Ship Building – A workshop for the WIP curious


In the 2017 Agile in the City: Bristol I worked with Will Jacobs, a fellow Scrum master at NewVoiceMedia, to run a workshop. This blog post is to collate and distribute the notes so that you can run it yourself.

About this Workshop

The ideal audience for this workshop will have some experience with kanban, and be curious or skeptical about the relevance of WIP limits and slack time.

In the workshop, the audience will actively participate in a flow system running under two sets of processing policies, and draw conclusions from what they experience. The idea is that slack time and WIP can vary under the different policies, even though throughput remains the same.

The facilitator then guides the conversation towards several key topics, asking the participants to think about several “what if” scenarios.

The workshop takes the following format.

The group is formed into a production line consisting of one person per workstation (for more than 10 people, two groups will be formed). Two experiments will be run, in which the groups will work as part of a production line.

In the first experiment, the groups work under a push-based flow policy, meaning that work is pushed into the system as quickly as possible, and there are no limits to the number of items in the system. In the second experiment, we will apply a WIP-limited, pull-based flow policy where work can only move through the system when there is capacity. For both experiments, we will gather metrics such as WIP, throughput, and lead time.

We will then review the output from the experiments. This is an opportunity to examine:

  • Flow of work – what is a flow system?
  • Different policies
    • Push vs pull
    • Unlimited vs WIP-controlled
    • Stable vs unstable systems
    • Effort in both cases
      • Slack time
    • Throughput in both cases
      • Bottlenecks and the Theory of Constraints
    • Value delivered in both cases
      • How is this defined (no $$$ until the product ships!)
    • Lead time
  • Little’s law
  • Systems thinking


The below PDF contains the full instructor note and resources needed.

Ship Building – A workshop for the WIP curious-v7

Any question of feedback is very welcome.


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