Controling WIP

I’ve read about agile development and queuing theory and like the idea of managing my team’s WIP rather than trying to plan out all my projects. However, something that I haven’t found is how to calculate what my WIP limit should be. Does anyone have techniques or references they could share?

before i respond, can you provide the definition of WIP for me…

For managing the amount of WIP and ensuring the right WIP gets done to work towards your MVP I like the technique of Storymapping.
First, it uses post-it notes which makes the process very visible, shared and easy to modify.
Second, it ensures people have an overview of the exact work needing to be done preventing a lot of time being put in parts of the product that aren’t of primary importance for the first to be released product.

To keep track of what everybody is working on, Trello is a good solution.

Work in Progress

What is the fastest way to kill the project? or What problem is the most difficult to solve?

Managing to most everything else is inconsequential.

I look at and consider killer question: What questions if answered NO should stop the project. Set up and define these question at the beginning of the project so that all members including the sponsor are in alignment. And these questions should be asked through out the project and at key alignment points, not just at the beginning and the end.
By my definition the root questions are simple and the answers can evolve through the work done which should be symbiotic
Do people want/need it?
Can we / should we make it?
Can we make Money on it ?

This helps me to organize what projects have the most value and a foundation to provide WHY or WHY Not i am advancing the work. I also do not allow my self and only my self to answer the question but have subject mater experts pulled into the team to help ensure we are looking at things. (it is amazing when i am giving a NVP that assumes we will obtain 85% increased market share… Thus i challenge our business…) This can help prevent zombie projects as well.

Not gonna say this approach is taken by everyone at our company but i try (sometimes i loose)

Suggest you look into Theory of Constraints (TOC - Goldratt) where WIP is determine by bottleneck management, and Lean Thinking (Agile model) where reducing waste uncovers additional capacity (for increased WIP).

I think theory of constraints is what I’m after. Any particular source you recommend?

TOC Institute is a good place to start: Theory of Constraints of Eliyahu M. Goldratt - Theory of Constraints Institute

If reading isn’t a constraint go to the source - The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Paperback by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
or his Theory of Constraints book:

Identifying bottlenecks is key to any project. If you are developing a bus and you have noone who can do a rollover analysis, and no funding for external research agencies so you have to put an intern on it who takes months to do a mediocre testing, your project can be infinitely delayed.

Also keep track of which departments are revising the WIP - a lot of work is often done in relative isolation and 90% ends in the drawers which with right planning of meetings with different departments can be kept on track. Often products are developed that, after a factory has looked at the drawings, have to be entirely revised. It is better to talk with them already at the start of the concepting phase.