Agile Frameworks: Scrum vs Kanban

Agile is a discipline and an iterative way to manage projects and make products. It is a key part of digital transformation. It takes into account that product development happens in cycles and gives self-organizing teams a way to deal with change without getting off track. Teams choose Agile so they can quickly respond to changes in the market or feedback from customers without having to undo months of work. With Agile, teams can get feedback on every change and use that feedback to shape future plans. They can also keep costs low by planning just enough and delivering in small, regular chunks.

In this article, you'll learn about Scrum and Kanban, two of the most popular agile methodologies. By the end, you will understand what they are, how they work, how they differ, and which one best suits your needs.

What Is Scrum?

Scrum is a simple agile project management framework that organizations use to foster team collaboration, navigate unpredictability, and tackle complex projects or products while focusing on delivering high-value results. It establishes a structured approach through a series of meetings, tools, and roles, allowing teams to coordinate their efforts, organize their tasks, and effectively manage their workflow.

While Scrums are frequently associated with software development teams, their principles and themes are universally applicable to a wide range of teamwork situations. Scrum teams engage in a cycle of continuous learning, analyzing their experiences to determine what worked, what did not, and how to improve their approach accordingly. This iterative process promotes self-organization and continuous improvement, allowing teams to more effectively address challenges and improve performance through reflective practices.

Essential Roles in Scrum

  1. Scrum Master: The Scrum Master is an important member of the Scrum team who uses their expertise in Scrum practices to help the team and organization achieve maximum effectiveness. They use a variety of techniques, such as coaching, teaching, and mentoring, to help the team achieve its objectives.
  2. Product Owner: The Product Owner is responsible for ensuring the team consistently delivers the most valuable product. They prioritize features, manage the product backlog, and serve as the main link between stakeholders and the development team to ensure the product's success.
  3. Developers: Developers are the core of the Scrum team, working closely to design, develop, and deliver product increments. They apply their collective expertise to realize the product vision and iteratively refine it in response to feedback and changing requirements.

A Closer Look at How Scrum Works

Let's look at how Scrum works. First up is the Product Backlog, which is a comprehensive list of tasks required to meet stakeholders' objectives. The team then selects tasks from this backlog to complete over a two to four-week period known as a sprint, thus the term "sprint planning."

Once the sprint planning is completed, the chosen tasks are added to the Sprint Backlog, which contains the focal points for the current sprint. With tasks defined, the Scrum team, which typically consists of 5 to 9 members, goes into action.

The sprint is marked by regular Scrum meetings, which allow the team to discuss achievements, address challenges, and chart their course for the next 24 hours. Then comes the Sprint Review, a pivotal session in which the team showcases their sprint accomplishments. This forum serves as a hub for inquiries, feedback, and suggestions, allowing the Product Owner to collect insights from stakeholders for future sprints.

Following the review, the team meets for the Sprint Retrospective, which is a critical reflection on previous performance. They identify areas for improvement, analyze previous mistakes, and brainstorm new approaches to overcoming obstacles. The insights gained from this session help to shape the blueprint for the upcoming sprint.

The journey concludes in the Increment stage, where the team delivers a tangible, usable output to stakeholders, showcasing their collaborative efforts and adherence to the Scrum framework.

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is another popular agile framework known for its visual approach to workflow management. Kanban, like Scrum, emphasizes transparency and efficiency in managing tasks as they progress.

The Kanban board is central to Kanban, serving as an essential tool for visualizing and managing work. The board makes it easy to identify bottlenecks, allowing for cost-effective solutions at optimal speeds. Transparency reigns supreme in Kanban, as all task-related information is readily available on the board, keeping everyone informed and aligned. Furthermore, Kanban encourages a laser focus on current tasks until completion, reducing work in progress and increasing productivity.

The Kanban board breaks down work into smaller, more manageable chunks, with tasks represented by notes or cards placed in designated columns that depict workflow stages.

How Kanban Works

The first step in Kanban is to visualize the flow of work, which is often represented by a board with separate columns. This board could be as simple as "Backlog," "Ready," "In Progress," and "Done." Tasks in the backlog column are represented as cards, which include all items scheduled for work. When requirements are documented and understood, and the team is ready to address them, these cards move to the "Ready" column. Typically, cards in the ready column have already been prioritized, reviewed, and refined by the team. As the team begins work, they move ready cards to the "In Progress" column. After completion, cards are moved to the "Done" column. Column variations may occur, depending on each team's unique workflow.

Next, limit work in progress, which is a critical step in ensuring consistent progress. Kanban imposes work-in-progress limits (WIP limits) on the number of items that can be processed in each workflow step at once. This reduces work in progress and promotes tangible results.

The third step is flow management, which aims to ensure that work is completed smoothly and predictably while keeping a steady pace. Kanban enables flow optimization by tracking metrics, identifying bottlenecks, and constantly refining the workflow.

The fourth step is to make process policies explicit. Kanban policies are internal team agreements that set guidelines for work execution. They foster a common understanding among team members, which improves quality and efficiency. These policies address issues such as task assignment, completion criteria, and WIP limit rules.

The fifth and sixth steps are to implement feedback loops and foster collaboration. Kanban emphasizes the importance of feedback in continuous improvement, encouraging collaboration and experimentation to identify and resolve problems. This iterative approach drives evolution by ensuring that processes are aligned with customer needs and preferences.

Exploring the Similarities of Scrum and Kanban

The similarities between these two frameworks are undeniable.

To begin, both Scrum and Kanban are based on lean and agile methodology principles, with an emphasis on waste reduction and iterative development. They use time-boxed, iterative approaches to facilitate incremental product delivery, as is typical of agile methodologies.

Both frameworks share the goal of reducing work in progress, which forces teams to focus on a manageable set of tasks. This focus raises the visibility of roadblocks and bottlenecks, encouraging proactive problem solving.

Furthermore, both Scrum and Kanban advocate for breaking down work into smaller, more manageable chunks, which promotes agility and adaptability. They embrace pull scheduling, which ensures that products are built based on demand rather than speculative forecasts, thereby increasing efficiency and resource utilization.

Transparency is a cornerstone of both frameworks, driving continuous process improvement by increasing visibility and accountability. Furthermore, the release plan is continuously optimized in both methodologies to ensure alignment with changing priorities and objectives.

Finally, both Scrum and Kanban aim to deliver releasable software on a regular and fast basis, demonstrating their commitment to delivering value to stakeholders on time and consistently.

Differences Between Scrum and Kanban

After discussing the similarities between Scrum and Kanban, let's look at some of their key differences.

First, let's look at cadence. Cadence is the time frame within a sprint or before a release. Scrum divides the project into time-constrained iterations, making it easier to manage individual tasks. Kanban is event-driven, with no predefined iteration boundaries.

Moving on to release methodology, Scrum uses releases after each sprint, which typically last two to four weeks. Kanban, on the other hand, believes in continuous delivery, which ensures that changes such as new features, configurations, and bug fixes reach users quickly and consistently.

The two frameworks differ in how they address changes. Changes are not permitted during a sprint in Scrum, with the exception of plans for the following sprint. In contrast, Kanban allows changes to be incorporated into the workflow at any time.

The team composition varies between Scrum and Kanban. Scrum requires a cross-functional team to achieve sprint goals, whereas Kanban recommends but does not require specialized teams focusing on specific workflow aspects.

The way new additions are handled also differs. New items cannot be added between sprints in Scrum, but they can be introduced in Kanban as long as capacity allows.

Job roles differ between the two frameworks. The Scrum Master is responsible for setting timetables, the Product Owner for establishing goals and objectives, and team members for carrying out tasks in accordance with predetermined rules. In contrast, Kanban takes a more fluid approach, with no predetermined roles. While there may still be a project manager, the emphasis is on collaborative teamwork, with everyone encouraged to contribute and support one another as needed.

The representation of data also differs. In Scrum, the board is reset at the end of each sprint, whereas in Kanban, the board remains consistent throughout the project.

Finally, project suitability varies. Scrum is best for longer projects, whereas Kanban is better suited to shorter, more flexible projects.

Choosing Between Scrum and Kanban

Scrum or Kanban? Let us evaluate when each is most appropriate.

Scrum is known for its ability to increase output, speed up delivery, reduce costs, and improve quality. Scrum is frequently preferred by project managers for complex or change-prone projects. If your industry experiences frequent fluctuations, or if your project requires adaptability to changing input, Scrum emerges as an appealing option. This is especially important for businesses involved in technology upgrades or ventures that pioneer new products.

Kanban, on the other hand, has proven to be an effective catalyst for increasing productivity, establishing a culture of continuous improvement, and increasing visibility. It seamlessly integrates with existing processes, making it an appealing option for teams looking to gain agile benefits without completely overhauling their workflows. Kanban is an excellent starting point for organizations looking to make incremental improvements without disrupting existing work processes.

The choice between these two methods is primarily determined by your team's needs. Do you anticipate a shorter project duration? Do you value the ability to make changes on the fly? Are job-specific responsibilities not a priority for your team? If so, Kanban may be the best framework for your requirements. In contrast, if you envision a long-term project with distinct job roles and cross-functional teams, Scrum may be a better fit.

For teams looking for the best of both worlds, ScrumBan—a fusion of Scrum and Kanban—is an appealing option. This hybrid approach combines Scrum's predictability and structure with Kanban's adaptability to maximize team productivity.

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