There’s no doubt that the Agile methodology has become more prevalent as a way of organizing and executing work. And certainly more parts of the organization have embraced it. As Agile reaches critical mass, more managers and executives are coming to recognize that there is no one single way to “do Agile.” In fact, there are multiple types or “flavors” of Agile. Scrum and Kanban are the two most popular. Many companies interested in embracing Agile techniques often ask which is best.
Choosing between Scrum and Kanban depends on a company’s situation and the objectives of specific projects or programs where Agile is being used. Each has unique qualities best suited to different types of workstreams, outputs and projects. Organizational culture also matters in terms of picking the best approach.
The good news is that both Scrum and Kanban promote the core value of Agile. That is, they help teams deliver more in fast-paced environments and work more efficiently and productively. They also help leaders and teams strike the right balance between short-term productivity and longer-term goals.
Like other parts of Agile, these terms may seem a bit confusing and jargon-y, so let’s break them down.
What Is Scrum?
If you think of Agile as the overarching framework, Scrum and Kanban are two methods of organizing and prioritizing work within that framework.
Scrum got its name from the concept of approaching development like a rugby team would, where the Scrum is the restart of play. It is the most common agile framework in the world of software development.
Scrum is more roles-based, with specific team members responsible for specific activities. For instance:
- Product Owners are the primary stakeholder or client for a team. They are responsible for setting and communicating the overall vision of the project.
- Scrum Masters facilitate for both Product Owners and teams, with a main responsibility to remove impediments for individuals trying to advance the work.
Learn more about Agile roles and team structures.
Other members of Agile teams are responsible for interpreting and building to the product vision. Typically, teams self-organize and self-manage their work in their Sprints, relatively short and distinct periods (two to three weeks, typically). Sprints are designed to produce specific outputs or components of the overall product for review, ideally by the customer, the Product Owner or other stakeholders. Subsequent Sprints will add new or improved features to the product. This approach stresses short-term productivity and iterative outputs, while still giving teams sufficient time to make meaningful progress.
What Is Kanban?
Kanban (pronounced “CON-bon”), which means billboard in Japanese, was first developed and used at Toyota to speed up the efficiency with which cars were manufactured. It was a scheduling technique to help workers in lean and just-in-time environments. Specifically, it is designed to manage the amount of active work-in-progress.
Within Kanban, all outstanding tasks for a team or project are viewable on a large board, which can be either virtual or physical. On physical boards, sticky notes represent discrete tasks, which are typically organized in broad categories like “backlog,” “planned,” “in progress,” and “completed.”
The work is viewable by all team members, who take tasks off the backlog as they have capacity. Cards move across the board as they progress across relevant sections (e.g., “in testing” or “completed”). This provides visual cues – and even encouragement – relative to the team’s progress and productivity.
Kanban has no specific time limits or standard cadences with fixed beginnings and ends, like Sprints. In this sense, it is more incremental than iterative.
Unlike Scrum, there are no set roles or titles in Kanban. Team members can work on the next priority task, based on what is available in the queue of items and tasks. As such, Kanban can be useful for support and maintenance operations that are organized around tickets.
Generally speaking, Kanban is used more frequently by business functions outside IT. In our experience, Kanban works well with organizations and teams that have flat structures and that place a premium on moving quickly. In this sense, Kanban can feel liberating – especially with teams that have felt constrained by top-down or rigid project management approaches in the past.
Scrum vs. Kanban: Important Similarities and Differences
The main differences between Scrum and Kanban are the roles (who does what) and the timing of work (how work is sequenced). But other differences and similarities between the two approaches are worth noting.
Both Scrum and Kanban allow work to be broken down into manageable chunks and both typically use boards or other highly visible means to share information on the status of the work – what’s been done, what’s being worked actively and what’s to come. So no matter what type of methodology your team is using, everyone always has insight into the work being performed at any given moment, as well as a sense of overall progress.
There are some differences in the details. For instance, beyond the broad categories of “To Do,” “In Progress” and “Complete,” Scrum adds “Ready for Acceptance” and “In Testing” as other steps before work can be flagged as complete. This is where the Product Owner can check to make sure the work product meets the overall vision.
Kanban limits how much work-in-progress can be flowing in the board at any given time. These limits help teams identify impediments faster. Scrum boards reset at the end of each Sprint, while Kanban’s remain up indefinitely.
Bottom Line: Scrum and Kanban Both Deliver on the Promise of Agile
In the world of Agile, Scrum and Kanban each have their proponents, but their similarities may be just as important as their differences. And both can be highly effective in helping organizations embrace Agile and generate value from more efficient outputs and more productive teams.
Infinitive helps leaders across the business adopt Agile to meet their objectives. Contact us to talk about choosing the right “flavor” of Agile for your needs.