Ever Wish You Could Put a Cap on Tasks? Now You Can.

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MeisterTask is taking another step towards making work manageable. You can now limit the number of tasks in a section — commonly referred to as setting a WIP limit. If you’re wondering what this is all about and what a difference it can make to your workflow, keep reading. 

Why Limit Tasks?

Limiting the number of tasks within a stage of your workflow is a concept known in Kanban as setting WIP (work in progress) limits. As MeisterTask project boards follow a Kanban-style workflow, we’re happy to be adding this feature. 

Setting a limit on tasks-in-progress may sound counterintuitive — isn’t the whole idea to do more work not less? Yes, but limiting tasks-in-progress doesn’t mean limiting the amount of work you have overall. It is simply a decision to do more focused work, ensuring that tasks are actually moved forward and completed. 

But do you have to be neck-deep in Kanban and agile manifestos to profit from the concept? No, MeisterTaskers, this is beneficial for everyone. And to prove it, here’s a quick summary of why you might want to start limiting your tasks. 

One Thing at a Time

A phrase frequently used in agile circles is, “Stop starting, start finishing.” What is meant by this, is that we often begin working on new tasks without ever making sure that we’ve finished our existing ones. One way to concretely tackle this issue is to simply stop accepting new work. When you do this, you are reducing your tasks-in-progress to only a few select things, and are therefore obliged to finish them, one by one, before moving on to anything new. 

Limiting the number of tasks allowed in your In Progress section is a clear, visual way to stop accepting new work. Whether it’s your colleagues who seem to keep assigning you new tasks, or your own can-do attitude that has led to more work than you can handle, seeing an actual number being exceeded on your project board may change the pattern. 

This doesn’t only apply to you, but to your whole team. Once individual workloads have been discovered, a team capacity can also be calculated and optimized. For managers, this might lead to the highly sought after perfect management of your human resources fellow humans. 

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Decisions, Decisions

Limiting the number of tasks also forces quick prioritization decisions. If only five tasks are allowed in the In Progress section, they should probably be the most important or urgently needed ones! Alternatively, if you have your project board set up so that each type of specialist has their own section — for example, design, development, testing — this forces each group of specialists to constantly discuss priorities. If development finishes five tasks in a day but there is only room for one to move on to the testing section, a decision has to be made. Which finished task from development most urgently needs to be tested?

As soon as those priorities have been figured out, everyone can get down to business and truly focus. The fewer the tasks to work on, the more intently they can be undertaken. The modern worker is so used to constantly switching between tasks, that (s)he is asked in practically every interview if (s)he is a good multitasker. Well, setting WIP limits is a powerful weapon against incessant context switching

Eyes on the Prize

With every member of the team focusing on just a few things, a new pace may emerge. This pace-setting created by limiting ongoing work, should, in theory, increase the efficiency of the workflow, and therefore also the productivity of the team. Hiccups will appear. Predicting the right limit for each section is usually some combination of calculation, educated guessing, and trial-and-error. 

But, do not fear the hiccups! They are merely bottlenecks in your workflow waiting to be recognized and rectified. WIP limits are meant to prevent bottlenecks, but in the beginning, they may serve to highlight them. Take this as a perfect opportunity to improve your processes and workflow. 

If you find that you and your team are constantly exceeding the limit you have set for yourself, it may suggest that your perception of the workflow is off. If that’s the case, try changing the workflow or experimenting with capacity. Maybe it is time to hire another person in your department. 

Breathe, Change, Try Again

All this talk of streamlining work and increasing productivity might sound treacherous — like a trap to keep the hamster running in the wheel at full speed, at all times. But WIP limits also create downtime. If the tasks in a section haven’t moved, and the limit is still reached, that’s a clear sign to all project members that new work is not currently being accepted. This downtime being represented on the board is important because we don’t always spend all our time on tasks. For most of us, work includes many other things, like meetings, answering emails, sending memes in the group chat, and making phone calls, just to name a few. 

As no work happens completely in isolation, the task limits you set for the phases of your workflow may need to change rapidly based on external dependencies. Changing WIP limits is normal, and they should never be seen as hard and fast numbers set in stone. 

After that quick explanation of what task limits can do for you, I’m sure you’re ready to learn how they work in MeisterTask. So, without further ado, here are the details.

Guess, Set, Go!

If you’re ready to enter the task limits of the various sections in your workflow, setting the WIP limits just takes a second. Click the arrow in the section header to open the section dialogue. You’ll see a brand new field there that reads, “Limit tasks in this section to:” and all you have to do is put in a number between 1 and 999. 

Both active and completed tasks in a section count towards the limit you’ve set. There has never been a greater motivation to clean up your project boards or archive tasks than now! Because WIP limits shouldn’t be a hindrance to work, exceeding the limit is possible. When that happens, an exclamation mark of warning will appear before the numbers in the section header. 

If, after all this convincing, you still don’t want to set task limits, we won’t take it personally. Either don’t enter a number in the field, or set it to 0. The number that then appears in the section header remains as it always has been; a simple sum of the tasks in that section. 

MeisterTaskers, have fun with this new feature and please let us know how you get on. Leave us a comment here or send us a tweet @MeisterTask.

Task limits are available on MeisterTask Pro, Business, and Enterprise plans. 

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