What’s the Difference Between Kanban vs. Scrum?

by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

18 Jan 2021

Kanban vs. Scrum — are they different, and can software and product development use them together? The answer to both questions is YES!

Both Kanban and Scrum are popular agile methodologies. They are different, but they can be used together. They are each part of agile, a better way of working that focuses on iteration and collaboration to reduce waste and maximize efficiency.

Agile is the antithesis of classical project management. Think of it like jazz vs classical music. Rather than one composer bringing an already composed and organized piece of music to an orchestra and dictating what happens where, jazz is collaborative, each band member feeds off of each other, creating music in an agile, iterative process.

An animated GIF of cats playing music from the movie "The Aristocats"

This post will take a deep dive into both Kanban and Scrum methodologies. Continue reading to discover the differences and similarities between Kanban vs. Scrum, and learn how they can be effectively used together.

How is the agile methodology different from project management?

The traditional project management methodology is linear, meaning each project element is completed in sequential order. Only when each element is completed can you move onto the next one. Think of traditional project management as an assembly line. It has a strict succession of steps that are planned out by the project manager before any new work or iterations can begin.

The project manager is the person the entire team depends on for leadership. The flow of work remains the same from project to project, and the steps rarely evolve.

By contrast, agile is a non-linear way of working that focuses on flexibility and collaboration between team members. Agile project management focuses on getting something completed that stakeholders can see and evaluate on a regular basis, so value is continuously provided.

Each iteration yields new, actionable insights from both the team and the customer about what’s working, what isn’t, and what needs to change. It’s a multifaceted approach that eliminates the bottlenecks that can arise in the traditional method.

Kanban vs. Scrum

Kanban vs. Scrum is not a dichotomy. They are both agile methodologies designed to help teams work in an iterative process. They are both systems that are regularly used in the development process to ensure a value-driven approach. The goals and methodology are the same, but the steps are different.

A Kanban workflow is a way to visually organize tasks that ensures work items move forward while allowing changes and adjustments to be made along the way. A scrum works in 2-4 week sprints designed to complete a set amount of work or solve a specific problem. Throughout each sprint, teams check in daily to ensure progress and to identify any possible roadblocks.

Kanban vs. Scrum isn’t a one or the other choice. Both might be used at the same time, depending on what’s required of projects or user stories. Learn more about the differences and similarities of these two methods below.

Kanban vs. Scrum: Kanban methodology

Kanban was originally utilized by Taiichi Ohno, an engineer at Toyota, as a lean manufacturing system that decreased waste and increased efficiency. The Kanban method is a task management tool designed to maximize efficiency by visualizing all of the required work and limiting works in progress.

Work items are represented visually on Kanban boards so that every team member can see the state of each piece of work at any given time. It enables real-time communication and full transparency between team members since each work item is intentionally assigned. A Trello board is a simple example of a Kanban.

An animated GIF of a Kanban in Trello

How to use Kanban

With a Kanban, work flows visually through various stages of completion to promote cohesive collaboration and real-time communication across teams. In its simplest form, a Kanban is a To-Do, Doing, and Done board. Work moves from one section to the next on a physical or digital Kanban board, depending on how far along the specific task is.

To solve more complex problems, which is usually the case in software development, a Kanban can become more advanced with added layers for specific clients, products, or deliverables.

A key aspect of the Kanban methodology is that each person is only allowed to work on one task at a time. This ensures no aspect ever moves too far forward without working in unison with the rest of the tasks on deck. The one-at-a-time system identifies critical connections between tasks as well as potential roadblocks that could cause delays.

Encouraging cross-functional teams to intentionally identify work items ensures tasks are appropriately prioritized. It also combats the negative effects of multitasking, allowing developers to zero in on one task at a time.

Kanban vs. Scrum: Scrum methodology

Scrum, sometimes called a “scrumban,” is based on empiricism and lean thinking. Empiricism is the belief that knowledge comes from hands-on experience and objective, observable facts. Lean thinking focuses on the essentials, bringing value to individuals while eliminating waste. A scrum uses real-time collaboration over theorization to provide a lightweight framework for solving complex problems.

The Scrum process uses an interactive and incremental approach that manages risk and enhances predictability through set intervals of iteration called sprints. The sprints yield an imperfect but valuable version of a product the team can quickly bring to stakeholders, whose feedback is then integrated into the next sprint. The sprints continue until the desired outcome or product is achieved.

How to use Scrum

A Scrum takes place over a set amount of time called a sprint. Each sprint generally takes two weeks to a maximum of four weeks to complete. The important part is that the time frame is set before the Scrum begins.

There are three main components of a Scrum:

1. Roles: The people

  • Product owner
  • Scrum master
  • Development team

2. Artifacts: What gets done

  • Product backlog
  • Sprint backlog
  • Increments

3. Ceremonies: Recurring events

  • Sprint planning
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint review
  • Sprint retrospective

The product owner orders and prioritizes backlog items, which are the aspects of a product that need completion. At the beginning of a Scrum, the product owner designates which artifacts from the product backlog move to the sprint backlog. The sprint backlog represents the goals and the desired outcomes of the upcoming sprint.

💡 Use our Easy Agile User Story Maps to transform flat product backlogs into impactful, visual representations.

The Scrum master helps everyone understand Scrum theory and practice. They are responsible for the effectiveness of the Scrum team. Throughout the 2-4 week sprint, the team focuses on the backlog, checking in for daily Scrums or daily stand-ups. During these Scrum meetings, team members share what story points they completed, what story points they will complete next, as well as any roadblocks that stand in the way.

Deliverables are produced on a regular basis, and adjustments are made along the way as needed. A Scrum board or Kanban board might be used to help teams visualize their progress throughout the sprint.

Ceremonies are the recurring events held by Scrum teams cycling through on a 2-4 week basis. A Scrum begins with a short planning phase, then the work begins. The Scrum team meets daily to review progress and make changes as needed.

At the end of each sprint, a sprint review is held with stakeholders or clients to ensure value is being met, and continuous improvements are pushed forward. Lastly, a retrospective meeting takes place with the project owner, scrum master, and development team to review the past two weeks, including successes, key metrics, and challenges to be addressed before the next sprint begins.

Using Kanban and Scrum together

It doesn't need to be Kanban vs. Scrum — they can work together. A development team might choose to use the Kanban system within a Scrum to provide a visual representation of work moving forward throughout each sprint.

They are both valuable systems in your agile toolkit that work together to provide prioritization, collaboration, and constant value delivery. So, you don’t ever have to choose between Kanban vs. Scrum. Save the decision-making for the real problems, like what to put on the pizzas you order for your team. 🍕

A Scrum framework provides designated blocks of time for teams to complete a specific deliverable or set of deliverables while providing daily Scrum meetings to ensure cohesion and advancement. The Kanban system will ensure tasks are taken on one at a time in an evolving, visual process.

Learn the ways of the Scrum with Easy Agile 💫

An animated GIF of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars Episode 4


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