Kanban vs Scrum – the best Agile Practice

The underlying principles of both Kanban and Scrum are the same. However, there are some key differences that we must know about. Let us first know about the similarities between the two.

According to the PMI Agile Practice guide, “Agile approaches and agile methods are umbrella terms that cover a variety of frameworks and methods.” Agile is any approach, practice or methodology that satisfies the four values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto. It breaks down complex work into smaller manageable tasks. The team works towards completing these smaller tasks and continues to add more tasks as per the requirements and feedback of the customer. Agile helps the project team to adapt to all possible changes in a business environment (like change in technology, risk, change in consumer demand, etc). Most common features of an agile approach in project management are:

  • Adapts and changes
  • Flexibility
  • Quick launches of product
  • Facilitates rapid decision making
  • Focuses on efficient communication
  • Simplifies and breaks down complex tasks into smaller ones

Since Agile is an umbrella term, it includes various practices such as Extreme Programming (XP), Lean, Scrum, Kanban, etc

Both Scrum and Kanban aim to deliver value, minimize wastage, embrace and thrive in change and improve continuously. Additionally, both Scrum and Kanban are based on pull scheduling. Pull scheduling is a system where work begins or is pulled into the system when there is capacity and requirement for it. This enables the agile teams to work on a product only when it is required by the customer and minimizes any forecasts. Pull scheduling also minimizes wastage of time and resources.

Both Scrum and Kanban attempt to limit Work in Progress (WIP) at any given time. They just do it differently. 

What is Scrum?

The term Scrum was first introduced in an article. ‘The New New Product Development Game ” published in the Harvard Business Review (1986). It was first used by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka to describe a new approach in product development. Interestingly, they had borrowed the term ‘scrum’ from the game of rugby. Later, the term was adopted by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber in the 1990s to name their agile software development framework based on Takeuchi and Nonaka’s principles. Since then, Scrum is one of the most popular and widely used agile frameworks throughout industries and the world.

How does Scrum work?

To be concise, a project team practicing scrum will follow these steps:

  • The organization will be divided into small, cross-functional and self organizing teams,
  • The complete project will be segregated into a list of small but concrete deliverables. This list will be sorted according to the priority and is called a product backlog.
  • The team then splits time into short but fixed durations during which they will finish some of the work from the product backlog. This short duration of 2-4 weeks is known as a sprint. A sprint backlog is a list of all the tasks from the product backlog that the team needs to complete within a sprint. Once a sprint begins, the team does not undertake any other or new tasks.
  • The team conducts a short meeting everyday. In this daily meeting they discuss the progress, identify any issues, and plan the work for the next day. These meetings are known as daily scrums. The scrum uses a scrum board that provides a visual representation of their workflow.
  • The team follows the agile principles of collaboration, self-organization, and iterative development inorder to deliver a functional product at the end of the sprint. This stage is called the sprint execution.
  • At the end of the sprint, the team meets the Stakeholders to demonstrate the deliverable and gather feedback. This feedback is implemented in finishing the next task in the product backlog for the next sprint. This phase is the sprint review.
  • The last stage is the scrum retrospective where the team reflects on the sprint and tries to locate the scope of improvement. They then create a plan to implement those advancements in the upcoming sprint. This is how the team continuously improves.

What is Kanban?

The term ‘Kanban’ is a japanese term that translates to ‘visual board’ or ‘visual signal’. Kanban was first developed in the 1940s by Taiichi Ohno. Ohno was an industrial engineer at Toyota. He developed the Kanban system to manage inventory levels and make sure that materials and supplies were readily available whenever needed. Kanban was first applied to software development in 2004 by David J. Anderson.

How does Kanban work?

Kanban works on two main principles:

  • Visualize work
  • Limit work in progress (WIP)

It focuses on a continuous task flow and continuous deliveries. Project teams working on Kanban will go through the following stages:

  • A Kanban board is created which shows different stages of the workflow. The three main columns in a Kanban board are ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’, and ‘Done’. Each work or task is written on a distinct card or a sticky note that moves through the columns as they pass through the stages of being ‘to do’, ‘in progress’, and ‘done’.
  • Each work item or task is assigned a stage on the Kanban board. This clearly visualises the work and makes it clear for the team the tasks that need to be completed.
  • Work in Progress (WIP) is minimized at every stage of the workflow. This prevents overworking the team and guarantees efficiency and high quality output.
  • Track Progress: Monitor the progress of work items as they move through the workflow on the Kanban board. This will help to identify any bottlenecks or delays in the process and allow for timely adjustments to be made.
  • Continuous Improvement: Use feedback loops to continuously improve the process. Regularly review the performance of the system and make adjustments based on the feedback received. This will help to identify areas for improvement and ensure that the project is completed efficiently and effectively.
Scrum vs Kanban: Key differences

Sprint vs Flow
In Scrum there are sprints that are timeframes of a 4 weeks or less. By the end of a sprint the team must deliver a functional product. A sprint has consistent duration throughout the project. Kanban has no time boxes or iterations. Instead it focuses on continuous workflow with continuous deliverables. There is a lack of structured framework in Kanban.

Roles and Responsibilities.
Scrum has certain compulsory set of roles such as the product owner, scrum master, and development teams have their specific roles and responsibilities. They must all work in an specific orderly way and must be highly skilled, efficient and self-organizing.In Kanban, there are no specified roles. Although there might be an agile coach, Kanban does not have a single master who is responsible for everything.
CadenceTeams perform smaller tasks extremely rapidly.No specific time frame. A simple continuous work flow that encourages the team to focus on one task at a time
Idealogy Underlying ideology of scrum is:Learning through experiencesSelf organizeImprove continuouslyKanban focuses on:Use visuals to determine the task Minimize tasks in progress to enhance efficiency
BoardsA scrum board will be reset between each sprintKanban Board can be shared among multiple individuals and teams
PrioritizationScrum has a prioritized product backlogIn Kanban, prioritization is optional
Kanban vs Scrum: which approach is better?

Each project has its distinct requirements in terms of methodology, skillset, scope, and resources. While it has been popularly claimed that “No one gets fired for choosing scrum”, it must not be blindly adopted. We must always remember that Scrum and Kanban are agile approaches that are neither complete, nor perfect. For successful project managers, there is no Kanban vs Scrub. Instead, they understand that both approaches are efficient in their own ways. It depends upon the expertise of the project manager to determine, adopt, and utilize the framework that is appropriate for the project’s goals, constraints, and requirements. Scrum is ideal for software development projects that need extreme collaboration and cooperation between the team, stakeholders, and customers. On the other hand, Kanban is ideal for projects that involve a continuous flow of work. Such works include maintenance or support projects, or the projects where the requirements are priorities are frequently changing such as marketing and advertising, content creation etc. Additionally, some projects might deliver best results when both Scrum and Kanban practices are implemented.

Training for PMI ACP certification with Education Edge equips you with in-depth knowledge about all the agile practices including Scrum and Kanban. Once you are a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner, you will be able to assess and implement the most effective agile practices to your project, thereby guaranteeing its success. 

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Read More:

The Value of Agile Certification Canada 

Understanding a Project Life Cycle 

Basics of Project Deliverables? 

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