Kanban vs Scrum: Your Ultimate Guide for Agility

Project management done right can help a business or project run smoothly. Among the numerous project management methodologies currently in practice, Agile—with its widely used ‘Kanban vs Scrum’ frameworks—is perhaps the most commonly used as it puts emphasis on delivering the maximum value of a project for a given time and budget. 

For many Agile practitioners, the time-worn squabble ‘Kanban vs Scrum’ is nothing new. However, for those who are new and just starting out to understand the finer nuances of agile project management, learning the differences between these popular frameworks can define success and failure. 

Both Kanban and Scrum frameworks include principles of agile and lean approaches with Scrum leaning more towards agile. As such, both these methods are geared towards reducing inefficiencies, creating transparency, and increasing adaptability in the project process. 

It is important to keep in mind that all these frameworks are constantly evolving and for best results you may have to update yourself regularly.

What Is Kanban and Scrum?

Kanban

Kanban had its roots in lean workflow management before becoming popular at the beginning of the 21st Century as a ‘go-to’ methodology in agile. Therefore, it uses  principles from both agile and lean methodologies. Initially utilized in the automotive industry, Kanban has now also found success in the Software, IT, and R&D industries to name a few. 

Kanban is a visual mode of project management and is mainly used to define, manage, and improve operations. It helps to visualize work and maximize efficiency, while improving the workflow continuously. Kanban Boards can also help to  optimize work delivery across multiple teams and  manage complex projects in a single environment. 

There are several principles and practices in Kanban that have been refined with time. 

Principles and Practices of Kanban
Principles and Practices of Kanban

To learn more about Kanban and Kanban boards visit How to Better Manage Your Projects with Kanban Boards.

Basic Kanban Board: Kanban vs Scrum
Example of a Basic Kanban Board (Click on the template to edit it online)

Scrum

Scrum is a lightweight framework founded on the concepts of empiricism and lean thinking. Empiricism is defined as knowledge derived from sense and experience while lean thinking highlights the importance of reducing waste. Combining these two concepts together, Scrum supports businesses and projects to tackle complex adaptive problems to deliver products at a  greater productivity and value. 

Three Pillars and Core Values of Scrum: Kanban vs Scrum
The Three Pillars and Core Values of Scrum

Scrum was mainly used by software developers in the 1990s before expanding its usage to scientists, researchers, analysts, and multiple other disciplines. Employing an iterative and incremental approach, Scrum focuses on delivering tasks of a project in stages rather than delivering a complete project at once. Based on short development cycles named ‘sprints’, usually lasting from one to four weeks, Scrum is built on three pillars and several core values to encourage communication, integrity, and in general an open working environment. 

Scrum Board: Kanban vs Scrum
An Example of a Simple Scrum Board (Click on the template to edit it online)

Read The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Scrum to learn everything you need to know about Scrum.

Kanban vs Scrum

There are some similarities and many differences between Kanban and Scrum frameworks. Below is an extensive list comparing the Kanban vs Scrum frameworks.

   Scrum Kanban
 Similarities  
  • Short development cycles to deliver a particular task
  • Creating an enabling environment for projects to adapt to change
  • Encourages engagement from all members of the team
  • Increases transparency
 Differences  
 Planning
  • Stresses on planning, which happens iteratively at the beginning of each Sprint. 
  • Estimation is given prominence. 
  • Focuses on the backlog.
  • Relies on a probabilistic approach to planning, which is based on past workflow data.
  • No mandatory requirements for estimation.
  • Focuses on the process dashboard.
  • Continuous workflow (planning different durations for individual interactions).
Delivery cycle
  • Iterations or Sprints are fixed in duration, which varies from two to four weeks (i.e. time-boxed iterations).
  • Deliverables are determined by sprints, where a  set of work must be completed for review.
  • Continuous, not based on duration
  • Products and processes are delivered continuously on a need basis.
  • Testing and review process takes place simultaneously.
Commitment
  • Commitment takes the form of forecasting for a sprint (i.e. sprint forecasting is carried out to see how much work can be done. The team strives to meet that forecast by the end of the sprint). 
  • Teams commit to a specific amount of work as a requirement.
  • Commitment is deferred as long as possible to ensure agility (i.e. commitment is optional for teams) and is agreed based on capacity.
  • ‘The limit WIP’ practice prevents team members from working on multiple tasks. 
  • Team members finish the work they have committed to before starting new work. 
  • Relies on time-boxing and forecasts..
Metrics (core KPIs) and charts

Metrics

  • Velocity: amount of work a team can deliver within a sprint. 
  • Planned capacity: estimates the team’s capacity for the work that can be accomplished in the next sprint. 

Charts used: 

  • Burndown chart: a visual representation of how much work remains to be completed versus the remaining amount of time in the Sprint.
  • Velocity chart: histograms showing the past performance of the team.

Metrics

  • Lead time: time between a request being made and a task being released
  • Cycle time: total amount of elapsed time between when a task starts and finishes
  •  

Charts used:

  • Cumulative flow diagram (CFD): shows how stable the flow is and helps to understand where focus is needed to make the process more predictable 
  • Cycle time histogram: helps monitor the process performance over time.
Meetings and events
  • Sprint planning
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint review
  • Sprint retrospective
  • Daily Meeting
  • Replenishment & Commitment Meeting
  • Delivery Planning Meeting
  • Service Delivery Review
  • Operations Review
  • Risk Review
  • Strategy Review
Change policy
  • Cannot change in the midst of a sprint, especially if it results in new work items. 
  • Any adaptations, changes or improvements can be noted at the sprint retrospective meeting and introduced to the next sprint. 
  • More emphasis on the schedules and as such new items cannot be added to ongoing sprints
  • Can make changes as the project progresses. Work and items can change frequently and as such there is more flexibility.
  • Can accept/add new work items depending on the availability and capacity 
  • Changes are generally made observing the  workload or capacity required to speed up the project and to ease the burden of an overwhelmed team member
Roles and responsibilities
  • There are three defined roles: 
    • Scrum Master
    • Product Owner
    • Development team
  • Cross-functional teams who can deal with disruptions as and when they arise are important to mitigate bottlenecks
  • The entire team collaborates to complete the task 
  • No defined roles. However, having a specialized team is important. 
  • Each person is responsible for their tasks. 
  • Teams work together to achieve goals and reduce the time to complete the entire process
Artifacts
  • Product backlog
  • Sprint backlog
  • Product increments
  • The sprint backlog is owned by a single team.
  • Kanban board
  • Multiple teams can share the Kanban board.
Delegation and prioritization
  • The entire team provides inputs. However, the Product Owner has the final say over prioritization while the Scrum Master acts as a problem solver. 
  • Team members have full autonomy in completing the work and as such self-managed teams work together to complete the project.
  • Encourages collaboration and leadership at all levels and sharing responsibility. However, since Kanban promotes keeping the old roles of the team, past team structures prescribe how delegation is handled. 
  • The Manager is in charge of prioritizing work, managing the workflow and at times delegating tasks to team members.

When to Use Kanban or Scrum

Kanban and Scrum both have their benefits and depending on the type of project you have at hand, you may prefer to use either Kanban or Scrum. Let’s take a look at the benefits of each framework along with a few setbacks to better understand which one would suit you best. 

Kanban

Advantages 

  • Ideal for smaller or ongoing projects with continuous small incoming tasks, and for recurring projects with many deliverables.  
  • Curbs too many projects ‘in progress’ and counters bottlenecks. 
  • Best suited for teams that have stable priorities, which are unlikely to change. However, as flexibility is allowed up to a certain extent, Kanban allows adapting to changes quickly and correcting the course of action as necessary. 
  • Kanban is a great framework and planning board for projects that require close attention especially on individual capacity. 
  • Optimal for projects that require visualization from beginning to end, continuous improvement, productivity, and efficiency as these aspects are part and parcel of the Kanban process.
  • Ability to create feedback loops leading to streamlining and efficiency. 
  • If you do not have an agile system in place, Kanban is a good starting point and can easily fit in with any process that you already have. 

Setbacks to note

  • Kanban is designed for regular and steady output, and as such, major changes may lead to a collapse.
  • If team members exit during the development stage, project development may be affected.
  • As time frames are not allocated, team members do not have a clear idea about the time required to complete each phase/task.
  • Keeping the Kanban board updated with the latest information is important. Outdated boards can lead to confusion and issues in the development process.

Scrum

Advantages

  • Ideal for feature-driven projects that have multiple milestones and major goals as Scrum allows larger and complex projects to be divided into manageable portions (sprints). 
  • Scrum framework and planning board are good for one-off projects with larger teams, deadlines, variables, and uncertainties.
  • Best for projects with extensively varying or changing priorities. Many deem Scrum as an excellent option to address complex projects or those with recurrent changes. 
  • Allows space to adapt to feedback after each sprint. 
  • Supports higher productivity and faster delivery along with lower costs and higher quality. 
  • A project will not be distrubed even if a team member leaves due to the collaborative nature of the framework.

Setbacks to note

  • Scrum framework requires experienced team members. If the team consists of non-experts there will be delays and setbacks.

Scrumban Anyone? 

Scrumban is a hybrid approach that combines Scrum and Kanban. Initially designed as a way to help teams transition from Kanban and Scrum, Scrumban is now steadily gaining a following as practitioners have discovered that it enables them to put together the best possible practices of the two approaches.

There is no single method to follow in Scrumban and it is often up to the practitioner to adapt the style and methods most suited for the project at hand. A few typically used approaches of Scrumban are as follows;

  • Using the Scrum backlog approach for planning, prioritizing and allocating work.
  • Sprints are adopted as a methodology by some teams.
  • Kanban-style boards are used to visualize the workflow so that task progress and bottlenecks can be recognized promptly.
  • Kanban rules are adopted to figure out the amount of work that can be ‘in progress’ and handled at a given time.

Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban

In conclusion, there is no hard and fast rule as to which method may suit you best. However, there are several aspects to consider given the nature of your project or business when selecting the best framework to follow in the Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban reasoning. Try out and let us know what suits you most and your experiences. Also, don’t forget to try out Creately’s templates for an easy start! 

Using Creately to Start or Continue Your Kanban and Scrum Journey

Creately is a great platform to brainstorm, plan and keep track of all your important tasks and projects. Ideating, collaborating and visualizing each step of your project is easy via the Creately platform, which provides a host of tools that adapt to your needs. Key features that will be useful to initiate your Kanban and Scrum journey with Creately includes,

  • the intuitive and infinite canvas to host multiple stages of project development and management related activities
  • in-built video conferencing to run meetings 
  • several pre-made templates to plug and play
  • shape library carrying drag and drop kanban boards, task cards and other visual tools
  • ability to assign roles and tasks for team members through the data panel and much more!

Follow our Kanban and Scrum pages to start creating your own boards. 

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Author

Krishani Peiris

Krishani Peiris is a content writer at Creately. She loves to read, travel and write about her experiences across multiple platforms including tech innovations, architecture and conservation.

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