Kanban vs Scrum

Agile is a set of ideas and principles that serve as the reference guide for all to structure their best practices. Kanban and scrum are frameworks that are put in place to help teams adhere to agile principles.  Fundamentally, knowing the difference between Kanban and Scrum practices is the easy part.  While the practices may differ, the principles behind the frameworks are largely the same. Both frameworks will help you build better products(and services) with fewer headaches. Both of these can be used successfully on the majority of projects.  Each one may be more successful than the other depending on the project.

When making a decision on which one to use to suit their project, several questions come into play.

  • Is the work plannable? (Software development)
  • Is the work repetitive? (Service desk/IT help desk)
  • Is the work ad-hoc? (Support teams)
  • Is the work innovative? (R&D teams)

With these factors in mind, we can use the characteristics of an upcoming project to determine which framework would typically be most effective for the work.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile process that helps to deliver business value in the shortest time. Scrum teams commit to shipping working software through set intervals called sprints. Their goal is to create learning loops to quickly gather and integrate customer feedback. Scrum teams adopt specific roles, create special artefacts, and hold regular ceremonies to keep things moving forward. Its goal is to help deliver new software as quickly as possible.

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a visual system for managing work. It visualizes both the process and the actual work passing through that process. Kanban teams focus on reducing the time it takes to make a project (or user story) from start to finish. They do this by using a kanban board and continuously improving their flow of work Kanban’s goal is that workflow should proceed smoothly at an optimal speed.

How are Scrum and Kanban the same?

Kanban and Scrum are two of the most common approaches used in the development process to get the desired deliverables of a project. Both Scrum and Kanban allow for large and complex tasks to be broken down and completed efficiently. Both place a high value on continual improvement, and optimisation of the work and the process. And both share a very similar focus on a highly visible workflow that keeps all team members in the loop on the work in progress and what’s to come. In as much as both are independent entities, they have some similarities between them. These similarities include:

  • Both are lean and agile,
  • Both processes limit the work in progress,
  • Both make use of pull scheduling,
  • Both needs works to be broken down,
  • Both are centred on organized teams,
  • Both target reusable software,
  • Both make use of transparency to steer process improvement.

How are Scrum and Kanban different?

In as much as Kanban and Scrum have their similarities, they also have different approaches to how software development and change are perceived. Scrum will generally pursue fast change while Kanban follows a slow change process. It is these differences that determine whether Scrum or Kanban should be used and in which circumstances.

Scrum is based on time-boxed iterations. Kanban on the other hand may or may not be based on the time-boxed iterations. Time taken in each phase of development is not preset, but rather event-driven. Commitment to the process in Scrum is mandatory while commitment in Kanban is optional. Scrum prescribes cross-functional teams while Kanban does not prescribe any teams. Scrum uses a burn-down chart for each sprint while Kanban does not prescribe any charts. Kanban limits Work in Progress directly to workflow state as opposed to Scrum which limits Work in Progress indirectly via a sprint plan.

Which is better for your needs?

Choosing Kanban or Scrum framework could either be an entirely personal choice or depend upon project requirements. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a well-thought decision. If you’re confused, try both frameworks and ask what went well and what went poorly in both cases.

Keep the following points in mind before making the final decision:

  • Choose Kanban if you’re looking for project flexibility
  • Choose Scrum if you’re up for continuous devotion to projects
  • Go for Kanban if you prefer visualization of workflow through metrics
  • Scrum is recommended in case of intense human collaboration and rapid feedback
  • If you’re in a rush to get started or want to see immediate results, start with Kanban.
  • If you’re working in a large or distributed team, pick Kanban.
  • If you think your priorities might vary over the course of the project, pick Kanban.
  • If you need structure, pick Scrum.
  • If you need more transparency, pick Scrum.
  • If you value customer-driven development above all else, pick Scrum.

And if none of the above matter to you?

Why not try both!

Your decision doesn’t have to be black and white. It’s not uncommon for Scrum teams to adopt Kanban boards for an added layer of visibility, for Kanban fans to borrow Scrum practices like daily huddles, or for either to pivot back and forth. If your project allows for it, go ahead and build a system of agile features that works for you.

There’s really no way to answer that question for you in this article. Both Scrum and Kanban are powerful, proven process tools that can vastly improve your project management. The best option is to become familiar with both of them and experiment with various aspects of both in your production environment. Creating a hybrid of both is perfectly acceptable if that works best for you.

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