you would get all the focus and the attention from media and other quarters. The end result of this is many initiatives are abandoned or at best – partially successful to their objectives – which the statistics clearly show.

Now some would arguhttps://i1.wp.com/c2.staticflickr.com/4/3740/9785738444_e272cccd8b_z.jpg?resize=446%2C297&ssl=1e, given the vast country that India is, its but practical to have such large number of projects in execution at any point of time. That’s fair. The system works in a set of constraints like budgetary and manpower allocations along with policy and priority changes to name a few. Not to even mention the political angle in many of these schemes/initiatives. So some would argue that let’s throw a wide net. Some of these would succeed and some would fail. However this has an associated cost in terms of not only financial implications but also missed opportunities and delayed services. This also causes the system to work at the limits of its capacity – stretching it on and on without slack.

How many of us have experienced a terrible traffic jam ? If you live in any of the big cities in India, the answer has to be yes. Studies show that when a route starts to operate at over 65% capacity, things begin to slow down. At 100% they stop. No rocket science. Pretty obvious stuff. The same is true for projects. When we try to exploit the system by running to its capacity, the end result is actually a slow down. Slack is needed for  flow to happen. Many of us have also driven on good highways like the Mumbai – Pune express-way. Does the traffic flow there? Definitely yes (well most of the times..)

Doing less at a time helps us do things more effectively eventually doing more overall. The Kanban principle of managing WIP (Work In Process) and operating at lower levels of WIP essentially is to help us get things done. Finishing is more important than starting.

The mantra is Stop Starting Start Finishing.

On the other extreme, there could be states/districts where there are very few initiatives going on. Finding the balance of “good” WIP (number of initiatives in execution at a given point of time) at of each the levels (district/state/centre)  is critical to ensuring an all round development across the country. WIP is a double edged sword. Too high a WIP and you are spreading your resources and focus thin, too low a WIP and you are losing out on opportunity. A “good” WIP ensures that you are focusing on the right things and resources are utilized in an optimal way. The definition of what is a good WIP will of course depend on the context, the resources at disposal and the priorities. You definitely cannot do everything at the same time.

Right now are we even looking at governance from these aspects?

Do we know whether the system is working at a “good” WIP or its skewed?

The priority of the new government has to be execution and getting things done. To be able to focus on execution more is to be aware of the WIP and operating at the optimum level.  A focused effort based on the principles of Kanban using WIP limits helps to deliver just that.

There is a lot more to Kanban WIP Limits than this basic introduction especially how they can be controlled to create a flow in the system. More about that in some future blog.



*. Why E Governance Projects Fail, SAI India

**. De’, R. (2006) “The Impact of E-Government Initiatives: Issues of Poverty and Vulnerability
Reduction“, in Regional Development Dialogue, Vol. 27, No. 2, Pp. 88-100. Autumn 2006.

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