“Kanban vs Scrum” are two flavors of Agile software development focused on building better products at speed and scale. Kanban methodologies are continuous and more fluid, whereas Scrum is based on short, structured work sprints.
Dynamic customer demands, along with technologies that change at the speed of Moore’s law have put businesses under immense pressure to reduce time-to-market and improve product quality. The birth of the Agile approach owes its existence to this need that drives product managers to find better solutions.
Although Agile methodology continues to grow in popularity; unfortunately, 66.2% of organizations still do not have a complete understanding of Agile development and the value it provides to their organization.
Agile is a set of principles and while implementing it, Kanban and Scrum is an effective methodology and framework that help manage the software development life cycle (SDLC).
Although Kanban and Scrum are two different approaches to Agile product development, the principles are almost the same; aligned towards a single goal: building digital products with the right balance of speed and stability.
Picking the right methodology is a critical decision at the start of an Agile product development process.
The purpose of this Kanban vs Scrum blog is to clear up the fog, so you can figure out whether to go ahead with Kanban or Scrum ‘or’ Kanban and Scrum.
Agile vs Scrum vs Kanban
As businesses accelerate their digital product development, they also need to redesign their business models to innovate, accelerate, and transform quickly.
Historically, businesses focus on effectiveness and efficiency with Agile product development as a second-class citizen. Such business models do not work in the era of digital disruption and uncertainty.
However, even businesses that rely on Agile to build digital products fail to understand the difference between Agile vs Kanban vs Scrum.
What is Agile?
Agile is a de facto, iterative approach to build and deploy products to enable continuous delivery. It follows the principles of the Agile Manifesto for software product development whose foundation lies in building self-organizing teams that learn and make quick adjustments at every step to produce and deliver software faster.
Today, delivering a successful product depends upon two key factors: speed and stability; thus making it more than important to get Agile right. According to Net Solutions’ Agile Product Development 2020 report, organizations seem divided in how they view the definition of Agile.
68.6% of the leaders define Agile as a holistic approach that focuses on customers’ needs and is quick to respond to changes in the marketplace.
What is Scrum?
One of the most common misconceptions around Agile is that ‘Agile is Scrum.’ So, is Scrum the same as Agile?
Precisely, Scrum is a subset of Agile. While discussing the definition of Agile, we mentioned that it is a process of building self-organizing teams that learn and make quick adjustments at every step. Well, Scrum is one of the Agile frameworks that steer these self-organizing teams to build products in an iterative and incremental manner by allowing them to respond effectively, quickly, and efficiently to change.
The self-organized teams following the Scrum Agile framework are called Scrum teams and they work in set intervals called sprints.
Although more than half of organizations rely on Scrum to build digital products; remember, Scrum is not the only framework for implementing Agile principles; it is just one of many Agile frameworks for software product development.
What is Kanban?
Kanban, just like Scrum, is another Agile development methodology that aims at creating a visual process framework to build products faster by limiting work in progress (WIP). The visual representation helps track the progress of the product development and stages where the work is in a ‘waiting’ state.
The goal of Kanban Agile methodology is to make sure that the small independent tasks move to the next steps swiftly to realize business value faster. These independent tasks are created on the Kanban board, ensuring high-priority tasks get processed at first without disrupting work in progress.
How is Kanban Different from Scrum?
By now you must have understood that Agile is an umbrella term; Scrum and Kanban fall under this umbrella. Thus, removing Agile from the Agile vs Scrum vs Kanban equation, we are left with Kanban vs Scrum to discuss and dig deeper to highlight the key differences between the two.
However, one aspect that is common between both Agile methodologies is to consistently apply Agile principles throughout the product development process.
1. Kanban vs Scrum: History
The Evolution of Scrum
In 1986, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka first used the term ‘Scrum’ in their paper titled “The New Product Development Game,” published in the Harvard Business Review. By portraying the significance of Scrum in rugby, the authors described the benefits of self-organizing teams.
However, the Scrum Agile framework didn’t come into practice until Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, and Mike Beedle took the idea from the paper to apply it to the field of software product development. Sutherland, while working at Easel Corporation, in 1993 was the first to use this process in the working environment.
At the same time, Ken was working on these principles and compiled his experiences in 1995 in the publication “Scrum Development Process.”
The Evolution of Kanban
The Kanban Agile methodology dates back to the 1940s and was invented in the context of the manufacturing industry when a Toyota engineer, Taiichi Ohno, noticed the way supermarkets operate to stock their shelves. The marketplace followed the demand-supply model in which there was just enough supply of products to meet the demand. To fill up the empty shelves, more inventory was ordered.
Taiichi incorporated this marketplace’s just-in-time (JIT) principle in the Toyota Motor Corporation to speed up the car development process. Its success made Kanban a popular methodology worldwide.
“All we are doing is looking at the timeline from the moment a customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing that timeline by removing the nonvalue-added wastes.” – Ohno, 1988, p.6
The term Kanban, in Japanese, means signboard or a visual card. Hence, the one of the major goals of the Kanban methodology is to visualize and out the workflow in order to reduce friction and lessen the work-in-progress (WIP).
The Kanban methodology in the software development industry is about crafting a visual process framework to get an easy and quick status of work: the progress of the product development and phases where the work is blocked. This is one of the reasons why Kanban boards have three visual columns — “To Do,” “Work in progress,” “Done.”
2. Kanban vs Scrum: Framework
The Scrum Framework
Did you notice that nowhere we mentioned Scrum as a methodology? Because Ken Schwaber always called Scrum a framework and not a methodology. Scrum is simply a detailed structure that does not points out the specific practices to be followed. It is up to the self-organizing teams to lay out the method to drive the Scrum framework.
The working on Scrum framework depends upon three key factors: transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The following is the way the Scrum framework is incorporated in the product development process:
- The project kick starts with a clear set of requirements provided by the business.
The product features are aligned in order of importance and become part of the product backlog (maintained by the Product Owner).
- The number of sprints required are decided to complete the selected set of features (ranges from 1-4 weeks).
- The self-organized team picks tasks from the product backlog that can be completed in the given sprint and begins the task work.
- The team focuses on meeting the sprint goals; thus are protected from any sort of interruptions.
- Sprint backlog can never be changed; however, while preparing the next sprint, the product backlog can be changed.
- Within each sprint, the team meets for 15 minutes to discuss the daily progress. It is called a Scrum meeting.
- At the end of each sprint, the team gathers feedback based on which their next week’s sprint depends.
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The Kanban Framework
The principles that Taiichi applied to Toyota production evolved with time and are now being applied to the software development industry too. In 2004, Microsoft, officially, documented various uses of Kanban in the software development and within three years, Kanban became an important part of the discussion at various conferences like Agile 2007.
The key five principles driving the Kanban technique in the software development industry are:
- Visualize workflow
- Limit work-in-progress
- Measure and manage the flow
- Make process policies explicit
- Use models to recognize improvement opportunities
Kanban technique, gradually, became a framework for product development for 18% of organizations by 2010. And today, 63% of the organizations are using Kanban techniques to steer their Agile product development initiatives. The following is the way Kanban is incorporated in the product development process:
- The foundation of Kanban lies in a continuous workflow structure. When the self-driving team has the capacity, pull the new work from the work-item pool (work items are represented by cards organized on the Kanban board).
- Common workflow stages, as we discussed, are To Do,” “Work in progress,” “Done;” however, you can create custom columns based on the working of your team.
- While Scrum is dependent on daily planning/feedback sessions, the Kanban technique is independent of daily stand-ups and is carried out only when necessary.
- Incorporating Kanban principles demand a good level of discipline and self-awareness (found missing on teams that are new to Agile).
Kanban Board vs Scrum Board
Kanban board is a board that helps track the workflow structure while balancing the number of work-in-progress activities. The quantity of work-in-progress items is not big and avoids including unworthy tasks. Kanban is like a relay race, where one handover equals one point and the task of the team is to minimize the time between the handovers.
Scrum board is a board that helps track the progress of work delivered/pending in the respective sprints (i.e during a short and repetitive period of time). The sprint length is usually kept small to maintain the focus of the team; but, it is long enough to consistently release shippable increments of work.
Scrum is like an exam: you will have to cover/complete your entire syllabus (backlog items) within a certain period of time. Crafting a Scrum board is like preparing for an exam: a tool that helps identify what needs to be done and how to organize your schedule and group.
3. Kanban vs Scrum: Key Benefits and Disadvantages
Kanban is a technique that presents change through additional improvement and is easy to learn and understand. Since Kanban provides a 360-degree view of what the team is doing at present, it helps improve the workflow and minimizes the time cycle. Some major advantages of using the Kanban Agile framework are:
- Improves delivery flow
- Focuses on continuous delivery
- Improves process flexibility
- Reduces wastes from the process
However, since Kanban does not make use of sprints – an important driver of increased speed – there are no timeframes associated with each phase, which often leads to poorer productivity.
Scrum framework is an excellent tool that provides high visibility and transparency of the product development projects, thereby providing greater flexibility to incorporate change. Since Scrum focuses on cross-functional team development, it leads to better collaborative decision-making and better-shared ownership of outcomes. Some major advantages of using the Scrum Agile framework are:
- Enhances transparency and visibility
- Improves team accountability
- Build motivated teams
- Accommodates changes easily
However, Scrum framework involves breaking down complicated tasks into small chunks of tasks, which further leads to poorly defined tasks and the risk of scope creep.
90.7% of the product development teams, according to Net Solutions’ Agile Product Development 2020 report, witness the problem of scope creep while building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
4. Kanban vs Scrum: Key Metrics
The most important metric for Scrum teams is Velocity. It defines the number of story points completed in a specific sprint. Based on the number of completed story points, the commitment for the future sprints is laid out.
For example, if a self-organizing team finishes 15 story points per sprint, implies velocity is 15, thus the team won’t be comfortable with a sprint backlog that contains 25 story points.
Remember, trying to artificially boost velocity can lead to breaking the trust and reduce transparency between team members and management.
Lead time and cycle time are the key Kanban team metrics that help examine the amount of time the team takes to complete a task from scratch to finish. Improved cycle times lead to the success of Kanban teams.
Another metric used by Kanban teams to analyze their performance is Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD). It helps teams to measure and understand the progress of workflow/items and bottlenecks in each phase that need to be rectified for better throughput.
You can even calculate the ideal Kanban team size by assessing the expected WIP and throughput. Some of the key metrics and calculations are in the following figure:
5. Kanban vs Scrum: Roles and Responsibilities
Scrum has defined three roles clearly: the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Development Team.
- Scrum Master is the one who strictly ensures that the team follows the Scrum principles. Scrum Master facilitates team communication & collaboration, removes bottlenecks, and acts as a spokesperson of the self-organizing team.
- Product Owner is the voice of the customer and communicates its vision to the team. The product owner owns the product backlog and works with the team on a daily basis to help prioritize their work.
There are no specific roles in the case of the Kanban methodology; the whole team owns the process. You may have an Agile coach within your team, but there is no ‘Kanban master’ as in Scrum who ensures that the team follows all the principles strictly. In Kanban, it is the responsibility of the whole team to come together and work in a collaborative fashion to deliver tasks present on the Kanban board.
Kanban or Scrum or Scrumban
Through 2023, 75% of organizations will customize agile practices to match product and team contexts, resulting in increased application delivery cadence.
Methodologies and frameworks have dominated application development for decades. As organizations and teams reach elevated levels of agile maturity, they find that fixed methods become constraints rather than enablers. By focusing on the practices that are at the heart of all methods, teams can evolve fixed methods into customized ways of working that are fit for purpose.
When it is not used in a stand-alone mode or implemented as part of an AVM proposition, Kanban has been most closely associated with Scrum in practice. An overview of the similarities and differences can suggest to teams seeking to improve their agility how the combination might work to their benefit.