Kanban vs. Scrum: What’s Your Pick?

by | Sep 6, 2021

If you are thinking about implementing an agile or DevOps project management system and are struggling with the age-old question of whether to choose kanban or scrum, we’ve got your back.

Before we jump into the specifics, here’s a quick summary for your convenience: For continuous and fluid project management, kanban should be your calling. On the other hand, if you wish to work in short and structured sprints, the scrum methodology can help. That said, it is important to remember that both methodologies can help you to deliver better products and services with fewer friction points and challenges.

To help iron out the issue further, we will outline the key considerations to keep in mind for both and provide you with all the information you need to make an informed choice. Let’s start by dissecting the similarities and differences between scrum and kanban.

Scrum vs. Kanban: What are the Similarities and the Differences?

First, let’s look at the similarities between scrum and kanban:

  • Both are lean, iterative, and agile in nature
  • Both rely on process flows
  • Both work towards limiting the WIP as well as waste
  • Both use pull scheduling–where the team members can only ‘pull’ new tasks once the previous task is completed
  • Both are based on self-organizing teams
  • Both leverage transparency to drive process improvement
  • Both laser-focus on delivering releasable software–early and as often as possible
  • Both require the work and the release plan to be continually optimized based on the use of empirical data

Now, let’s look at the key differences between the two:

Kanban Scrum
Helps visualize the work, limit the work in progress, and maximize efficiency (or flow) Helps to create learning loops to quickly collect and integrate customer feedback
Focuses on lowering the time to complete a project from start to finish Focuses on delivering working software through set intervals called sprints (generally spanning two-four weeks)
Uses a kanban board to continuously improve the work flow Adopts specific roles, creates special artifacts, and holds regular ceremonies to keep things moving forward
Ensures continuous delivery of products and processes; the delivery is based on an ‘as-needed’ basis Delivery occurs at the end of each sprint where the work is reviewed
Does not prescribe any roles; instead, it encourages greater collaboration between team members Prescribes three roles: product owner who defines goals and objectives, scrum master who dictates timelines, and development team as well as team members who execute the work
Uses lead time as the default metric for planning and process improvement, which calculates the amount of time it takes to complete one full piece of a project from beginning to end Uses velocity as the default metric for planning and process improvement where each sprint is laid out back-to-back so that each additional sprint relies on the success of the one before it
Changes can occur at any time, even when the project is mid-stream Ideally, teams cannot (and should not) make changes during the sprint
Kanban board is persistent Scrum board is reset between iterations
Next, let’s look at the role kanban plays in agile development.

What is Kanban in Agile?

Speaking with respect to the agile software development process, kanban helps in driving real-time communication of capacity between teams. It is great for projects with widely-varying priorities, which makes it perfect for agile software development.

Moreover, it ensures full transparency and authority of work. Additionally, you can view the work items on a kanban board, empowering team members to view the status and progress of work at every stage of the development process.

So the real question then becomes:

“Why Should I Choose Kanban Over Scrum?”

There are numerous factors and advantages that can help you to choose kanban over scrum. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Kanban empowers teams to visualize the work continuously.
  • It helps to limit the work-in-progress.
  • It allows teams to speed up the development cycle.

The learning: If you deal with multiple incoming requests day-in-day-out that differ in priority and size, kanban should be your go-to methodology. In contrast, scrum is favorable for teams that have stable priorities, which may not change over time. Also, remember that the scrum process demands high control over what the project scope, whereas kanban empowers you to go with the flow.

This brings us to the next most frequently-asked question:

Does Kanban Need a Scrum Master?

As mentioned earlier, a kanban team does not need to be cross-functional as the kanban work flow is intended to be used by any and all teams involved in the project. A scrum team, on the other hand, needs to have three kinds of prescribed roles: product owner, scrum master, and development team to be efficient and productive.

Finally, let’s look at the most important question that might be circling your mind:

“Is Scrum or Kanban Better for DevOps?”

To put it simply, kanban and scrum complement each other well and are not mutually exclusive. However, you should ideally use Kanban for DevOps tasks as it can:

  • Encourage teams to focus on improving the flow in the system
  • Ensure that the teams continuously deliver great quality work
  • Facilitate incremental product releases with smaller chunks of new functionality or defect fixes
  • Accelerate the development cycle

All in all, choose kanban over scrum for DevOps tasks.

The Takeaway

In the kanban vs. scrum discussion, kanban wins hands-down. This method works well with scrum or any other agile method. This allows you to customize the kanban method to fit your existing process and work systems.

So, irrespective of the methodology you use, you can integrate kanban into it. In fact, multiple scrum and non-scrum teams are known to adopt the kanban method to visualize their work easily. The moral of the story?

Different teams and projects have different requirements management software so you should keep revisiting your project goals as well as business outcomes to understand which framework to use. Often times, teams can use a mix of both methodologies to deliver powerful results and add an extra layer of transparency into the projects.

So make sure to do your homework and understand what’s working for you and what’s not. Also, keep gathering feedback from your teams to get a better understanding of the on-ground reality and pivot your way into a robust, agile development process.

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