Kanban and Scrum are both Agile project management frameworks that can be applied to various situations. While they do have some points in common, they are largely different and were born to serve different functions. This can be seen in every part of their DNA, which can either make them great complementary tools or simply unfit for your particular operation.
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these project management tools involves. We’ll also try to spot the major differences between Kanban and Scrum and how they can be used together in certain scenarios.
The Kanban system is about visualizing your workflow and limiting work in progress. The system was introduced in 1940 by industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno. It was first used by the Toyota company to keep track of processes and for asset management purposes as well.
Another goal of Kanban is to maximize flow or system efficiency. Kanban teams tend to focus on reducing choke points or cycle time. The key metrics used in Kanban are work in progress or WIP, cycle time, and lead time.
It’s a highly visual system that uses a series of note cards assigned with tasks that move through various columns until they are completed. This allows team members and outside stakeholders to see the progress of tasks in real-time.
Kanban’s main workflow stages are to do, in progress, in review, blocked, and done. The goal is to move everything from doing to do. You don’t start anything new until the work in progress level is below a predetermined threshold.
Scrum is primarily a software development methodology and is different from Kanban in many ways. With scrum, a given problem or feature is usually identified first. The software development team works in intervals called sprints and the whole team will need to go through daily briefings. If they don’t complete the work on time or issues are found with the existing solution, they go back for another sprint.
Scrum teams have specific roles in each spring, though they may change roles with each iterative improvement of the design or software application. The goal is to keep things moving forward. The key metric in scrum is velocity.
Kanban is a continuous process improvement methodology that is ideal for manufacturing. It is made for teams who want to have more control on single items instead of large overarching projects where whole teams need to be involved.
Scrum was intended for software development and is quite frankly perfect for it. In fact, scrum will ideally end with the release of a software package. Kanban keeps going as they try to make the continually flowing process better and better.
One of the major differences between Scrum and Kanban is how change is managed. Change in scrum is tightly controlled. No one should make changes to the production software application until after the new software is thoroughly tested and approved by the customer. In Kanban, change can happen at any time, so it’s much more fluid and a better option for teams who may need to pivot fast or drop tasks altogether. It also allows us to quickly identify bottlenecks and assign resources in real-time.
Another thing that separates the two is how roles are assigned. Scrum assigns roles like product owner, scrum master, and development team, though everyone is considered equal. Kanban doesn’t assign roles, and also allows for much more independence. Kanban doesn’t have fixed delivery dates either, while scrum sprints are supposed to have a fixed length interval which is normally two weeks.
Kanban and Scrum can be used with each other to fill the gaps either one of them has. For example, Scrum teams may use Kanban to track the tasks they’re doing during a given sprint. It provides greater visibility into the Scrum project, but more importantly, makes teams even more Agile.
If you want to learn more about Kanban or advice on setting up Agile teams, Kanbanize has an informative piece on it. It teaches how to set up and manage Agile teams. It discusses using a Kanban tool and a network of interconnected Kanban boards to help everyone visualize and track their work. It also touches on the need to structure a team’s work in progress so that they can easily manage the flow of work from team to team.
Scrum and Kanban can both be managed with project management tools. Some project management applications allow you to choose either scrum or Kanban from their list of dedicated project types. You also have hybrid project management models that combine Kanban and Scrum.
Kanban and Scrum were originally set up as two very different approaches to managing processes and projects. However, they can complement each other or be combined if you have the right tools and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each.