The difference between Scrum and Kanban: A guide to modern Agile methodologies
Reading time: about 8 min
Today, businesses must be agile in order to remain competitive or risk getting left behind. Agile methodologies help companies deliver services that align with customers’ ever-changing needs.
But what that looks like in practice varies widely among teams and companies. With so many agile methodologies to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which approaches will best support your goals.
In this article, we’ll be taking a deeper look to compare two popular Agile frameworks: Scrum vs. Kanban. Though both share similar principles, the roles and responsibilities, prioritizations, and delivery timelines vary between each.
We’ll help you understand what the differences between Scrum and Kanban are so you can decide which framework is best for you and your team
Scrum vs. Kanban
Both Scrum and Kanban are frameworks for implementing Agile and DevOps software development.
We’ll dive into the specifics later, but put simply, Scrum breaks down projects into short, structured iterations (usually lasting just one to four weeks each) while Kanban takes a more continuous, fluid project management approach.
Here is a quick breakdown of some of the key differences between Scrum and Kanban:
The Scrum methodology is a lightweight framework that helps teams address complex problems while efficiently delivering high-quality products that delight customers.
It does this through empirical process control based on three core pillars:
1. Transparency—People need visibility into the development process at every stage in order to make effective decisions that drive the project forward. By sharing one empirical language and holding regular Scrum reviews, teams can ensure everyone is on the same page and working together towards a common goal.
2. Inspection—To keep work on track, people need to regularly inspect what is being created and how (without interrupting the flow of work).
3. Adaptation—It’s impossible to predict every requirement or scenario. When plans deviate, teams should adapt their processes or product accordingly as soon as possible. Scrum builds in opportunities to adapt at the end of every iteration to prevent wasted efforts and streamline productivity.
The Kanban methodology is designed to work with the systems and processes you already have to help teams manage (and reduce) their work in progress, increase efficiency, and streamline productivity without getting overworked. It is less time-bound than Scrum, focusing instead on visualizing work to maximize flow and decrease the time it takes to finish a project.
Unlike Scrum, Kanban focuses on balancing workloads based on team capacity—rather than when work is requested—in order to reduce bottlenecks and improve workflow.
Kanban is driven by a few core principles:
Start with what you currently do. Kanban is a flexible framework that can be blended on top of the processes and methodologies you’re already using in a non-disruptive way. It recognizes the value of current processes while also highlighting opportunities to improve over time.
Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change. Kanban is designed to meet minimal resistance. Sweeping changes are discouraged because they are disruptive and can cause fear and uncertainty.
Encourage acts of leadership at all levels. Insights and feedback are valued from all levels in order to drive collaboration and continuous improvement.
There are five basic type of Scrum meetings and events:
1. Sprint planning
The first step is laying out the work that will be done during a sprint. The entire team collaborates to plan the sprint with the Product Owner acting as point to ensure all participants are prepared for the discussion.
The sprint itself is when the work mapped out during the planning phase is performed. Sprints are relatively short increments of work, lasting one to four weeks—once one sprint ends, the next sprint begins. Sprints create consistency in development phases and ensure teams can predictably meet product goals while allowing for monthly adaptation as needed.
3. Daily scrum
The daily scrum is a 15-minute meeting for developers to inspect progress toward the sprint goal and adapt the sprint backlog as necessary to update upcoming planned work. By holding a daily scrum, teams can more effectively organize, plan, and execute work that is aligned with the product goals and requirements while improving team communication and problem-solving.
4. Sprint review
At the end of the sprint, the team holds a sprint review to inspect the outcome of the sprint and determine next steps. This is an opportunity for the scrum team and stakeholders to review what was accomplished, outline any changes, and adjust the product backlog to meet new opportunities. The sprint review typically lasts no more than four hours for a month-long sprint.
5. Sprint retrospective
The sprint retrospective concludes the sprint. The purpose is to identify opportunities to improve quality and effectiveness by evaluating how the sprint went. This includes assessing individuals, processes, tools, interactions, assumptions, and the team’s definition of done. The team considers what went well, what could be improved, and what they will do differently in the next sprint. Retrospectives last no longer than three hours for a month-long sprint.
Kanban follows six key practices:
1. Visualize the flow of work
Kanban uses cards or software to create Kanban boards, which visualize the process activities on swim lanes. The board represents your workflow’s current state, including its risks and specifications.
2. Limit work in progress (WIP)
Kanban encourages your team to focus first on the tasks at hand before adding new work to their docket. This reduces bottlenecks and ensures the team only works on tasks they have the capacity for.
3. Manage flow
One of the main goals of Kanban is to streamline workflows. Prioritize managing work, not people, by focusing on the flow of tasks and understanding the processes to ensure work is moving smoothly.
4. Make process policies explicit
Processes should be clearly defined, published, and shared to increase understanding and buy-in across your team or organization. Visually diagram these policies and guidelines for managing the flow of work to improve self-organization and drive alignment.
5. Implement feedback loops
Feedback is crucial for identifying issues and opportunities for continual improvement. Incorporate regular reviews with both your team and customers to gather valuable feedback and incorporate insights into your workflow.
6. Improve continually
Collaboratively implement changes based on evidence and regularly review your systems and processes to ensure continual improvement.
Roles and responsibilities
Scrum has three primary roles:
- Product owner—The product owner is the sole person responsible for managing the product backlog and maximizing the value of the final product.
- Scrum master—The scrum master is responsible for implementing scrum and ensuring the team understands Scrum theory and practice. The scrum master acts as coach and advisor to the team and product owner while facilitating communication and collaboration.
- Development team—The developers make up the rest of the team. They are responsible for executing the work to create a usable increment at the end of each sprint. They work together to plan the sprint, ensure quality, adapt as needed, and hold each other accountable.
Kanban has no required roles but there are two roles you may consider formalizing in your implementation:
- Service Delivery Manager (SDM)—This person ensures work items flow while facilitating continuous improvement activities.
- Service Request Manager (SRM)—This person orders and prioritizes work items and improves corporate governance within your processes.
Scrum board vs Kanban board
Both Scrum and Kanban organize work on visual process boards to track workflow and accountabilities.
A Scrum board reflects periods in the Sprint workflow to help teams track progress throughout each iteration. A basic Scrum board has three columns: To-Do, Doing, and Done. Sticky notes or cards indicate individual tasks along with the owner(s) responsible for them.
A Kanban board also has columns labeled to show workflow states with individual cards representing tasks. For example, it might include three columns: Requested Work, To-Do, and Done. As tasks move through the process, the work card moves to the corresponding column. This allows teams to clearly visualize their workflows, identify and mitigate bottlenecks, and continually streamline processes.
A key difference between a Scrum board and a Kanban board is that a Kanban board also shows WIP limits. The board should have set maximum items per stage to ensure workflow capacity is balanced effectively. If the limit is reached, no more task cards can be moved into the To-Do stage until the previous tasks have been completed.
Ultimately, both Scrum and Kanban are valuable tools in the Agile tool belt and which one you use will depend on the needs, goals, and dynamics of your team.
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