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Implementing Agile usually means ascribing to one of two distinct approaches: Kanban or Scrum. Each method enjoys its share of staunch supporters, but that doesn’t mean that one is inherently superior to the other. They each have good qualities that can aid you in getting your projects done on time. We will look at Kanban vs. Scrum, discuss the nature of each approach and offer suggestions to help you decide which Agile system is right for you.
Kanban vs. Scrum At a Glance
We’ll get into these concepts in more detail later on. For now, here’s a brief overview of how Scrum and Kanban stack up.
Comparing Scrum and Kanban makes it easy to see what each method emphasizes and where they strongly differ. But to understand further, you’ll need a better understanding of the philosophical breakdown of each and how teams typically approach one or the other.
What Is Kanban?
The simplest way to describe Kanban is the process of visualizing your workflow. It is one of the more popular project management methodologies used today, and can apply to teams in many different industries. It features a series of steps carefully laid out to monitor each part of an overall project as it moves toward completion. Kanban is an anti-bottleneck system where everyone keeps tabs on tasks, ensuring there are not too many items trapped in the “in progress” state.
Kanban not only allows you to lay the visual groundwork for how to complete tasks, but it also helps keep everyone accountable. Team members see what needs to be done and prioritize accordingly. Kanban helps you spot potential blockages, giving you a chance to strategize ways to remove them before the team gets bogged down.
As Kanban is a visual approach, teams tend to use boards to monitor tasks as they move through the value stream. It might be a physical board that includes pinned notecards or sticky notes, or a digital one with each section highlighted a different color.
It’s possible to label each column on a Kanban board according to the predictable “to do,” “in progress,” and “done” distinctions. However, it might also describe workflow according to orders received and the process of shipping them out.
Kanban boards are beneficial because they allow a team to see what they need to finish up. They also help Kanban users closely monitor how long it takes each aspect of the project to move across the board toward completion. These boards boost efficiency by allowing teams to decide what tasks are taking too long or might no longer be a priority.
Why Kanban Teams Often Lack Dedicated Roles
Unlike Scrum teams, Kanban teams do not necessarily require strict job roles. Priorities could shift, making it necessary to introduce new team members to complete specialized tasks and cycle out those who have completed their portion of the project. Kanban’s quick and straightforward approach to adaptability means that team members could exchange responsibilities rather than have everyone limited to a series of static duties.
Although specified roles aren’t necessary, there are a couple of notable positions that a Kanban team might feature:
- Service Delivery Manager: Sometimes referred to as the SDM, Flow Manager, or Flow Master, this person is primarily concerned with improving workflow efficiency. They achieve this by holding regular meetings, monitoring the board to assure work tasks aren’t blocked and communicating with team members to ensure they’re hitting task deadlines.
Additionally, service delivery managers look for opportunities to minimize waste and streamline the workflow process. They also keep track of policy compliance and track customer satisfaction.
- Service Request Manager: While a service delivery manager strives to keep the team efficient, a Service Request Manager (SRM) is ultimately concerned with customer satisfaction. The SRM is typically in charge of the starting point of incoming projects. They lead discussions that prioritize each part of a project, ultimately with the intention to provide the best value to clients.
With the SDM and SRM roles, it’s entirely possible to appoint specific team members to these positions. However, it’s also possible to coordinate the entire team so everyone takes on at least one aspect of anticipated SDM and SRM responsibilities. If one were looking for a Scrum equivalent, the Service Delivery Manager would be closest to a Scrum Master, while the Service Request Manager could be compared to a Product Owner.
What Is Scrum?
If you ever played or watched rugby games, you’re probably familiar with a “Scrum.” In terms of Agile-centric practices, Scrum references a simple framework employed by organizations, businesses or individuals. Scrums break down complex, overarching projects into smaller increments, with each part completed over a predetermined block of time known as a “sprint.”
Scrums adhere to five fundamental values: courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness. It is up to team members, primarily the Scrum Master, to check that everyone is adhering to these core principles every step of the way.
While Kanban teams emphasize a continuous flow, Scrum teams are far more focused on the concept of empiricism. They are inclined to make decisions according to information gained from the process and customer feedback. This data is continuously looped in through each subsequent sprint, helping the group elevate end product quality moving forward.
Sprints refer to a fixed box of time during which Scrum teams aim to finish an end product of the highest possible quality. Sprints may last a week or occupy an entire month. They’re crucial to chipping away at complex projects by breaking them down into a series of smaller tasks.
It is crucial to note that Scrum users do not use this method with real-time adaptability in mind. Whatever the starting goal is for the sprint, that’s what team members deliver at the end, all without sacrificing quality. Once the Scrum team analyzes related data and the Product Owner or customers share their feedback, that information gets used in planning future sprints.
Scrum ceremonies, or Scrum meetings, play an essential part in the success of sprints. You can break these meetings into five types: sprint planning, daily Scrums (also called stand-ups), iteration reviews, retrospective and product backlog refinement.
- Sprint planning: At the beginning of a sprint, the Product Owner, Scrum Master and Developers all meet. The Product Owner reveals the product backlog and associated priorities. Together, the team decides the length of the sprint according to how long they believe it will take to deliver a high-quality end product.
- Daily Scrums or stand-ups: A quick morning meeting, usually 15 minutes on average. They are known as “stand-ups” because they are often so brief that no one has a chance to sit down. The Product Owner, Scrum Master and Developers quickly check in. Members share what they completed the previous day, what they hope to accomplish that day and inform the team of any potential issues. Though they go fast, these daily Scrums are crucial for transparency, accountability and avoiding any potential blockages.
- Iteration reviews: These occur at the end of the sprint. Stockholders might join this meeting, but it’s generally not required. Reviews present a chance for the Scrum team to share what they accomplished. For quality control, team members should only highlight their work if it meets the minimum standards for completion. As so much hard work goes into sprints, the tone is generally one of congratulations and a sense of mutual pride.
- Retrospective: Following reviews, the team gathers to take a careful look at the outcome of the sprint. What worked well or slowed down the process? What are customers saying about the end product? This internal and external feedback plays a crucial role in setting the tone for future sprints.
It’s not just a matter of criticism; it’s critiquing in an actionable way, helping the Scrum team to accomplish more and at higher speeds.
- Product backlog refinement: Product backlog refinement represents an opportunity to tidy up the product backlog by adding details, adjusting estimates or changing priorities. It’s not an official event, so it’s not always referenced. Typically, these meetings occur near the end of a sprint and often feature questions raised during the initial planning phase.
Some Scrum ceremonies may run for hours or a few minutes; it typically depends on the nature of the meeting and the allotted time for the sprint in question.
Scrum Team Roles
While the average Scrum team includes between three and nine members, there’s technically no limit to how many or few people an organization can add. That said, there are three roles that are essential to Scrum team collaboration and success:
The most important part of a Product Owner’s job is making sure the Scrum team collaborates efficiently and that they’re delivering high-quality results. They do this by monitoring and adding to the Scrum backlog and helping to determine what items will be pulled from it and assigned to the development team.
Product Owners also handle the planning process, which includes determining the end goals for each sprint. As these end products could be delivered any time during a sprint, this Scrum team member must pay close attention to how customers receive the result and share that information with team members tasked with upgrades and improvements.
Product Owners must also maintain stakeholder expectations, often communicating with them throughout the project process and updating the team regarding feedback and any necessary future changes.
Scrum Masters are chiefly concerned with team management and ensuring the Scrum is progressing successfully. They act as the link between Developers and Product Owners.
When connecting with Developers, they break down the project into a series of increments, organize Developers’ specific roles and discuss expectations toward achieving a specific outcome. Scrum Masters behave as subordinates to Product Owners, helping them to not only manage the backlog, but also with planning and breaking down projects into achievable increments.
Scrum Masters act as cheerleaders for Scrum, promoting the concept to the rest of the company and helping everyone to better understand its value and the best ways to make it work.
Developers are ultimately responsible for getting everything done. It could be one person in the role or a team made up of several people. They are encouraged to self-organize, meaning they can behave confidently in their role and even expand beyond it at times. In meetings, Developers share where they are with their parts of the project, contributing to team transparency and accountability. This helps everyone recognize potential problem areas and brainstorm solutions.
Kanban vs. Scrum: Key Differences
Kanban and Scrum are both Agile frameworks, but each system has its values and priorities. Understanding their main differences makes it easier to determine what each method offers and which might work better for your company or organization.
Scrum cadences are all about speed, while Kanban cadences focus on flow. Scrum sprints combine velocity with efficiency as the end of each experience brings valuable data to make future sprints faster and more effective. It’s not that Kanban teams move slower; their method allows team members to adapt to issues and change during the process rather than at the end.
Kanban and Scrum metrics are useful in their own ways, helping teams keep track of success according to what each Agile method chooses to prioritize.
Kanban is all about a constant, ever-looping flow, so bottlenecks are an ongoing concern. For that reason, the Work In Progress (WIP) limit is a vital metric, preventing too many projects from sitting in the “in progress” column. The Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD) also aids in reducing bottleneck problems by visualizing workflow and letting Kanban teams keep track of each item.
Although Kanban doesn’t emphasize speed to the same degree as Scrum, it does matter. Lead time and cycle time are metrics that matter to Kanban teams as they play a direct role in shortening project completion time.
In Scrum, teams measure outcomes using velocity, which is the total number of story points completed in a sprint. Referencing story points, instead of setting deadlines based on dates and times, helps teams only commit to taking on as much product backlog as they feel they can reasonably handle during a sprint. A team with a velocity of 35 points would struggle with a backlog of 50 points.
Philosophy Regarding Change
Though both are Agile, Kanban and Scrum methodologies strongly disagree on how to handle change. Scrum users take the need to make changes into consideration, but only at the end of a process. Meanwhile, Kanban teams adapt immediately and as needed.
Popular Software Tools
Kanban users want software that allows them to see the process and each step from beginning to end. Many of today’s most popular project management tools offer Kanban functionality. Additionally, they’ll want a product that lets them spot problems such as bottlenecks and quickly plan ways around them. Some of the most popular Kanban-related software includes:
Not only do Scrum teams rely on programs to aid with sprints, but Scrum-based software also typically includes helpful tools such as backlog management, time estimations and Scrum boards. Some of the most popular Scrum software services are:
Atlassian’s Trello and Jira Software get recommended to both Kanban and Scrum teams, which isn’t too surprising. They each possess the visual, bottleneck avoiding qualities that would appeal to Kanban teams while also offering Scrum teams a method to stay organized and break down tasks into more manageable, bite-sized chunks.
Which One Is Best for You?
Knowing which method works best for you is as simple as understanding which one better aligns with your organization’s philosophy and preferred approach to completing complex projects.
Scrum is best if you:
- Care about customer feedback and wish to make improvements accordingly
- Are concerned with breaking down projects into a series of increments
- Prefer to make changes after completing a sprint rather than adapting in real time
- Want to use story points instead of date- and time-based deadlines
- Want clearly defined roles for team members and cross-functional capabilities
Kanban, meanwhile, is more suited to your needs if you:
- Want to guard against bottlenecks and too many projects “in progress”
- Seek a method that allows you to visualize everything from beginning to end
- Want to be able to adapt to change quickly and course-correct as necessary
- Aren’t interested in cross-collaboration or having purely defined team roles
- Create feedback loops that contribute to long-term efficiency and streamlining
It might be possible that you combine aspects of each approach. For instance, a Scrum team might make use of Kanban boards. But in the end, it comes down to beliefs and probably testing which system meets your specific needs the best.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Kanban better than Scrum?
Neither methodology is “better” than the other outright; rather, each is best suited for different situations. Kanban approaches projects with the concept of visualizing the entire process from beginning to end while avoiding having too many objectives as “in progress.” Meanwhile, Scrum teams break up complex projects into a series of “sprints.”
Are Kanban and Scrum part of Agile methodology?
Both Kanban and Scrum are considered to be Agile in nature; it’s just that the priorities in each methodology and approach to completing tasks differ significantly.
How many people should you add to a Scrum team?
There are three basic roles in Scrum: Product Owner, Scrum Master and Developer. Therefore, it is common for teams to have at least three people. On average, teams have between three and nine members.
How do you choose between Kanban and Scrum?
It helps to have a basic understanding of both methodologies before making a decision. Kanban is a great choice if you want to view the status of many parts of a project at once, but only focus on a few tasks at a time. Agile is better for teams that want to use “story points” instead of dates & times to set deadlines, and want to use retrospectives for constant cycles of feeback.
Is Agile for software development only?
No. Others have found success with Agile—or at least using certain components of Agile—outside of software development. Folks in the automotive, R&D, and other industries have found success in Agile. Stand-up meetings are common in a variety of work environments, from restaurants to boardrooms. Kanban boards are popping up everywhere, like on whiteboards at law offices and on windows in property management offices.
Are there other types of project management methodologies to consider besides Kanban and Scrum?
Yes, there are several options available when it comes to project management methodologies. For example, there is the waterfall method, which follows a linear path and often has between five or six different phases that rely on the deliverables provided by the previous phase. Another option is the lean method, of which the Kanban is part. The lean project management method is geared toward reducing waste and delivering value in a short period of time. Others that you might consider include extreme programming (XP), critical path method (CPM) rapid action development, Six Sigma or a hybrid of two or more of these methods.